Intermittently insightful, thoughtful and humorous, but mostly slapdash and unfocused, Toronto based documentarian Jamie Kastner’s look at the historical and sociological impact that the 1970s disco movement had on the world in The Secret Disco Revolution squanders a genuinely good thesis on a mishmash of talking heads a pointless, cutesy recreations that make disco look like a heist.
Kastner looks at the much maligned and possibly far too glittery musical movement of bell bottoms, endless cocaine, and light-up dance floors through an intriguing opening concept. What if, much like any genre of anything pop culture related, disco was actually a misunderstood form of protest and a spot on reflection of the fears and desires of its time period?
It’s not a hard thesis to subscribe to when you think about it. Disco helped bring equality to women, African Americans, and gay people who had been marginalized for too long. The post-Vietman climate was kind of like the tuxedo T-Shirt of pop culture in a lot of ways, and I don’t necessarily mean that as a slight. It was a time when people wanted to outwardly party, but a part of them still wanted to be conservative and reserved. The outward aditude was the tux, but really everyone wanted the T-shirt. It’s a mixed metaphor to be sure, but Kastner does a better job of setting up that dichotomy than I could.
Unfortunately, this revolution devolves far too often into people spouting off trivial facts that have nothing to do with the larger cause behind the film. It also bounces around pretty wildly and somewhat ungainly between being about the music and being about the politics. The elements are all there, but they aren’t assembled into a cohesive whole. Even worse, some of the interviews feel awkward and forced, even when talking to academics that seem to love the sound of their own theories rather than trying to back them up with facts and data. Also, the film comes with an all too cute framing device involving the secret founders of disco that makes things cheesier than they already are, undercutting the film’s more interesting elements.
It’s a love letter to a bygone era that shows respect for the music and talent, but the film can’t answer its own questions in a cogent manner. Kastner hedges his bets on fully believing in his film’s own thesis, and that’s problematic when the film tries to go more for entertainment value rather than take a more informative approach. Still, interviews with disco legends, club owners, record producers, and an incredibly tense sit down with all of the members of The Village People looking incredibly pissed off to be there offer some great moments in an overall flawed effort.