American Swing

Jon Hart and Matthew Kaufman

BY Katarina GligorijevicPublished Apr 15, 2009

Mid-'70s NYC was apparently precisely the fun, sexy, exciting den of vice that those of us who weren't there imagine it was. We know about the punks at CBGB, we know about the cocaine-fuelled disco dancing at Studio 54, but what many of us didn't know about was the raging orgy that was taking place at Plato's Retreat, the city's most notorious sex club. Larry Levenson was an average family man whose insatiable appetite for sex ended up being his lucrative career for nearly a decade. Larry decided to take his swinging lifestyle out into the open and start the city's first straight sex club, which catered to couples wishing to party, dance and have sexy fun times with other couples. Levenson advertised on public access cable, went on daytime talk shows like Donahue and positioned himself as the Average Joe spokesperson for an entire movement that he insisted was sweeping across middle class America like wildfire. People came to Plato's in droves, and at the peak of its popularity, Larry "King of Swing" Levenson was having sex with ten women every night. The interviews with former Plato's regulars take this documentary from merely intriguing to genuinely hilarious and heart-warming. Watching a sexagenarian couple talk about the cold cuts buffet they used to frequent while on their weekly sex romps at Plato's made me chuckle and left me feeling queasy, and hearing people reminisce about the hygienically questionable pool and crab-infested "mattress room" casts a somewhat icky pallor on the scene, even while former patrons extol its virtues. But ultimately, the testimonials, memories and grainy archival footage of life inside the club is incredibly revealing about the recent history of (straight) America's relationship with sex. The inevitable fall of Plato's is easy to predict early on but it's fascinating to watch old news footage of club owner Levenson rail against the AIDS epidemic that swept America in the early '80s, insisting that it was a "gay thing" and refusing to accept that the days of free love and random, anonymous sexual encounters might be coming to a close. This is a clever doc that makes you feel like you were there, and makes you glad you really weren't.
(Mongrel Media)

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