Showing posts with label Village People. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Village People. Show all posts

Monday, September 10, 2012

A revolution so secret, even its participants were unaware of it..


A friend had recently told me about a new disco documentary premiering at this year's Toronto International Film Festival this past Saturday (thanks Oliver!). While he wasn't entirely convinced, and despite the decidedly mixed reviews, I decided that if it was a documentary and it was about disco (and in my own backyard, no less), I had to go see it.

Toronto filmmaker Jamie Kastner's current film (Kastner was previously behind the docs Kike Like Me and Recessionize! For Fun and For Profit!) The Secret Disco Revolution is largely based around some of the key premises around two of the more recent revisionist histories about disco, Peter Shapiro's "Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco" and more pointedly, Alice Echols' "Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture" (she not only gets a lot of screen time, the poster art also matches her book) that Disco was not a throwaway fad, but really the soundtrack to a cultural revolution and the liberation of blacks, gays and women. While it seems fitting to have a documentarian use Echols and Shapiro's books, which are some of the most compelling works of disco scholarship in recent years; Kastner doesn't quite seem to agree entirely with their conclusions, spending approximately half of the film presenting them, and the other half sending them up. While that may seem like a cold splash in the face to some disco enthusiasts (myself included), and something of a Jamie Kastner signature judging from his earlier films, it actually becomes one of the film's stronger points. The way, however, in which he often presented many of those points, was not.
Disco Mod Squad
  The "Revolutionaries"

Using three Mod Squad style "disco revolutionaries", clad in nearly every single retro disco party costume cliché you can think of (dollar store afro, check! moustache and open-chest with heavy medallions, check!, glitter and blue eye-shadow, check!) to satirically tie together the history of disco, (their adventures narrated by actor Peter Keleghan), the film's main framing device was a total dud. While one can appreciate wanting to bring a sense of fun and levity to a documentary about disco; it not only seemed to generate more eye-rolls than laughs, but detracted, more than anything, from the otherwise serious exploration of the subject and the legitimate questions the film raises.

Henri Belolo
Henri Belolo 
On the positive side, the best parts of the film lie largely in the deftly employed goldmine of archive footage and the interviews which cover a broad spectrum of disco personalities, from mix masters Tom Moulton and Nicky Siano, to Gloria Gaynor and Thelma Houston repping the divas, to industry figures like Vince Aletti and Larry Harris to name only a few. Kastner's interview with Village People producer Jacques Morali's business partner and co-producer Henri Belolo is especially illuminating, coming across as the most articulate and insightful of all the interview subjects. The way the film presented the absurd gulf of contradictions between Belolo's take on the Village People's subversive gayness and that of the present group members' is undoubtedly one of the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective). Another one of the film's more clever and pointed moments comes when Kastner brings Echols' and Shapiro's conclusions, namely the question of the political and revolutionary aspects of disco directly to the interview subjects whose answers seem to range from outright bewilderment (Thelma Houston and Martha Wash) to hostility (Harry Wayne Casey and the Village People). (For the record, Belolo, once again, came through with the most perceptive answer here).



The Village People
  The Village People
Kastner also gets points for not only bringing forth and giving ample time to Shapiro's and Echols' theories, but in also bringing up some of the contradictions that exist between their ideas and the reality of disco. For example, while disco was a genre that represented a new freedom for blacks, gays and women; as a largely producer driven genre, how come it seemed to represent the very opposite for many of its artists? Also, for a genre that represented liberation and inclusion, how does one explain why and how did Studio 54, one of its ultimate cultural representations, symbolize such a crass and superficial exclusivity? All valid questions, which the film doesn't necessarily answer; Kastner seems to content to leave that for the viewer (although I suppose you could reply to the former with a treatise on rockism, but that's another documentary).

Open questions aside, one problematic aspect of the film were some of its rather stark omissions. Perhaps a reflection of the filmmakers' outsider perspective (Kastner admitted he wasn't really a disco fan going into the project) though not, in this case, to the film's benefit. Can one really bring up black and gay liberation in disco and not even briefly touch on Sylvester? (An omission which an audience member pointed out in the Q&A). As well, can one bring up Studio 54 these days, but not, say, Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage as a counterpoint? While oft-referenced in its own way, Levan and the Garage are arguably more influential as a touchstone of the disco movement among current generations of listeners, than 54 ever was. Perhaps they felt they had sufficiently covered a 54 counterpoint with the inclusion of Siano and the accompanying Gallery footage. Though whatever the rationalization, it still felt like a missed opportunity in highlighting one of the more compelling cases of disco's enduring presence.
Thelma Houston
Thelma Houston 


Imperfect as it is, Secret Disco Revolution at the very least does an adequate job of bringing together some different perspectives and some new ideas about disco to a general (read: non-fan) audience. The more discerning of disco denizens will likely be disappointed that the film, despite heavily referencing Shapiro and Echols' works, doesn't quite live up to either of them (less Disco Mod Squad and more footage and conversation, perhaps?). While not necessarily making up for its shortcomings, the interviews and often times incredible archive footage will probably be just enough for more disco-inclined viewers to chew on.

A note about the premiere: One of the film's main interview subjects, Thelma Houston was in attendance and dutifully delivered a rousing rendition of "Don't Leave Me This Way" at the end of the Q&A. Houston had the audience on their feet, waving their hands and (like the two ladies beside me) marveling at how strong and clear she still sounds (and that was singing to a track, hardly the best showcase for even the greatest of singers). Dare I say, the lady sounded so impressive; if one didn't know better, you would have thought she had recorded that song yesterday. The full Q&A and performance was recorded on video, so hopefully that will show up on the TIFF site in the near future. In the meantime, here's some amateur audience video (not mine) of Thelma's performance (thanks for the tip-off, Javier!)


Thelma Houston Sings at TIFF 2012
Uploaded by nice1dave


For those in the Toronto area who wish to see it, The Secret Disco Revolution will be screening a second time on Thursday, September 13th at 3 pm, at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
AND PARTY EVERY DAY.. (TUESDAY OCTOBER 6, 2009)
VINCE ALETTI'S DISCO FILES (WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 4, 2009)
THE GODFATHER OF DISCO (FRIDAY JUNE 15, 2007)
THE QUEENS OF DISCO WITH GRAHAM NORTON ON BBC ONE (WEDNESDAY MARCH 8, 2006)

LINKS:
THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION - A JAMIE KASTNER FILM (OFFICIAL WEBSITE)
FACEBOOK: THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION
680 NEWS: INTERVIEW WITH JAMIE KASTNER, "THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION"
 TRIBUTE.CA: JAMIE KASTNER & THELMA HOUSTON INTERVIEW - THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION (SEPTEMBER 7, 2012)
 NOW TORONTO - TIFF GUIDE: THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION - REVIEW (BY RADHEYAN SIMONPILLAI)
EXCLAIM.CA - TIFF REVIEWS: THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION (BY DANIEL PRATT) (SEPTEMBER 6, 2012)
CULTURALMINING.COM - DANIEL GARBER INTERVIEWS JAMIE KASTNER ABOUT HIS NEW TONGUE-IN-CHEEK DOCUMENTARY (SEPTEMBER 7, 2012)
CANADIAN DISCO DOCUMENTARY THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION DEBUTS AT TIFF (BY CASSANDRA SZKLARSKI) (SEPTEMBER 7, 2012)
CTV NEWS - NEW TIFF DOC ASKS: DID DISCO TOUCH OFF A CULTURAL REVOLUTION? (SEPTEMBER 8, 2012)
 CBC MUSIC - TIFF 2012: BEHIND THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION (BY VISH KHANNA) (SEPTEMBER 7, 2012)
MSN CANADA - ENTERTAINMENT: FILMMAKER KASTNER OUTLINES DISCO'S SECRET HISTORY (BY SEÁN FRANCIS CONDON) (SEPTEMBER 6, 2012)
 XTRA: TIFF PREVIEW - THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION (INTERVIEW WITH JAMIE KASTNER) (SEPTEMBER 4, 2012)

CATEGORIES: VISUAL DISCO, ARTICLES & RAMBLINGS

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Disco Delivery #63: Je te tiens, tu me tiens par la barbichette (Bande originale du film de Jean Yanne) (1979, Barclay)



The Ritchie Family - Forever Dancing (Te Deum)
Mimi Coutelier - Boogie Lady
The Ritchie Family - La Barbichette (You Make Me Feel It)
Village People - Hot Cop
Mimi Coutelier - Boogie Lady (Instrumental)
The Ritchie Family - La Barbichette (You Make Me Feel It) (Instrumental)

Unfortunately I don't have anything especially seasonal for this year, but I figure something colourful, cheesy and fun like this would do for the time being..

Produced by Jacques Morali (who, for those who may not know, was the late mastermind behind The Village People and The Richie Family etc..); the soundtrack to the late French writer, director, actor and satirist Jean Yanne's 1979 film "Je Te Tiens, Tu Me Tiens Par La Barbichette" (based on the French nursery rhyme, which apparently translates into "I've Got You, You've Got Me by the Chin Hairs" or "I've Got You, You've Got Me By the Hairs of My Chinny Chin Chin") seems to be, at least on these shores, one of Morali's lesser known releases. A full-on disco soundtrack featuring exclusive originals by The Richie Family and one of the film's stars Mimi Coutelier (also Jean Yanne's paramour, it seems), along with one recycled Village People tune ("Hot Cop," from 1978's "Cruisin'" LP), it's not an especially long LP by any stretch. Filled however, with big, effusive vocals and the sort of Philly-on-steroids production bombast one would expect from Morali, anyone (like me) who has a soft spot for his work will likely find more than enough to love here anyway.

While, as far as I know, none of the soundtrack exclusives have been made available digitally as of yet, the film itself is currently available on DVD. I had actually ordered the DVD recently, but since I haven't been able to get the damn Region 2 thing to work on on my PC's DVD yet, I still have yet to see the film (not that I'd understand a whole lot with my severely limited French anyway, but still..). That being said, from what I've gathered through stilted Babelfish translations of the DVD synopsis and various viewer reviews out there (someone correct me if I've got any of this wrong), the film is apparently a big send-up of the French television business, revolving around the kidnapping of a famous TV presenter by anti-TV terrorists (how quaint) and the subsequent staging of a big disco TV special in order to generate the ransom revenue. Jean Yanne and Mimi Coutelier play two of the inspectors, with Coutelier's character eventually getting a part in the actual special itself (as seen below). Naturally, all of this along with Morali's soundtrack also make perfect excuses for The Ritchie Family and the Village People to make notable musical cameo appearances.

Aside from Morali and business partner Henri Belolo, notably the film's writer/director and star Jean Yanne and regular Morali collaborator Beauris Whitehead (AKA Peter Whitehead) are all given writing credits on the soundtrack exclusives. Two of those originals "La Barbichette (You Make Me Feel It)" and "Boogie Lady" are also included on the soundtrack album in their instrumental versions. A hat-tip to DJ's or perhaps just something to fill space, they're worthy additions, since they're just about as enjoyable as their vocal versions.

The Ritchie Family's "Forever Dancing" would have to be, at least in my opinion, one of the soundtrack's showpieces. Stumbling across that song's YouTube clip (and subsequently having that tune and those images burned and looped in my head) practically compelled me to go track the whole album down.

A disco adaptation of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's "Te Deum" (also known as the Eurovision theme song) I think this one has to be both heard and seen to be appreciated in its full colourful campy glory. With the bright, spandex costumes, stare-down dance routines and neon lights in the clip, I dare anyone to not have this running in their head for a good week or so thereafter.



One of my other favourites here is Mimi Coutelier's "Boogie Lady." Granted, her voice is practically weightless, with the Ritchie Family (I'm assuming) on background doing most of the heavy lifting, but it's so damn sweet and catchy, it hardly matters. The clip of Mimi's dance sequence (choreography courtesy of Marilyn Corwin) looks like yet another one of THE disco glamour moments here (which, it appears Madonna was quite taken with, also). With that high kicking, arm twirling solo dance routine, blinking projections in the back surrounded by every other manner of disco variety show glitz; for what was probably supposed to be a stinging parody, it looks so damn fabulous it might as well have been a tribute..



The Ritchie Family perform the title theme for the closing disco sequence, but you can see almost everyone, including a couple of the Village People and Jacques Morali himself (2.52-2.54 in the glasses and red shirt), as well..



Running just over thirty minutes and with only three original/exclusive tracks (not including the two instrumental versions), it may be somewhat short, but still a whole lot of fun and well worth tracking down for fans of Morali's work. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
LOOK FOR AN ASCOT, A BIG CIGAR.. (WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 31, 2008)
DISCO DELIVERY #11: PHYLICIA ALLEN - JOSEPHINE SUPERSTAR (1978, CASABLANCA) (FRIDAY MARCH 17, 2006)
THE FUGITIVE COP (WEDNESDAY MARCH 8, 2006)

PURCHASE:
JE TE TIENS, TU ME TIENS PAR LA BARBICHETTE (REGION 2 DVD)
AMAZON.FR

LINKS:
DISCOGS: VARIOUS - LA BARBICHETTE - BANDE ORIGINALE DU FILM DE JEAN YANNE
DISCOGS: THE RITCHIE FAMILY - LA BARBICHETTE/FOREVER DANCING (7" SINGLE)
DISCOGS: JACQUES MORALI
DISCO-DISCO: HENRI BELOLO & JACQUES MORALI
IMDB: JE TE TIENS, TU ME TIENS PAR LA BARBICHETTE (1979)
ALL MOVIE GUIDE: JE TE TIENS, TU ME TIENS PAR LA BARBICHETTE (1979)
NEW YORK TIMES - MOVIES: JE TE TIENS, TU ME TIENS PAR LA BARBICHETTE
WIKIPÉDIA: JE TE TIENS, TU ME TIENS PAR LA BARBICHETTE
IMDB: JEAN YANNE
THE INDEPENDENT - OBITUARIES: JEAN YANNE (BY PIERRE PERRONE) (MONDAY MAY 26, 2003)
ALL MOVIE GUIDE: JEAN YANNE
THE TELEGRAPH - OBITUARIES: JEAN YANNE (MAY 31, 2003)
IMDB: MIMI COUTELIER
WIKIPÉDIA: MIMI COUTELIER
IMDB: MARILYN CORWIN

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, VISUAL DISCO

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