29 December 2016 | lor_
Poor documentary about a guy best forgotten or ignored
Typical of "documentaries" (I hate that categorization -most such films are as fictional/non-objective as any acted-out feature) by untalented amateurs, this peek at the creator of '70s iconic club "Plato's Retreat" is a worthless, probably intentionally misleading bit of history/myth-making. Clearly made to cash-in on the prurient aspects of its subject matter (porn for people afraid to watch real porn) it has no guts and proves to be laughably sentimental, when a cold, steely-eyed look was necessary to elevate this minor material to something worth watching.
Even the interviewees are given euphemistic identifiers on screen, as wimpy an approach as one could take. The great and enduring porn actress Annie Sprinkle is called "Artist" and even the inevitable (and unhelpful in his gibberish comments) Ron Jeremy is called an artist for some reason, perhaps "artiste"?? -not. Fred Lincoln, a favorite porn director of mine, is merely identified as the manager of the club (hardly his epitaph) and gets the last word in the show which merely paints him as an ignorant idiot. For all the sentimental slop slathered on the subject of this picture, Larry Levenson, poor Fred is treated like dirt.
As a reporter for Variety throughout the '80s I knew a fair number of these interviewees and could easily have asked them more useful questions than are on display here. Perhaps the closest to the truth comes from the admittedly exaggeration-prone mouth of Screw mag founder Al Goldstein, who basically takes the contrarian view in deflating over and over Larry's self-importance. I agree with Al whole-heartedly - the creation of a locally popular club for swingers, which got tons of publicity (we see the Voice reporter repeatedly who inadvertently acted as a shill to give the project notoriety) making it a tourist mecca (including bridge & tunnel locals technically as tourists traveling to Manhattan).
But swinging existed before and continues today, recently well- documented in Adult Cinema with a slew of features such as those produced for self-promotion by kink.com. Is the British major domo of kink.com with his famous Frisco armory home base the 21st Century version of Levenson? Perhaps, but IMHO, who cares?
Levenson's need for self-glorification (and constant sex) created this transitory phenomenon of Plato's Retreat, which Annie Sprinkle very accurately sums up, in referring to its decade-long rise and fall, as merely another trendy club which would have died of its own aging as all "hot spots" due, as the trendsters and club kids move on to the next and newer one. When I was covering restaurants for Zagat I remember the meteoric rise of the West Village's trendy Moomba, where Leo DiCaprio and his gang hung out for awhile, even earning praise for its menu by the Times' then-critic Ruth Reichl. But the moving finger wrote and moved on, and within a couple of years Moomba went from world-wide symbol of hip to an early grave, now housing an Irish pub in the 7th Ave. South space.
So did Plato's, the sexual equivalent of a dive bar, or to be charitable one of those Vegas-imitating Brooklyn Russian supper club/restaurants that overcharge their loyal Russian clientele for vodka and the illusion of sexy glamour. The nostalgia interviews with both famous (Buck Henry, so talented and so in love with slumming) and nonentities (a portly lady who heaps oodles of self-praise on herself for having gone from shy wallflower to swinger in one easy Plato's lesson) reduce this would-be documentary to a collection of anecdotes, 95% of which should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Levenson's decline from the "king of swing" (self-described) to working as a cabby is one big yawn. He kills off any sympathy one might have for him with video footage of his idiotic and dangerous remarks about AIDS when he was fighting to keep his unsafe-sex venue open during the '80s crackdown on sex clubs like his, though the filmmakers here mangle the issue of Gay vs. Straight in their focus on Levenson to the exclusion of all else.
As that great show used to say, there are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them, but unfortunately one that didn't need telling, so trivial is its content and import. If one wishes information on the sexual revolution in America, so dramatic in the '60s and '70s, one should focus on Hugh Hefner, Betty Friedan, Gerard Damiano or other giants. My reaction to Levenson is similar to what I felt after watching the horrendous British biopic of local smutmeister Paul Raymond (as played by Steve Coogan) -yuck! I'm sure another overrated sleaze merchant Bob Guccione will receive the sentimental documentary treatment next, but count me out on that one.