New TIFF doc asks: Did disco touch off a cultural revolution?
Thelma Houston (left) and director Jamie Kastner pose for a photo as they promote the movie "The Secret Disco Revolution" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young)
Published Saturday, September 8, 2012 2:07PM EDT
TORONTO -- There may be more informative documentaries than Jamie Kastner's "The Secret Disco Revolution" screening at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, but his is at the top of the heap when it comes to glittering gaudiness.
"The film is first of all, a lot of fun," Kastner, a Toronto native, said in a recent interview. "You've got a goldmine of footage. You've got a bunch of disco stars. You've got wacky, great new theories to play with.
"I think it's entertaining first, but I think it's also quite informative and revelatory and does make you think and scratch your head."
The cheeky doc finds Kastner probing recent academic re-interpretations into the supposedly understated cultural importance of the by-gone '70s dancefloor sensation.
Featuring original interviews with those aforementioned experts as well as some titans of the glitzy genre -- including Gloria Gaynor, Kool and the Gang and a sit-down with the Village People that Kastner said "went completely off the rails" -- Kastner probes whether disco was quietly a tool of liberation for African-Americans, women and gay men.
Lest anyone think Kastner takes the world of polyester leisure suits and sequined platform heels too seriously, it's worth noting that his exploration of the influential genre was at least partially a tongue-in-cheek affair.
"I've used a kind of an ironic fictional framework to investigate some of these newfangled theories about disco," said Kastner, whose previous projects include 2005's "Djangomania!"
"Because it stands to reason that if there was a revolution that was so secret that the participants themselves were unaware of it, obviously there must have been some masterminds puppeteering the whole thing. So we attempt what might be described as speculative re-enactments -- or what might be described as pure fiction -- that involve what we imagine the masterminds behind the disco revolution to have been."
One might assume that Kastner -- a former music critic -- was passionate about the genre prior to taking on this project.
He wasn't. But that's changed, if only in degrees.
"Making the film did both deepen my appreciation for disco and my appreciation for the power of academia to make a theory out of just about anything," he said, laughing.
The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off Thursday. "The Secret Disco Revolution" debuts at the festival on Sept. 8 (Saturday) and screens again Sept. 13 (Thursday).