Films & Schedules

  • American Swing

  • Mathew Kaufman

  • Jon Hart

81 minutes

Production Company:
Zip Dog Productions
Executive Producer:
Jason Kliot, Joana Vicente
Gretchen McGowan, Christian Hoagland
Christian Hoagland
Keith Reamer
Michael Yessian, Brian Yessian

US Distributor:
Magnolia Pictures
International Sales Agent:
Magnolia Pictures International

TIFF Tags: Documentary 

Friday September 0506:15PM AMC 10 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Saturday September 0604:30PM AMC 9 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Friday September 1209:00PM AMC 2 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

In 1977, New York City was scorched by stifling heat waves, enervated by energy crunches and inflation and hurtling toward social unrest. But its citizens partied on. Nightlife flourished, disco and cocaine ruled at the exclusive Studio 54 and punks smashed guitars at CBGB. Meanwhile, a raging orgy was underway at Plato's Retreat. Chronicling the rise and fall of this notorious sex club and its quixotic owner Larry Levenson, American Swing captures the glorious last gasp of the (mostly hetero) sexual revolution that had been birthed in the sixties.

Plato's Retreat evolved from a desire to have straight sex out in the open, a privilege flaunted by the city's gay clubs. At first glance, Levenson appeared to be a regular family man, but in reality he was “a runaway tiger of sex,” frequenting swingers clubs behind his wife's back. Bankrolled by shady investors with mob links and promoting the club through spots on public-access cable, Levenson and his swinger girlfriend Mary created a relaxed atmosphere where inhibitions were cast aside in favour of free, wild behaviour. Walking into Plato's Retreat was like walking into a stag film.

Directors Mathew Kaufman and Jon Hart have unearthed footage of a lost era chock full of chest hair, gold medallions, platform shoes and a multitude of penis and bra sizes. Club founders, patrons, employees, journalists and friends – including Melvin Van Peebles, Buck Henry, Ed Koch and porn legend Jamie Gillis – relate humorous and oddly sentimental recollections. Sexagenarian former regulars reminisce about the glorious (if hygienically questionable) dinner buffet, while others recount anecdotes about the pool, the “mattress room” and more.

The city government was so repulsed by what went on inside Plato's that they tried to pass ordinances to close it. As the AIDS epidemic hit, gay bathhouses were shut down, and pressure was put on Plato's, which was finally closed on New Year's Eve, 1985.

American Swing. It's sweaty. It's sleazy. It's sexy. It's the seventies, baby.

Colin Geddes

Mathew Kaufman was born in Mount Kisco, New York, and graduated in film from the Tisch School of the Arts. He has directed the documentaries Swap Meat (94), Domestic Differences (97) and American Swing (08).

Jon Hart was born in New York City and studied political science from the University of Vermont. As a journalist, he has contributed to numerous publications, including The New York Times, The New York Post, Time Out New York, Maxim, Details and The Village Voice. American Swing (08) is his first feature documentary.

Cadillac People's Choice Award