Maestro

2004, Movie, NR, 89 mins

Review

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Disco gets its due in this lightweight but entertaining look at the underground dance culture that flourished in New York City throughout the 1970s. What this four-years-in-the-making documentary lacks in substance it makes up for with an infectious love — and respect — for its oft-derided subject. While much has been said about the sociological import of punk rock, comparatively little attention has been paid to a musical subculture which, by crossing virtually every imaginable racial, sexual and economic divide, was far more radical. And by dance music — you won't often hear the term "disco" among the DJs, record producers and veteran club-crawlers interviewed here — filmmaker Josell Ramos doesn't mean "Stayin' Alive." He's talking about the soul, R&B and danceable rock spun by such pioneering DJs as David Mancuso, Larry Levan and Francis Grasso at such legendary clubs as the Loft, Paradise Garage and the Gallery. Heavily black, Hispanic and gay, many of these early clubs were more like ultra-private invitation-only house parties than Studio 54. (Mancuso circumvented the city's stringent cabaret laws by arguing that the Loft was actually his home and that technically, he was throwing parties for friends.) Ramos and his legion of interviewees vividly evoke the atmosphere of these hot spots, where those in the know danced the night away to the best disco in town. There's some tech talk about innovations in club sound design, the evolution of the 12-inch remix and the politics of same-sex dancing in the aftermath of Stonewall, and the film ends with a chilling reflection on the way the sex-and-drugs atmosphere left the door open for AIDS, which crashed the party like the specter in the "Masque of the Red Death." While such classics as Eddy Grant's "Walking on Sunshine" and ESG's "Moody" are briefly heard booming on the soundtrack, the film is surprisingly stingy with the music — securing music rights can run a small production into the ground, but still — and overall an objective analysis of what it was all about would have been nice. Nevertheless, the film is a much-needed celebration of an important era in which subcultures connected and sometimes clashed, and what the DJs were spinning had the power to change lives. As one Garage habitue puts it, "It was a place where you could be yourself. And you could be fabulous." leave a comment --Ken Fox

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