Like an E! True Hollywood Story—albeit one generously stocked with grungy genitalia shots—Jon Hart and Matthew Kaufman’s pop doc on notorious swingers’ hot spot Plato’s Retreat sticks to a superficial rise-and-fall template: The place was très chic, then it was shuttered, and here’s a smattering of disco hits in case you forgot this was the ’70s. Everybody from Helen Gurley Brown to Al Goldstein requisitely waxes nostalgic, while former regulars reminisce about the way this “poor man’s Playboy Mansion” blew their minds. (Though the “blowing,” naturally, didn’t end there.) Meanwhile, the sex-club founder and self-proclaimed “king of swing,” Larry Levenson, emerges as a pioneering entrepreneur of prefab sleaze, whose bottoming-out in the mid-1980s is just another example of the sexual revolution’s karmic retribution.
But other than blithely connecting the dots between Levenson’s appetites and the era’s anything-goes ideology, American Swing steers clear of big-picture historical insight. The notion that Levenson’s Studio 54 for group sex reflected or refracted New York’s embrace of libidinous freedom, much less the nation’s, is only coyly flirted with; the melding of personal and political at Plato’s is summed up by everyday people declaring, “It was a trip.” That’s groovy, but such a sociologically rich subject deserves better than a reductive K-tel treatment.