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Documentary ‘Sex Fashion & Disco’ Uses Archival Footage to Evoke ’70s-’80s Scene

James Crump, an art historian and filmmaker whose credits include 2007’s “Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe,” has turned his attention to the hothouse world of New York’s ’70s and ’80s fashion scene with “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco,” a documentary premiering at the BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 12 before screening at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in November.

Crump spent more than 18 months crafting the film, which is alive with art, music and the recollections of players from that world, including Jessica Lange, Vogue creative director Grace Coddington and the late New York Times society photographer Bill Cunningham.

But the subject at the film’s center is an influential fashion illustrator who, like so many gay men of his generation, died of AIDS — in 1987, at age 44. “Antonio means a lot to me. He’s been on my mind for a long time,” says Crump, who recalls discovering the artist’s work in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, which Crump considered his “portal to New York” when he was a teenager living in rural Indiana.

Lopez, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Harlem, illustrated thousands of fashion ads that appeared in such publications as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times, thrilling the fashion world with his colorful, sexy drawings.

Crump collaborated with visual effects artist Andre Purwo to showcase that work through the kind of movement and color that permeates Lopez’s illustrations. “We wanted to breathe life into the drawings, but as an art historian, I didn’t want to be too heavy-handed,” Crump says. “I didn’t want to overwhelm them with effects.”

The film relies on archival footage and still photos to depict Lopez’s life. Crump cast a wide net in his search for material, sourcing visuals from the estate of Lopez and Juan Ramos (the artist’s creative partner and longtime lover) and numerous other outlets. Among Crump’s earliest gets: footage from “L’Amour,” an obscure 1973 film directed by Warhol and Paul Morrissey. Doc editor Nick Tamburri and his team digitally cleaned up much of that footage, which included a mix of Super 8, 8mm, 16mm and video shot with the early Sony Portapak video recording system.

The biggest challenge in the edit suite was in seamlessly blending footage from archives with newly shot B-roll to re-create the ambience of locations such as Club 7, a Paris nightspot that no longer exists but figured prominently in Lopez’s world. Crump had access to only one brief clip shot at Club 7, but he used it creatively, and viewers of the film might assume he had more material to work with. The director took pains to pace the film at a rapid clip. “We don’t want anyone to ever look at their watch,” he says.

The soundtrack features classic ’70s songs by artists like the Temptations and Donna Summer and is designed to immerse the audience in the era’s vibe.

Licensing songs for the documentary was expensive, says Crump, “but you have to reach when you make a film like this. The Donna Summer tracks are super important, especially the one that’s called ‘Try Me, I Know We Can Make It.’ It comes from the album ‘A Love Trilogy,’ [which] Antonio would play obsessively in his
studio.”

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