“American Swing” memorializes “the poor man’s Playboy Mansion,” the late-’70s/early-’80s Manhattan sex club Plato’s Retreat. This flashback to one of the sexual revolution’s symbolic highlights and flameouts can’t help but grab attention, abetted by recollections of assorted former staff and regulars (who are more entertaining than the celebrities interviewed). That said, Mathew Kaufman and Jon Hart’s docu is just functionally assembled, lacking the style or larger social context that distinguished similar studies like “Inside Deep Throat.” Also, poor quality of early vidcam clips means this planned Magnolia release will look considerably better on the smallscreen.

While gay bathhouses flourished in 1977, there was no regular public venue for hetero swingers until Larry Levenson decided to open one. He reveled in his role as “King of Swing” for “free-thinking, free-loving young couples.” The mostly very ordinary, working-class Noo Yawkahs who comprised Plato’s core clientele (and employees) recall its nonjudgmental, liberating atmosphere. But by 1984, the party was over, due to murky finances, IRS investigation, NYPD busts, AIDS and other factors. Anecdotes, archival materials et al. are all amusing, but the pic could have used more packaging and editorial invention.

American Swing

  • Production: A Magnolia Pictures release of an HDNet presentation of a Zip Dog production. (International sales: Magnolia Pictures Intl., New York.) Produced by Mathew Kaufman, Jon Hart, Gretchen McGowan, Christian Hoagland. Executive producers, Jason Kliot Joana Vicente, Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban. Directed, written by Mathew Kaufman, Jon Hart, based on an article by Hart.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Christian Hoagland; editor, Keith Reamer; music, Jim Coleman. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 6, 2008. Running time: 81 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Helen Gurley Brown, Professor Irwin Corey, Betty Dodson, Dan Dorman, Donna Ferrato, Jamie Gillis, Al Goldstein, Dian Hanson, Buck Henry, Ron Jeremy, Ed Koch, John Leo, Fred J. Lincoln, Melvin Van Peebles, Howard Smith, Annie Sprinkles.
  • Music By: