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Spinning Gold (A Movie Review)


Starring Jeremy Jordan, Wiz Khalifa, Jason Isaacs, Jason Derulo, Jay Pharoah, Michelle Monaghan, Dan Fogler, Sebastian Maniscalco, Winslow Fegley, Ledisi, Sam Harris, Caylee Cowan, Chris Redd, James Wolk, Tayla Parx, Lyndsy Fonseca, Peyton List, Pink Sweats, Casey Likes, Alex Gaskarth, Michael Ian Black and Vincent Pastore.

Screenplay by Timothy Scott Bogart.

Directed by Timothy Scott Bogart.

Distributed by Hero Entertainment. 137 minutes. Rated R.

Neil Bogart was a larger-than-life legend in the music business, even if very few people other than music nerds like me still have a clue who he was.

Bogart ran Casablanca Record and Filmworks, which after a very rocky start became the most successful independent record label of the 1970s. Bogart worked with and/or discovered such acts as KISS, Donna Summer, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bill Withers, The Village People, Parliament/Funkadelic and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. He worked hard, lived hard, partied hard. He ran up monumental debts and threw legendary parties. He ran afoul of music biz execs and the mob. All of that before dying way too young at 39 of cancer.

It's a fascinating, under-explored story about the highs and the lows of the music business in its glory days. Bogart’s son Tim has long felt that it was important to tell his dad’s story and has been working to get his dad’s story on film since the 1990s. (Early on, Justin Timberlake was in talks to portray Bogart, although eventually he had to drop out because his musical schedule was packed, and he could not fit it in.)

Now, finally, after decades of waiting, Tim Bogart has gotten his father’s life story onscreen. He did it in a way that his own dad would appreciate – going the independent route and taking on the tough work (screenwriting and directing) himself, and basically willing it into existence.

“Getting that story out… is… moving for me,” Bogart told me in a recent interview. “I do think this is a great parallel in the perseverance and the dream I had in making it.”

Bogart has captured a fascinating look back at the wild west days of the old music world, sex, drugs and rock & roll back when it was safe and normal. Like many recent music biopics, Spinning Gold is a mix of hard reality and fanciful romanticization. Sometimes it feels like a serious gangster drama of the 1970s, at other times a jukebox musical with some damn good music provided by current singers playing the legends of days past.

While most of the celeb singers have the voices to pull off the roles, they mostly look almost nothing like the performers they are playing, such as Donna Summer, Gladys Knight and Bill Withers. Also, a personal note to Wiz Khalifa, in 1976 almost no one had nose piercings, not even someone as wild and funky and willfully out there as George Clinton. So you may want to take those things out when portraying a real-life character from another era.

However, I suppose this is not supposed to be a tribute act. The song is the thing, and mostly the re-recordings of legendary hits of the 1970s work surprisingly well.

Holding it all together – the ringleader of the film portraying the ringleader of Casablanca – is Broadway and TV star Jeremy Jordan (Newsies, Little Shop of Horrors, Supergirl) who can access both Bogart’s showmanship and hard-nosed determination. It’s a fascinating bit of myth-building.

“That was kind of Neil's vibe,” Jordan told me in that same interview. “He just wanted to make you dance and wanted to entertain. He was a showman.

“He's writing his own ending, and it is really kind of beautiful and magical and different in that way,” Jordan continued. “We don't feel tied to ultra reality, and this is the exact perfect way that this happened. It doesn't have to be [real] because it was sex, drugs, rock and roll. It was the journey as opposed to the actual truth of it all.”

You could say that about the 1970s in general.

Spinning Gold is spinning some fascinating tales of life on the periphery of superstardom and the high you reach by going all in and creating some genre-defining art. Plus, it’s got a great beat, and you can dance to it. What more can you ask?

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: March 31, 2023.


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