Spinning Gold

One of the things I remember vividly from growing up in the 1970s were the record labels of my favorite artists. In the 60s, Capitol Records or Motown would have been the most important to me, but in the 70s, was was enthralled by two bands, each of which was on a rebel, independent label, and both of those labels were lead by bigger than life characters. 

Robert Stigwood led the RSO Label and parodied himself in the movie he backed with his biggest band, “The Bee Gees” in Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

Real fans got the joke because we paid attention to the labels. Casablanca Records was also a player, taking big risks, like releasing four Kiss Solo Albums at once, and sticking with artists that were taking a while to break. “Spinning Gold” is a biographical film of Casablanca’s creator, Neil Bogart. His story is as outrageous as any of the biopics of artists that you may have seen in the last few years, but as an executive, he had different reponsibilites and different opportunities to screw it up or hit it out of the park. He did both on a regular basis, in the cocaine fueled music industry located in New York and Hollywood.

The film comes from a son, Timothy Scott Bogart, who wrote the screenplay and directed this movie about his father’s career. There are still warts in the story that get told, but the movie has a quality to it that treats the subject with kid gloves anyway. Neil Bogart as played by Broadway star Jeremy Jordan, warns us that the story is all true, at least from the perspective of the person narrating it. This attempts to give license to some big claims about his contribution to the creatives and not just the business part of their successes. Of course there is also a basis for the ability to make those claims because Bogart was not just an executive, he was a musician, performer, producer as well. 

From the opening of the film, the stage based musical styling of the storytelling is apparent. This will probably work as a Broadway Jukebox Musical, more effectively than as a drama for the screen. There are well over a dozen musical sequences, some of which are complete presentations of the work done by artists like Donna Summer, The Isley Brothers, Bill Withers and Kiss. The actors portraying these artists seem to have been chosen for their musical ability rather than their resemblance to the singers and bands. This allows the film to have some credibility as an entertainment but it leaves the drama to the same tropes that you will find in a dozen other films of this ilk. 

Although littered with flashbacks and flash forward segments, the story is still narratively a rags to riches to ruin and then redemption arc. I did like every time the stakes were rising that we got a talley of the debt the label was accumulating. As a Kiss fan, I think the story shifts the rescue of the label a little more to Donna Summer’s single than the breakthrough that the band finally achieved with it’s live album. Still there are legitimate moments in the film story that come from reality. Kiss did have a financial standoff with Bogart at a critical juncture in the labels history. Bogart did back them, but the relationship was not always a positive one, although in the long run everybody made up, because success solves a lot of wounds.                

The film is also a nice historical look at the music trends of the era. 70’s soul,  disco and hard rock are all evolving and this movie attempts to depict some important moments in those movements. Regardless of the accuracy of the story, and it is mostly on target. the craziness in the film never works the way it should. The drama feels manufactured and the staging is inconsistent. Sometimes we get a great musical moment but it is followed by a flat musical sequence or a dramatic moment that is overplayed by the script. 

Overall I can recommend this to fans of the music and the label, but regular movie goers are likely to yawn with a been there, done that attitude. You can enjoy the music, and the label history, but the clips of the real Neil Bogart in the credits talking to Merv Griffin or being interviewed by some other show business program, suggest he was a much more interesting character than was created in this film. There is a Kiss Biopic coming from Netflix down the road, It will be interesting to compare the version of Bogart that they come up with to the one in this film. 

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