Written by Hugo Perez

image What Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion and Andy Warhol’s Factory were to the international jet-set of the 1960s, Larry Levinson’s infamous sex-club Plato’s Hideaway was to working class New York in the late seventies and early eighties. Jon Hart and Matthew Kauffman’s documentary AMERICAN SWING captures the rise and fall of this truly unique New York establishment and the equally compelling story of Larry Levinson, the self-proclaimed King of Swing who founded Plato’s Hideaway as a place where middle class husbands and wives could let their hair down and swing. 

Photo L to R: STF guest host Hugo Perez, American Swing subjects Adam and Captain John and producer Matthew Kauffman

This week’s AMERICAN SWING screening was the fastest sell-out in the history of STF resulting in a sold-out audience whose ranks included more than just a few of the subjects interviewed in the film. Directors Jon Hart and Matthew Kauffman were on hand after the screening for a lively discussion of the film in which they revealed their most successful technique for persuading people to be interviewed for the film: “We just refused to leave until they would give us an interview.” With a subject matter still sensitive for some of the subjects, it did indeed take perseverance and patience to build a relationship of trust with the many subjects who participated in the film. Editor Keith Reamer underscored the kind of patience required to make the film by pointing out that the making of the film stretched back more than the five actual years of production to over a decade ago when producer Jon Hart first met Larry Levinson. Hart revealed that his conversations in the 1990s with Levinson, who was then making a living as a cabdriver, made a lasting impression on him. That impression grew with time and became the impetus for telling the story of Plato’s and the men and women for whom the Plato’s crowd became an extended family during the club’s heyday.

And at the end of the evening, we learned that the Swing scene in New York was alive and well. Interview subject Captain John, sporting an original Plato’s Hideaway T-Shirt, invited the STF crowd to join him at Casbar, a new swing club in Brooklyn. As the gathered audience trickled out of the IFC Center that night, the first sultry breath of spring and a St. Patrick’s Day feeling of bacchanalia beckoned to them. And more than a few seemed to feel the call.