Staff Reviews

Orgies for the Masses

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Early in American Swing, a 2008 documentary about the Manhattan sex club Plato's Retreat, screenwriter and actor Buck Henry recalls the "free, third-rate buffet, which I always considered tempting but dangerous." That description fits the club itself. Yet even the photographer who picked up crabs in the "mattress room" looks back on her experiences fondly.

Through a deft combination of interviews, TV clips, and footage shot inside the club during its heyday, American Swing (now available on DVD) captures the tawdry appeal of the place. Larry Levenson, the Bronx butcher's son who started Plato's Retreat in 1977, welcomed people of all shapes and backgrounds. The club—which the city closed in 1985, ostensibly to prevent the spread of AIDS—was "a poor man's Playboy Mansion" where "even the ugliest person had a certain charm." Levenson, who died in 1999, was an advocate not only of swinging but of "a free society where people can enjoy themselves the way they want to."