March 31, 2023 / VVS Films
Jeremy Jordan, Michelle Monaghan, Jay Pharoah, Lyndsy Fonesca, Dan Fogler, Peyton List, James Wolk, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jason Isaacs
What do Donna Summer, Parliament, Gladys Knight, The Isley Brothers, The Village People, and Bill Withers all have in common with the rock band KISS? They all rose to their musical heights under the watchful ear of the music industry’s most colorful and brilliant music producer, Neil Bogart, founder of Casablanca Records, the most successful independent record company of all time… Along with a rag tag team of young music lovers, Casablanca Records would rewrite history and change the music industry forever. Their mix of creative insanity, a total belief in each other and the music they were creating, shaped our culture and ultimately defined a generation. In a story so unbelievable that it can only be true, comes the motion picture event of the musical journey of Neil Bogart and how his Casablanca Records created the greatest soundtrack of our lives.
Written By Darren
Rating 2 out of 5
Spinning Gold has all the right elements to make for an entertaining musical biopic: great music, a good story to be told and some very talented singers; but the screenplay fails to capture what makes the success of Casablanca Records and makes the film a rather dull watch.
Kiss. Donna Summer. Village People. Parliament. These are just some of the names signed by Casablanca Records during the 1970s, all of whom are artists who have stood the test of time with their unforgettable music. All of them were cultivated under the direction of Casablanca Records’s founder and record executive Neil Bogart, and there is no doubt an interesting story behind how Bogart made Casablanca Records one of the most successful independent record labels of its time. However, Spinning Gold does not tell that story as it fails to tell the behind the scenes story of how these great artists were brought to listeners around the world.
Spinning Gold chronicles the rise of Casablanca Records, one the most successful independent record labels that dominated the 1970s with music legends such as Donna Summer and Kiss. The story is told from the perspective of founder and record executive Neil Bogart, who was personally responsible for giving many stars their first break in the music industry. We follow Bogart from his first one hit wonder in the 1960s, working for other record labels in New York City, and then going out on his own to build Casablanca Records up from the ground in the 1970s.
Musical biopics are a dime a dozen these days, but for the most part they are crowd pleasing films giving audiences a behind the scenes look at some of the biggest names in the music industry, set to that artist’s greatest hits. And while Spinning Gold has the fascinating true story behind how talents like Donna Summer and Kiss were not only discovered, but turned into music legends, the screenplay fails to capture the “how”. The screenplay plays as a highlight reel for the history of Casablanca Records, showing important moments in the company’s history and in Bogart’s personal life that led to their runaway success with Donna Summer that put their company on the map. But while doing so, it loses the interesting story that audiences want to know: how did they make these discoveries? What were they doing that made them so successful in finding such talent? Instead, the screenplay is all over the place not giving a sense of any of the players involved in the story, other than a glimpse into Bogart’s marital troubles and drug problems. Nor does Bogart’s fourth wall breaking narration help, which comes off as patronizing to the audience as it pushes the obvious facts instead of allowing the story to play out naturally.
The screenplay does eventually find its footing once Donna Summer is put front and centre in the film’s final act, showing how they turned “Love to Love You Baby” into a runaway hit and how they reinvented her to create the Queen of Disco we know her as today. With this plot line, the film finally gives audiences the answer to “how” Casablanca Records made a hit instead of showing various moments that did not provide any insight into their inner workings. There are moments of clarity throughout the film that show this story’s potential, such as Bogart working on “Midnight Train to Georgia” with Gladys Knight or the backstory behind Kiss’s “Beth”, but these moments are few and far between in the film’s first two acts.
Not helping the film are the performances. The majority of the supporting cast are not given the screen time nor writing to make an impact on the film, wasting the talents of Michelle Monaghan, Jason Isaacs and Dan Folger. Music artists are cast to portray the legendary musicians depicted in the film, and while their acting is not incredible, they stun with their musical performances as they cover Casablanca Records’s greatest hits. While I like Jeremy Jordan from his Broadway performances and his time on Supergirl, his lead performance as Bogart is very weak and fails to energize the film. The only standout is Tayla Parx as Donna Summer, who is absolutely captivating every second she is on screen and the film would have benefited from a whole lot more of her.
Luckily, the film has a brilliant soundtrack of countless hits that defined a generation to carry the film from start to finish. At least every five minutes, there is a song blasting that you know and will be humming along to. The film itself is structured as a jukebox musical, with the cast performing the songs, and all of them kill the musical performances. With a cast of actual musicians and Broadway trained performers such as Jason Derulo and Wiz Khalifa, there is no need for autotune as these artists bring to life such classics as “Last Dance”, “Lean on Me” and “Shout It Out Loud”. Every musical performance is guaranteed to have you tapping your toes, and eagerly awaiting the next song to start as the story fizzles quickly between songs. The only negative about the songs is the bad sound mixing, overpowering the film’s dialogue for the story that plays out overtop of the music, making it hard to capture what is happening as the base and background music of the songs consistently overpowers it.
Despite a great soundtrack of some of the greatest hits ever produced by Casablanca Records that defined a generation with great musical performance from the entire cast, there is nothing else about Spinning Gold that warrants your attention when you can just listen to the soundtrack instead. While there is an interesting story to be told about Neil Bogart and Casablanca Records, Spinning Gold’s screenplay fails to capture what audiences want to know about this story, making the film a misfire for the entertaining jukebox biopic musical it wanted to be.