The story of Casablanca Records has been told by many – in books, articles, and by larger-than-life figures who lived through the salad days of rock and disco music in the mid to late 1970s. Its rise as a successful factory – home to KISS, Donna Summer, the Village People and Parliament Funkadelic – was short, quick and substantial.
Founded in 1974 by Neil Bogart, who had had mixed success as a record holder at Buddha Records, an MGM sub-label that signed Gladys Knight and the Pips and the Ohio Express, Casablanca had a reputation as a place of excess. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were the mantra of the time, and that’s certainly the case for the record label that provided the first extended single to clubs and radio stations around the world – Summer’s 17 minute “Love to Love You,” produced by Giorgio Moroder and first released in 1975.
According to legend, the record was played at one of Bogart’s wild Hollywood parties, where it unwittingly repeated itself over and over until the host realized that at 17 minutes the song was just long enough to make the pre-AIDS sex soundtrack everyone was. having – and probably coincided with the duration of their high cocaine.
Tim Bogart, one of Neil’s sons alongside hit songwriter Evan Bogart (“SOS” by Rihanna, “Halo” by Beyonce), has given a lot of thought to how little time his father spent on this earth (the elder Bogart died in 1982 of cancer, by which time disco had fallen out of fashion), and worked diligently to preserve the story in script form.
“Spinning Gold” was first conceived in 1990 and, after many drafts, multiple castings and a decades-long search for the right director (the road eventually led to Tim), is finally a finished feature film that makes his screen debut at Cannes.
Neil Bogart is Broadway star Jeremy Jordan and the list cast are current music artists like Ledisi (Gladys Knight), Tayla Parx (Donna Summer), Jason Derulo (Ron Isley) and Wiz Khalifa (George Clinton). Also featured are comedians Sebastian Maniscalco, playing Moroder, Jay Pharoah and Chris Redd. (Watch an exclusive clip from “Spinning Gold” below.)
On the music side, the original songs were not used for the soundtrack, which will be released on Atlantic Records. The Bogarts – younger brother Evan serves as executive music producer alongside Recording Academy head Harvey Mason Jr. – have settled on new releases that show how the genesis of these songs, from the demo phase to the peak of the Billboard charts.
Why did it take three decades to achieve these six seismic years? Tim Bogart spoke to Variety on the development of the film.
How did you find yourself as a director?
We chose to tell the film the way we wanted to, which meant independence was the only way to do it. Not necessarily because we were trying to protect or whitewash the story – I actually found my dad’s flaws to be some of the most fascinating elements of his character. I don’t really see them as flaws. He would never have succeeded without really being a player, in the most extreme sense of the word.
The film was mostly shot during the pandemic. How did it work?
When I decided to direct it was about three years ago, just as the indie film industry itself was changing due to streamers and how international pre-sales worked. Then, as we wrapped up funding, a global pandemic forced us to shut everything down, like the rest of the world. Not knowing: is it a month? Two months? For all time? In the end, we came to realize that this could take forever and we put everything away and waited until we could find another opportunity to complete the picture.
“Hit Men: Powerbrokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business” really put the Casablanca Records story on the map as it was such a popular read among those who worked in, or aspired to, the music industry. It came out in 1990, the year you started the script. What is your opinion of the book?
“Hit Men” is funny. There’s a scene in the book where it says, in essence, that the house Neil Bogart lived in burned to the ground. And the way it’s described, it’s like the hand of God has come down and wiped it off the ground. The author is right that there was a fire — I was in the house when it happened — but it was just the garage.
So you’re saying it’s embellished?
It’s embellished for me. Yes, there was sex – before it was mortal; there was rock and roll; and trying to find someone who didn’t do drugs in the 70s. I’m not claiming that my dad didn’t do drugs. He did. He loved them. There are people who have certainly had excesses; my father was one of them, of course. But I don’t think that defined the story.
The movie doesn’t talk about that. It’s just part of the fabric of these people’s lives. And what I think “Hit Men” did was try to put it all on sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. What it didn’t do was celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of the characters in the book, who were truly some of the boldest, bravest and most creative executives to ever work at our company.
Explain the reason for not using original songs.
When you make a movie about the ultimate gold standards – those classic songs like “Lean on Me”, “Midnight Train to Georgia”, “Rock and Roll All Nite”, “Last Dance” – I felt there was no there was nothing new to say. My vision has always been like a love letter to these artists. I wanted to understand where the songs came from and what the creative process was. It actually opened up a remarkable palette for us to play with because we weren’t saying, they’re the masters. We were saying that these are the original inspirational moments of these songs.
You have actors replicating the arena-rock grandeur of KISS. Do you need to go to Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley for their blessing?
Every artist I contacted – Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Donna’s husband, Bruce Sudano, George Clinton himself – was so supportive of the film. In fact, the people who play P Funk are the real children and grandchildren of the original Funkadelics. You are reaching out to these people to post for sure, but I made no promise to tell the story in any specific way. In the end, I think every single one of them is going to be thrilled.
Will we see the infamous party where the extended “Love to Love You” was born?
It’s 100% a true story and it’s in our movie.
Which role was the hardest to cast?
My father, no doubt. I couldn’t land on the person and spoke to some extraordinarily wonderful actors who wanted to play him. I had actually committed to casting someone and had a total panic attack that I had made the one bad decision that would bring it all down. When I heard about Jeremy Jordan, I googled his performance and saw his extraordinary talent and charisma, as well as the similarities he had to my father’s essence. I jumped on a redeye in New York, got a secret reading and threw it on the spot. It was the smartest and most creative decision I’ve made in my life.
Were you in talks with Justin Timberlake at any point?
I developed the project with Justin for a few years in the beginning. His musical career has become too busy for us to figure out how to work around this schedule. And finally, I decided that I was ready to go and that I wanted to take a different path than the one we were talking about.
Sebastian Maniscalco as Giorgio Moroder was an unexpected cast.
Capturing the comedy was very important from the start. With Sebastian, we kind of looked at what Cameron Crowe did so well with Jimmy Fallon in “Almost Famous.” You didn’t really know it was Jimmy Fallon [Fallon played Stillwater manager Dennis Hope], but it was this wonderful essence of being human that you felt. And only after realizing it’s Jimmy Fallon. I think that’s what people will say about Sebastian. I think they’ll capture this funny character with this crazy accent — [Moroder is] a German in Italy writing in English – and will like what he has done. But it’s really meant to be something you won’t understand until later.
What does “spin gold” mean?
It refers to a number of things. My dad was spinning plates as a three ring circus boss at one point – he had 20 in the air hoping they weren’t going to crash. And obviously gold refers to success in the music industry, like in gold records and money – his ability to create it even when he kept spending it all or losing it all. . But “Spinning Gold” was really the art of a person who believed enough to keep going until they succeeded.
Is there an acknowledgment of the sexism and misogyny of this era in the film? .
We really struggled with that question because it’s such a different time now. And there were the early iterations of the story that leaned much more into sexuality. Ultimately, this is not the story I chose to tell. It’s not that we describe it and don’t comment on it; we believe we’ve done a very honest story about the times and the people. But that particular element, while incredibly important, isn’t something the movie itself is about.
The “Spinning Gold” soundtrack includes:
“Last Dance” – Donna Summer
“I love loving you baby” – Donna Summer
“Bad Girls” – Donna Summer
“Dim All the Lights” – Donna Summer
“That’s Your Thing” – The Isley Brothers
“Oh Happy Day” – Edwin Hawkins Singers
“Midnight Train to Georgia” – Gladys Knight
“Drop the Funk” – Parliament
“Mothership Connection” – Parliament
“Ooh Child” – The Five Stair Steps
“A Hit on the Line” – Brewer & Shipley
“Ain’t No Sunshine” – Bill Withers
“Lean on Me” – Bill Withers
“Who Is He” – Bill Withers
“Rock N Roll All Nite” – Kiss
“Shout It Loud” – Kiss
“Beth” – Kiss
“Delicious, delicious, delicious” – Ohio Players
“Wooly Bully” – Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs
“Ymca” – People of the village