Monday, April 3, 2023

Spinning Gold: The Man Behind Donna Summer, Village People, and KISS Greatest Hits

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Relevant and freshly made, “Spinning Gold” is the untold story of visionary record producer Neil Bogart, the man behind the 1970s America’s greatest hits “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Love to Love You, Baby,” “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” “On the Radio,” “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Lean on Me,” “YMCA,” and “Beth.”


Neil Bogart was known as “the star maker,” who discovered and promoted the most iconic singers to stardom – Donna Summer, Gladys Knight, Bill Withers, The Isley Brothers, Village People, and KISS.

KISS in “Spinning Gold.” Photo courtesy of Movie Platform.

The life of the visionary record producer arrives on the big screen as an insightful and nostalgic biopic, where the audience can see not only Neil’s personal life and the relationship he had with the soon-to-be stars and plenty of more dirt on the record industry. He was a hustler, a gambler, and addicted to heavy drugs. To pay for the engagement ring, Neil worked in a soft-porn movie. It is just an example of how far he went. Without being judgmental, it was when people enjoyed life to the fullest with plenty of sex and drugs, right before the AIDS pandemic, the war on drugs, and corporate greed.


Neil had to deal with betrayals, payola infringements, and lawsuits to make Casablanca Records the most successful independent recording company in America’s history. The competition with other studios was fierce, mostly with Universal, Warner Bros., Motown, and Arista. 

Timothy Scott Bogart, “Spinning Gold.” Photo by Jose Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA 

According to director/producer Timothy Scott Bogart, everything the movie recounts, including Neil’s problems with the Jewish, Italian, and black mobs, was real. 

Timothy did not follow specific moments of his father’s life, but he focused on the music chronology. Every song Neil Bogart produced at Casablanca Records has a driven narrative because the rhythms from 1974-1977 build the crescendo of the drama avoiding the episodic narrative.

In “Spinning Gold,” Timothy Scott Bogart accurately captures Neil’s essence and positivity, pushing the narrative forward as his father did in every aspect of his life, including the production of every song and the challenges he had to deal with, including going to Berlin to get Donna Summer.


Timothy Scott Bogart wrote the lines with musicality, freely. He let the script become something else. The story is told through costumes, makeup, set design, and mainly with music. He wanted to make a “musical movie,” not “a movie with music” in it. Timothy’s revelation was to learn how scared his father was at every step of his professional and personal life.


Visually, Timothy wanted to make an homage to the period with neon, electric, and highly colorized images, costumes, and sets. The extras in the film were professional dancers who were easy to keep in frame.

Tayla Parx as Donna Summer in “Spinning Gold.” Photo courtesy of Movie Platform.

In 1999, he pitched the project to Paramount, and even Justin Timberlake was attached to play Neil Bogart at one point. 

The film’s casting can be questionable because fans remember their idols at the peak of their careers after those diamonds were polished. Actress/singer Tayka Paxs has the confidence, innocence, and powerful voice to play Donna Summer, not someone that looks like Donna Summer. The case of George Clinton is similar because rapper Wiz Khalifa is playing the legendary singer and the original performer. Other actors were comedians who were able to have the job done. 

The director states that in his movie, he did not want to have someone impersonate somebody else but to do real acting. Following his father’s footsteps, Timothy is always fascinated by discovering new artists. 

Jeremy Jordan as Neil Bogard, “Spinning Gold.” Photo courtesy of Movie Platform.

Two months before production, he went to Broadway and found Jeremy Jordan, who could hold the audience in the theater with his charisma and musicality. In “Spinning Gold,” Jeremy Jordan puts on a good show incarnating the independent record producer Neil Bogart with confidence.

The sound quality of “Spinning Gold” is pristine, and the soundtrack is complex. The original songs were not remastered but re-recorded with new voices. They spent enormous time designing the film’s sound and bringing up different tracks.

To acquire the rights and have access to such essential songs, in 2009, Timothy Scott Bogart pitched the film to the record companies as an independent production and be able to get lower quotes for using the entire song catalog without worrying about the “needle drop” of the 20 seconds song rights. It was not the case with “Spinning Gold.”


Donna Summer - Last Dance (Academy Awards,1978)

Suppose they already have secured the rights to those everlasting hits. Why not recreate some of the most iconic moments that go with them, or at least mention those specific events, such as Donna Summer performing the Awards-winning song “Last Dance” at the Oscars, the jewel of the crown of the golden era of disco music?

Long before the terms of inclusion and diversity were significant, the independent record-level Casablanca had Afro-Americans, Jewish and white people working together to achieve their fundamental goal, to bring the best artist, composers, and theme songs to the masses.

In “Spinning Gold,” the flashy musical montages add style to the film but must be sufficient to counteract the elongated family melodrama. The audience is hungry for music, awards, and memorabilia in showbiz. In other words, less cocaine and more immersive creativity from the visionary artist and record producer who transcended his time to our days for his contributions to the music industry.

Timothy Scott Bogart and film critic Jose Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

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