American Swing: Interview with Directors Mathew Kaufman and Jon Hart

Mathew Kaufman and Jon Hart are the Directors of the new sex documentary, “American Swing,” which was released on March 27, 2009 by Magnolia Pictures.


Mathew Kaufman

“What kind of cast did it take to make this movie? One of our first shoots was way out in southern New Jersey. Once the interview was over our subject insisted, quite firmly, that we stay to watch his middle-aged mistress strip on a pole he had rigged in his basement especially for the occasion. The crew and I all sat around eating doughnuts and drinking coffee as the show, including a uniquely smoked cigar, provided us with some mind-blowing material that I immediately realized would never make anyone’s final cut.




I spent countless hours on phone interviews, taking jaw-dropping notes from Plato’s patrons, only to be turned down when I asked if they would appear on camera. Early on we decided that this film was not going to have black bars on peoples’ faces, or voices distorted by electronic devices – this was going to be the real story, told face-to-face, by the people who lived it.




Along the way there were several aging ex-porn stars, and current porn superstars; scholarly sexologists and notorious New York celebrities; award-winning writers and a man who loves to give women pony rides – everyone had a story to tell. Of course there were the Grippo’s, the still-married ex-Plato’s managers, who would only be interviewed after I promised them a helicopter ride to Atlantic City. They eventually did a five-hour marathon interview, but the helicopter ride remains untaken.




We traveled to Florida, where we visited the swing club Plato’s Repeat (not to be confused with Plato’s Retreat), which was run but the wife of a former co-owner of Plato’s Retreat, where I was offered Viagra and hit on by a rubenesque goddess. I declined, but then I wish I hadn’t.




I have smelled a mat room… I have seen that unmistakable twinkle suddenly spark in a swinger’s eyes…Plato’s was a wild and very alive place and I am very sorry to have missed it. This film took 3-and-a-half years, and an entire life’s savings, to make. I am happy that it finally will find its audience.”

Jon Hart


“I was in grade school when I was first introduced to Plato’s Retreat. I was having a sleepover party with a few of my classmates and we were surreptitiously watching public access television, Channel J as I recall. Unforgettably, a commercial came on that showed a scantily clad couple frolicking in an enormous swimming pool. It seemed hard to believe that such an establishment was mere blocks from where I lived with my family.  
Years later, I was working as a reporter when I got a lead that the former owner of Plato’s Retreat, Larry Levenson, was driving a New York City taxi. Immediately, a light bulb went on, bringing me back to that commercial: What was the Plato’s story? What had happened to this disbanded Plato’s tribe?


I tracked Larry down and we met in the West Village on a cloudy, frigid afternoon right before Christmas. I sat in the passenger seat – and turned on the recorder. He was overweight and solemn. But when I asked him about his former glory, he glowed as he drove. “We were degenerates,” L
arry laughed. “But we were good people.” In his gravelly voice, Larry regaled me with tales of his infamous club and told me that he was once a legend known as “The King of Swing.”  Later, as we drove through Central Park up the East Side, Larry became teary eyed as he discussed his estrangement from his sons. I was fascinated and I wanted to know, well…everything. I interviewed him for hours and compiled hundreds of hours of tapes. For the next four years – right up until Larry passed away following quadruple bypass heart surgery – not a day went by that we did not speak. Larry Levenson was a friend first, a subject second.  

Now Larry is gone but not forgotten. Since that initial meeting in the cab, I have interviewed hundreds of Plato’s patrons. I spent countless hours analyzing Larry’s triumphs and missteps. I wrote about Larry and Plato’s for The New York Times and The Village Voice, but I always thought that this story deserved to be put on the screen. Executive Producers Joana Vincent and Jason Kliot, whose high school classmate claimed to be a Plato’s janitor, made this happen. We scoured the country, looking for archival material and willing interviewees. Some swore that they would never talk to us. Some just swore. Eventually, most came around, inviting us into their homes to tell us their secrets. Now after years and years of intensive research, we bring the Plato’s story to you. Enjoy this ride.”