Spinning Gold, which opens theatrically Friday (March 31), weaves the fantastical tale of Neil Bogart, the freewheeling, charismatic entrepreneur who brought ’70s records from KISS, Donna Summer, Gladys Knight, the Isley Brothers, the Village People and Parliament to the world, through Buddah and then Casablanca Records.
Though he ultimately created one of the most successful independent labels ever, Casablanca’s future seemed perilous at every turn — as Bogart borrowed money from mobsters to keep the wins coming, became a drug and gambling addict and basically made one bad business decision after another. But his reliable musical instincts in spotting talent and persistence led to a glorious run of hits before he sold the label to Polygram in 1980.
The movie’s story is told by Bogart, who died in 1982 at age 39, and is played here by Tony-nominated actor Jeremy Jordan, as he looks back on his professional and personal life with the losses as highlighted as the wins as he seemingly rises from the ashes again and again.
Written and directed by Bogart’s oldest son, Timothy Scott Bogart, Spinning Gold has been a two-decades labor of love with many fits and starts, but now that it is here, Timothy Bogart hopes it gives fans of the music a chance to get to know the person behind the hits.
“I’ve always believed that my father has been lost to music history. When we think of the greatest showmen, we think of Jimmy Iovine, Clive Davis – but my dad was absolutely as significant and transformative,” Timothy Scott Bogart says. “To finally get the film to be seen — for me, as a storyteller who has fought so hard for so long — is remarkably rewarding.”
Bogart’s younger son, Grammy-winning songwriter Evan Bogart, scored the film, wrote two original songs and produced the soundtrack, which comes out digitally on Atlantic Records on Friday. It includes the versions of the hit songs in the film as recorded by the contemporary artists playing the now legends, including Wiz Khalifa (George Clinton), Ledisi (Gladys Knight), Tayla Parx (Donna Summer), Pink Sweat$ (Bill Withers) and Jason DeRulo (Ron Isley).
“We made the creative choice from day one to not use the original masters that everyone has been listening to already for the past 40+ years,” Evan Bogart says. “Tim wanted people to see these iconic artists through the same eyes that my dad did — the moment he heard them for the first time, the moments he recorded them, the moments they played live, the moments they were discovered — so it was important that we captured them in an entirely new light. To do so, we set out to find the artists from today that we felt embodied the spirit of those classic artists. It didn’t matter to us if they sounded or looked like them, it was more about who was going to bring the passion and talent and put their own spin on these legendary songs. I think we really nailed that.”
The film only lightly mentions one of Casablanca’s biggest successes, The Village People. The group’s original lead singer, Victor Willis, who dresses as a cop or naval officer, posted on Facebook Wednesday (March 29), “Village People are not featured in that movie because Tim Bogart could not afford to pay the required licensing fees associated with use of Village People music and image. So, he somewhat went around it by inserting an unauthorized scene with people dressed as Village People doing the ‘YMCA’ dance. And we are not cool with that at all. I did license use of a portion of ‘YMCA’ for the motion picture soundtrack only.”
Without addressing Willis’ allegation about the licensing fees, Timothy Scott Bogart responded to Billboard‘s request for a response with, “I love Victor Willis. In fact, I spent years working with him developing a movie solely about his leadership and brilliance in the creation of The Village People and his undeniable place in music history. For this film, however, my goal was always to focus on the struggles my father faced in the creation and launch of Casablanca – and to me, that’s where this particular story was always meant to end. The Village People’s story came at the height of Casablanca’s success not the struggles at the beginning. There are so many other acts that were critical to my father’s success that I wish I could have included from Curtis Mayfield to Joan Jett, but there’s just no way to cover the entire breadth of my father’s career in two hours. I’m so very proud of the film we’ve made.”
Timothy Scott Bogart, who also serves as one of the film’s producers, declines to state the budget they had at their disposal — but it “was far less than anyone should have ever attempted to make this film under,” he says. “Creativity comes from adversity and this film, I hope, is a loving example of that.”
Following its theatrical run, Spinning Gold will be released digitally through Universal and then head to a streaming outlet. In an interview edited for length and clarity, Timothy Scott Bogart looks back on his father’s legacy and the process of bringing Gold to the big screen.
This has been such a beautiful labor of love for you. What did you learn about your dad that you didn’t know going into the movie?
How scared he was, and how close he was to cataclysmic disaster at every turn. Kids only know who their parents became — we don’t ever get to know who they were at the start, when they were first starting out on their own dreams. For me, out of necessity, I found myself doing a forensic investigation into both who he was at the start and the honest vulnerability he hid from almost everyone. I always knew he was a dreamer and always understood he had extraordinary perseverance — but the intensity of those dreams and the near-Herculean commitment to that perseverance in the face of a million obstacles and a chorus of “no’s,” that was a revelation to me.
The movie shows your dad’s heart and his talent for discovering great music — but also shows his darker side with drugs, gambling and shady business dealings. How painful was it to show your dad, warts and all?
It really wasn’t painful at all, and I mean that. To me, those flaws that defined him did, in fact, define him. Yes, they were messy and challenging — but they really did make him who he was. If my father was not addicted to gambling, there’s no way he would have ever taken the risks he did and achieved the heights he reached. His addictive behavior drove him in every way.
Many of your dad’s business practices wouldn’t be tolerated today, but do you feel like the record business has also lost a sense of fun because so much of it is so corporate now?
I absolutely believe the fun has been lost in the face of corporations over independence. But what’s worse is that I believe the love for music and the genuine connection to the artists has been lost along the way, as well … I think that’s why we’re seeing such a resurgence of independent artists working to pave their own paths today.
How much did accuracy matter to you in the film?
Accuracy was incredibly important to me. Not just because I believe it should be for any story about our collective history, but because I believe that in this case, the truth was so much more interesting than anything I could ever make up! I interviewed everyone. Over and over again. George Clinton happens to have an encyclopedic memory! Donna, before her death, was incredibly giving with her time and her honesty of what she felt had not ever been told. And Gene [Simmons] and Paul [Stanley] even worked with our design teams to approach the make-up and the costumes and the instruments the way they wanted me to.
Interestingly, there’s been some online comments about their make-up — but the make-up in 1974 was not the make-up it would ultimately become … Every choice was made with the intention of getting the spirit and essence of every single thing right.
The movie has gone through so many iterations. At one point Justin Timberlake was slated to play your father, before Jeremy Jordan was cast. What happened there?
I really loved working with Justin. He’s such a professional and has a fantastic story sense. Ultimately, the struggle between his music life and his acting life was just too hard to balance. Every time we’d get close to moving forward – a new album or tour would understandably take over. And while I waited through a few of them, it made sense, in the end, for me to move on.
You have experience working in film and TV, but what was the biggest challenge for this film since you were producer, director and writer?
The biggest challenge was to just keep believing in the value of my dad’s story and the ability for me to tell it. Every time we’d get close – some financier or studio who had been over the moon to get involved suddenly seemed to have a revelation that this wasn’t a biopic of Donna or Kiss or Parliament – that it was about a guy named Neil Bogart who nobody knew. They, like history, seemed to have a hard time embracing the significance of who he was and what he gave to us all. Refusing to give up – in the light of constant, near insurmountable odds. My dad certainly faced the same headwinds and his lesson to me was that the word “no” only applied if you let it.
Your dad died when you were 12. What is your favorite musical memory of him?
My mom had started me on violin lessons, probably as a way to annoy my dad. I arrived from the airport to the Casablanca offices and my dad saw the violin and made a call. About 15 minutes later, Gene Simmons walked into the office, took the violin and shattered it. [He] then handed me a bronze-top, 1978 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe and a Pig Nose Amp and declared: “You’re gonna play rock n’ roll, kid.”
Interview footage of your dad plays over the final credits. Did you think about making a documentary instead?
We’ve always thought this film was just part of how we hoped to share his legacy. And, in fact, we’ve been actively shooting a documentary about him for the past few years, under award-winning director Mark Brian Smith.
There is the moment at the end of the film where your dad’s character says, “I bet not any of you know my name. That’s OK. I made you dance.” How do you hope this film rectifies that?
I was just out in Manhattan yesterday and happened into a store – and started nodding to some music when I suddenly realized, it was “Funkytown,” a Casablanca hit [for Lipps, Inc. in 1980]. I smiled, and started walking further through the store — when suddenly, the next song came on, and it was [Donna Summer’s 1979 hit] “Bad Girls!” And just as I stopped shaking my head in amusement, the next song came on and it was [Gladys Knight & The Pips’ 1973 hit] “Midnight Train to Georgia!”
Fifty years later, and there’s three songs in a row that never [would have happened] without him. I don’t think he’s gotten the credit he deserves for making that happen — and if this film can help people remember who he was and what he accomplished even a little bit, well, that’s a hell of a gift any son can give their parent.