Perhaps you’re not of a mind that a short-lived record label run by an all-in music biz gambler of the ’70s is a subject worthy of a two hour and seventeen minute musical bio-pic.
But that just means you’re not the son of Neil Bogart, the Brooklyn born knaker, trombenik and whatever other Yiddish word or phrase denotes “showboating show biz hustler.” Because that’s who the music exec Neil Scott Bogatz was.
As “Spinning Gold,” the film by son Timothy Bogart points out, his dad went by many names and tore through many careers before finally founding his own record label — Casablanca (Get it?) — and gambling everything that he could make a bunch of New York Jewish rockers dressed in leather and painted-up like Kabuki theatre actors into record-selling rock stars, a singular-voiced American soul chanteuse a disco diva and get everyone to vote George Clinton and Parliament onto the charts.
Chutzpah? This Bogatz/Bogart fellow had enough for everybody.
His son’s film about him is part musical. Neil’s first stab at stardom was as a pop singer, after all. And his first breakout single as a record exec was stumbling into the ’60s choir that turned “Oh Happy Day” into one of the great one-off novelty hits of all time.
The movie and the story it tells are kind of all over the place.”Oh Happy Day” jumps off as an actual production number with our singing Bogart (Jeremy Jordan) pitching in with the Edwin Hawkins Singers and having a heavenly epiphany as he does.
There’s also begging money off the mob (Vincent Pastore, of course), blundering with his first big Casablanca gamble (a comedy LP by…Johnny Carson?), the debacle of the label’s “launch” of KISS, the wife named Beth (Michelle Monaghan) who believes in him and sticks with him until he starts stepping out with the manager of KISS (Lindsy Foncesca), all of it filtered through Bogart doing his own narration as scripted by his adoring son.
“Gold” can be a fascinating snapshot of early ’60s Brill Building pop, late ’60s hustle to sign R&B stars The Isley Brothers (depicted as “scary” here), the many missteps it took before KISS blew up and the effort it took to convince the churchly LaDonna Adrian Gaines to become Donna Summer.
Neil sits at the piano with Gladys Knight (Ledisi) and helps her turn “Midnight Train to Houston” into one bound for “Georgia” and career-making stardom. Sure.
The KISS chronology served up here and Bogart’s alleged reaction to the Peter Criss ballad “Beth” wouldn’t hold up in court.
What we’re seeing can be frothy fun or stilted and seriously self-serving — at least as far as Bogart’s legacy is concerned.
“Every single bit of it was true,” Bogart charms, “even the parts of it that weren’t.”
Jordan is properly charismatic as the lead, with the two great loves of Bogart’s life well cast with polished performers. Jay Pharaoh and Dan Fogler play the partners, the studio-or-record-promotion-savvy teammates whom Bogart brought with him from previous jobs to form “the biggest independent record label” of them all.
“How long have you been planning this?” “Since I was eight.”
With the exception of The Isleys (Jason Derulo and Doron Bell) and Wiz Khalifa’s impish-stoner turn as funkmaster Clinton, the music and musicians’ side of things come up short. Virtually no one looks like or sings on a par with the pop legends they’re playing. While that isn’t an issue with the painted-up lads of KISS, it’s a bit tooth-grinding hearing bland versions of the distinct stylings of Donna Summer and others.
If Bogart had little to nothing to do with the career of singer Bill Withers, why even bring somebody who neither looks like him nor sounds like him? Yes, fact-checking this performer-packed picture proves to be a pain.
Suffice it to say there’s a hint of “Rocket Man” to Bogart-the-younger’s approach here, a whiff of every other recent musical bio-pic in style and story and presentation. But in this cluttered jumble of a film, he manages to do everything just a little bit worse than “Respect,” “Get on Up,” “I Wanna Dance iwth Somebody” and everybody else, the odd goosebumps “moment of creation” scene mixed in with the whisky, cigarettes and cocaine notwithstanding.
Rating: R for pervasive language, drug use, some sexual material and nudity.
Cast: Jeremy Jordan, Michelle Monaghan, Ledisi, Lindsy Fonseca, Jay Pharaoh, Wiz Khalifa, Casey Likes, Pink Sweat$, Dan Fogler, Tayla Parx and Jason Isaacs.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Timothy Scott Bogart. A Hero Partners release.
Running time: 2:17