“SPINNING GOLD”
Starring Jeremy Jordan, Michelle Monaghan, Jason Isaacs, Lyndsey Fonseca, Jay Pharoah, Dan Fogler, Jason Derulo, Sebastian Maniscalco, Ledisi, Sam Harris, Casey Likes, Tayla Parx, Wiz Khalifa, Pink Sweats, Alex Gaskarth, Vincent Pastore
Directed and written by Timothy Scott Bogart
Produced by Timothy Scott Bogart, Laurence Mark, Chris Torto, Jessica Martins, Brad Bogart, Gary A. Randall
Cinematography by Byron Werner
Edited by Derek Ambrosi
Music by Evan Bogart and Justin Grey

By Matt Neufeld
March 31, 2023

Millions of people worldwide know and love the enduring, classic rock, pop, funk, soul and rhythm and blues music of Kiss, Parliament, Donna Summer, Bill Withers, The Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight and the Pips and The Hudson Brothers, but relatively few people know the name of the man who signed, promoted, guided and backed to incredibly successful heights all of these talented musicians and bands as the founder, impresario, mentor and leader of Casablanca Records, one of the most successful independent record labels of all time: Neil Bogart.

Bogart was indeed one of popular music’s main producers, promoters, marketing geniuses, businessmen, entrepreneurs, mentors and leaders from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. He did more than just sit in an office, listen to tapes, make deals on the phone and sign papers—-Bogart, who was himself a singer, dancer, model and actor who understood music and had a feel for music on a deeper artistic level than most money-obsessed label suits, had a keen, sharp, insightful, creative and talented ear, eye and mind for what was simply great, classic music and just what it took to get that great music out to the masses to appreciate, enjoy, revere and support not just at the record stores and on radio stations, but in the seats at concert venues.

Bogart was the real deal when it came to real deals that mattered in the music business. He pushed and pushed and promoted and promoted–always ardently, confidently and strongly believing in his talent, creativity, dreams and aspirations and in the talent, creativity, dreams and aspirations of his faithful Casablanca Records in-house family of musicians. He stood up against several of the biggest executives in the music business—-many of whom were simply corrupt, even criminal, ruthless and back-stabbing morons and idiots. Bogart gambled on several of his musicians, never backing down from his belief in them and their abilities. Bogart came up with several novel, inventive marketing, promotional, advertising, public relations and sales ideas and programs in the business. And through it all, he remained continually supportive of the small family of Casablanca employees who stuck with him and he remained supportive of his loving, extended family, who also stuck by him.

And, slowly but increasingly and steadily surely, Casablanca Records eventually took off, exploded in a good way, and succeeded as that incredibly successful, inventive, influential and respected record label, proving all of those previous naysayers, morons, idiots and corrupt thugs completely, entirely wrong. Bogart let the music play, made sure that the music was heard, and, in the words of George Clinton and Parliament, Casablanca tore the roof off the sucker. You want the funk? Casablanca and Bogart had the funk.

Neil Bogart first led the equally funky and successful Buddha Records in the late 1960s, but, eager to strike out on his own and have more control, but in a good way, he convinced Warner Brothers Records to create Casablanca Records as a subsidiary in 1973 and to let Bogart run the label. When Warner failed to fully, adequately and fairly support the label, Bogart defiantly and, in a risky move at the time, left Warner Bros. and took Casablanca independent. Bogart was smart and savvy enough to know great talent when he saw and heard it, and he signed Kiss, The Isley Brothers, Bill Withers, Donna Summer and others. The early years were difficult. Even though the label released a stream of great, classic, popular and memorable music in its early years, the label drained money and quickly went into debt.

However, Bogart, his record label family, his actual family and his family of musicians did what Bogart always believed in: They continued to believe in their dreams and they continued to pursue their dreams—-debt and conflicts and personal fights and industry fights and ego battles and creative differences and threats and personal problems be damned.

Well, shout it, shout it, shout it out loud, all of Bogart’s and his families’ dreams eventually did come true. Casablanca eventually broke through, broke even, made a ton of profits, their bands and singers and musicians succeeded, and they all never looked back. As noted, Bogart’s Casablanca Records simply became one of the most successful independent record labels in the history of the music business.

This incredible but true, inspiring and crazily entertaining story has now been excellently told in an equally entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended new film, “Spinning Gold,” which succeeds at the same dizzingly memorable and classic level in film as Bogart succeeded in music.

“Spinning Gold” succeeds at all levels, with a superb cast of young, talented actors, singers and musicians obviously having the walloping times of their lives living it up in full ’60s, ’70s and ’80s glory as Bogart’s eclectic array of artists, executives and family members; with consistently inventive, original, appropriately-fast-paced and assured directing by Neil Bogart’s son, Timothy Scott Bogart; detailed, accurate, attractive and always-period-appropriate production design, set design, art direction, props, costumes, hair and wardrobe that recall the sixties, seventies and eighties in recognizable and realistic manners; wonderful, beautiful, stirring and creative music, singing, musical numbers and music scoring that also appropriately recalls the music’s respective times, periods and places; quick, but not too quick, editing, timing and pacing that keeps the film continuously moving forward; beautiful, original cinematography that utilizes an array of impressive, unique and flat-out dazzling camera angles, movements, stagings and shots that meld wonderfully with the music, the story and the themes of the film; and a sharp, also inventive script, also from Timothy Scott Bogart, that avoids biography movie stereotypes, avoids music biography stereotypes and avoids stereotypes in general.

“Spinning Gold” is an appropriate, genuine, loving, captivating and honorable telling of Neil Bogart’s story, and it’s a story that needs to be told. People should know the stories behind the music, the shows, the concerts, the deals, the people, the business–not just in music, but in all areas of show business, art and entertainment. In regards to “Spinning Gold,” the current case at hand, and the music business, too many people have a complete misunderstanding of the music business and how it works. That subsequently bleeds into a misunderstanding of the music itself and the artists themselves, which further prompts all sorts of cultural, musical, artistic, business and entertainment misunderstandings, wars, arguments, cultural wars, political wars, bans, censorships, record burnings, moronic hearings and, in general, sheer and complete ignorance and stupidity. For anyone who blindly asks why we need music industry biographies, this is why.

It’s the same reason why we need biographies, and documentaries, about film, television, dance, all types of music, art, and all types of arts and entertainment in general. The more that we understand about the people behind the art and entertainment, the more we understand about the art and entertainment in and of itself–and, subsequently, we are all far more able to fight that ignorance and stupidity with knowledge, education, background, facts, research, insight and information.

Fortunately for all of us, we’re in a vibrant, re-newed and refreshed age of high-quality film biographies and documentaries about musicians and music industry leaders. In just the past few years, we’ve been treated with the following music industry films, all of which have been praised in all quarters for their thorough excellence: “Bohemian Rhapsody” a film biography about Freddie Mercury and Queen; “Rocketman,” a film biography about Elton John; “Moonage Daydream,” a documentary film about David Bowie; “The Beatles: Get Back,” a documentary film series about The Beatles; “Elvis,” a film biography about Elvis Presley; “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” a satirical documentary about Al Yankovic; “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” a film documentary about David Crosby; “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” a film biography about Linda Ronstadt; “Let There Be Drums!,” a film documentary about drummers; and now “Spinning Gold,” a film biography about Neil Bogart.

Hopefully, many of the ignorant people out there who are screaming and yelling hysterically, ignorantly and stupidly about this and that and whatever in regards to music and the music industry will take the intelligent time to watch these films, gain some understanding and knowledge, and stop their screaming, yelling, ranting, raving and lunacy.

And folks should head out to see and enjoy “Spinning Gold.” As noted, director and scriptwriter Timothy Scott Bogart succeeds much like the filmmakers behind “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Rocketman” and “Elvis” succeeded because he avoids cliches, tropes and stereotypes and he makes this movie wholly original in his style, approach, staging, timing and pacing, editing, camera shots, overall production, delivery, writing and dialogue. Bogart has the lead character, his father, often break the fourth wall and provide a narrative to what’s going on. At first, this storytelling approach can take some getting-used-to, as folks say, but as the film progresses, and the story, plot and sub-plots deepen, that first-person narrative actually settles into a comfortable,reassuring and welcome groove, holding the movie’s disparate plot elements firmly together.

And just because he’s directing a film about his father, Bogart doesn’t sugarcoat, romanticize or whitewash his father’s story, much to the movie’s intelligent credit. Neil Bogart—-by his own admission—-had some side gambling and cocaine problems, and he could take some concurrent wild and risky business decisions that could also be big gambles, and he wasn’t perfect. But guess what? No one is perfect. Everyone has their pluses and minuses, their good sides and their bad sides. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Rocketman” and “Elvis” all similarly had the cooperation and involvement of the films’ subject matters, estates, heirs and relatives—and all of these movies showed everyone’s faults, attributes, advantages and disadvantages. None of these movies are sugarcoated, romanticized or sentimentalized. All of these films are honest, generally truthful (artistic liberties are there, of course, because they are movies), and they all present their central subjects as real, live, breathing, actual human beings. Albeit, exceptionally brilliant, smart, energetic, creative and talented human beings!

Jeremy Jordan, 38, a veteran theater, film and television actor, is a revelation as Neil Bogart in “Spinning Gold.” Jordan, who is in nearly every scene, delivers a bravura, mesmerizing performance as Bogart. Jordan commands every scene he’s in with a riveting array of emotions that cover not only strong humor and drama acting, but age and time period fluctuations and attendant cultural shifts, and even a bit of singing, dancing and piano playing. Jordan delivers a powerhouse, dynamic performance.

The entire lead and supporting cast is equally exceptional. There are many actors that stand out. Notably, all of these actors simply shine: Michelle Monaghan as Neil Bogart’s wife Beth Bogart; Jason Isaacs as Al Bogart, Neil’s postman father; Lyndsey Fonseca as Joyce Biawitz, a Casablanca and Kiss manager; Jay Pharoah as Cecil Holmes, one of Neil’s main business partners at Casablanca; Dan Folger as another Casablanca official; and Vincent Pastore as Big Joey, one of those classic scary Vegas casino mob bosses who you most certainly do not want to get into debt to, lest your knees want to become closely acquainted with a wooden baseball bat.

And those actors whopping it up and having a great time as various Casablanca signed musicians? Unbelievably captivating–all of them. These talented performers are: Casey Likes as Kiss’ Gene Simmons; Sam Harris as Kiss’ Paul Stanley; Alex Gaskarth as Kiss’ Peter Criss; Jason Derulo as Ron Isley; Sebastian Maniscalco as Giorgio Moroder; Pink Sweats as Bill Withers; Ledisi as Gladys Knight; newcomer Tayla Parx in a standout performance as Donna Summer; and an exuberant, hilarious Wiz Khalifa having the time of his life playing George Clinton.

These actors, the story, the direction, the music, the period details–its all just entertaining, and a great time at the movies.

One of the many major themes, morals and messages of “Spinning Gold” is to believe in your dreams, to believe in the power of your dreams, to never give up, to continue to pursue your dreams no matter what excrement life throws at you, to fight for those dreams, and to do all that you can and to continually work as hard as you can to make your dreams come true. If the dreams are realistic, this is not a pie-in-the-sky, rose-colored-glasses, Pollyanish message. This simple life goal–pursuing your dreams– can be, of course, what life is all about.

And this is the message that Neil Bogart, who sadly died at 39 from cancer in 1982, followed for his entire, too-brief life. This inventive, hard-working, brilliant and talented man kept pursuing his dreams until, yes indeed, those dreams finally came true—not just for Neil Bogart, but for everyone else around him. Bogart and his Casablanca co-workers became rich and successful. His family succeeded and endured–to the point in time where Neil’s son has directed a wonderful feature length film about his dad in 2023. Casablanca, as noted, became that incredibly successful independent record label. Casablanca’s many musicians became equally successful.

And, of course, Neil Bogart’s and Casablanca Records’ classic, timeless, enduring and endearing music will live on forever, providing endless joy and enjoyment for generations and generations to come. You want the funk? We all have the funk. And, in honor of Neil Bogart, Casablanca Records and now “Spinning Gold,” we can only celebrate the man and his music by quoting Kiss. Shout it out loud: I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.