Love to Love You, Donna Summer review: A tender portrait of a disco diva


If history holds that Jefferson Airplane lead singer Grace Slick’s voice launched a thousand acid trips, then let the records chronicle that Donna Summer’s voice launched a thousand orgasms. Maybe more

Summer, the 1970s sex goddess, practically felt some orgasms of her own while humming through seminal disco tracks like “Bad Girl,” “I Feel Love,” “On the Radio,” and many more . hbo new documentary biopic love to love you, donna summer borrows its title from one of Summer’s biggest hits, and aims to lift the sparkle of colored gels and disco balls to evoke the complex woman beyond personality.

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“I’m trying to figure out who the mother was,” Summer’s daughter, co-director Brooklyn Sudano, says at the beginning of the film. “She was complicated.” This statement echoes a statement made by Summer herself: “What you see is not me.” loving you is lovely does her best to uncover the contradictions of one of pop music’s most important – and most underrated – female singers. The film does a decent job of wrapping up the mystery of Samar and manages to uncover some sad themes from her personal life, even if it never goes as deep as it would like.

musical groundbreaker

Born in working-class Massachusetts, Summer showed early musical promise as a church singer. Her drive for stardom led her to Europe, where she found success as a model and actress in music. Hair. Her powerful vocals caught the attention of composer Giorgio Moroder, who invited her to collaborate on some experimental dance tracks.

Their creative partnership resulted in “Love to Love You”, groundbreaking for both its casting of a disco sound and Summer’s ultra-sexual vocals, which included the aforementioned orgasm. The singer scored hit after hit after transitioning from one of disco’s defining voices in the 1980s to a feminist pop-rocker with her track “She Works Hard for the Money.”

Co-directed by Roger Ross Williams and Sudano, loving you is lovely uses aesthetics similar to Another rock-doc-biopic, Amy, The directors choose to tell their story through as much archival footage as possible, with normal talking people telling Summer’s story off-screen. Aside from a few interstitials featuring Brooklyn, her sisters Mimi and Amanda, and Summer’s widower Bruce Sudano, Summer alone commands the screen.

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And she obeys. Summer projected pure sexiness through her music – a quality she resented from the start. As much as she longed for mega-stardom, the singer always believed that her disco queen status overshadowed her gifts as a singer and songwriter. That uneasy pairing of artist and personality gave rise to the chronic melancholy that plagued Summer for the rest of his life. At one point in the film, her eldest daughter, Mimi, recalls how touring kept her mother away for most of her childhood. On the few occasions when Summer came back home, she spent most of her time in bed.

The singer’s audio diaries recount an episode when, at the height of her fame, she tried to throw herself out of a New York hotel window. His life was saved only when a maidservant reached the spot. Samar also felt embarrassed by the sexual abuse she faced at the hands of a childhood minister. Her family hypothesizes that the abuse not only added to her struggle with depression but also led to unstable relationships with men.

Some loving you is lovelyThe most notable moments come in the form of outtakes from Summer’s video shoot. Williams and Sudano include extreme close-ups of her eyes between takes, darting like a vulnerable child. The directors let the shot play out as Samar begins to sing, and the transformation from bashful to radiant is startling. As much as anything in the film, these scenes underscore his remarkable power as a performer.

complicated woman

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but if loving you is lovely While it succeeds in paying homage to Donna Summer’s influence and showbiz legacy, it falters a bit in uncovering their personal relationship. Bruce Sudano recalls the climax of their marriage, which included thrown pots and pans, as well as a visit from the police. The couple managed to live together for over 30 years, although the film does not reveal how or whether the pair ever stabilized their relationship.

Mimi recalls that when she confessed that she had also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of one of Summer’s employees, her mother hyperventilated and left the room. The film never really explains how or if Summer ever offered support to her daughter, or if the two ever discussed the abuse at length. All of her children tell Summer something different; Nowhere in the film does he say whether he ever talked to his mother about emotional distance.

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Williams and Sudano save Summer’s most controversial moment for late in the film. In the mid-1980s, Summer became a born-again Christian and began preaching her faith at concerts. This led to an incident during a show when Summer remarked that “God didn’t make Adam and Steve. He made Adam and Eve.” needless to say, his words did No sit well with Summer’s many queer fans, who were already struggling against the devastation of AIDS. Worse, the singer chose to ignore the immediate blowback from the comment, leading to reports that Summer also believes AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality – among Christian leaders of the day. a popular sentiment.

After protests from AIDS activists and a series of canceled shows, Summer denied rumors about an AIDS-punishment. Still, his landmark rebuttal that “some of the people I write with are gay” came too little, too late. The controversy tarnished his image and was a subject of debate long after his death in 2012. Make no mistake: It’s a gaffe, more than anything, which is why Summer’s influence and talent are often overlooked.

Donna Summer’s Faulty Legacy

love to love you donna summer
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In a sense, the way Sudano and Williams (who, it bears mentioning, is gay) handle the “Adam and Steve” episode shows the greatest shortcoming. loving you is lovely, The film drives home the point that Samar realized that she had made a terrible mistake in making her comment, handling the controversy, and that it haunted her for the rest of her life. But the movie never tells what summer is like In fact felt about strange people, their rights, their comfort with same-sex relationships, or their status as gay icons. The film highlights the paradox but fails to analyze it.

Then again, perhaps no one – Summer included – could ever reconcile such complications. Great artist, his life and his work are often full of contradictions. Perhaps this is what gives his art so much power. in the matter of love to love you, donna summerThe film affirms the importance and influence of its subject matter in pop music, how she embraced sexual liberation, her personal hardships, and how she struggled to carry those burdens. Yet for all the love and memories offered by friends and family, Donna Summer, at her absolute best, still feels elusive as a singer on the radio. For one, there’s no doubt that it will continue to inspire orgasms for many years to come.

love to love you, donna summer premieres on hbo May 20 at 8 PM and can be streamed hbo max,