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Lifestyle, The
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by The Ultimate Dancing Machine

"You know you're a '70s relic when..."
4 stars

They're old. They're pot-bellied. A lot of them don't seem terribly bright. They look like your grandparents. God help us, they're swingers. Thanks to the wonders of DVD, you can see them right on your television, bitching that everyone worries too much about AIDS and that people who screw with the doors closed are no fun.

This is a well-made documentary of the Errol Morris variety, one in which the participants skewer themselves on camera. Centering on a handful of swingers clubs across the U.S., the film trots out various carpe diem types, from all walks of life (including a guy researching his master's thesis on Gravity's Rainbow), who gleefully expound on the joys of the "lifestyle." In between interview segments, we're treated to horrifying and fairly explicit footage of your grandparents making whoopie all over the place.

Watching this, I wasn't sure if I should be laughing or crying. The subjects are cheerfully clueless; one guy boasts that he'll have as his epitaph "He Was a Swinger"; a grizzled old man brings us up to date on contemporary swinger jargon ("We don't call it 'gang bang' no more because of the black bastards up in L.A. that are gangbangers"). As a whole, they're a jokey, unpretentious lot--they may even be aware that the joke could be on them.

But there's a subtly tragic undercurrent to all this. Some of the interviewees complain about the deprivations of their younger days, and as they frolic gracelessly in the nude around their homes, you can easily see the poignant desperation at work: they're trying to hold on to what's left of their youthful vigor as best they can. And the film strongly suggests that it just doesn't work: as one of them candidly admits, at the end of the day you're all alone.

Good editing and cinematography help raise this above the average documentary. It moves briskly and, at a mere 78 minutes, doesn't overstay its welcome.

It remains only to add that "The Lifestyle" has a titillation value of roughly zero. Anybody who finds themselves turned on by this movie needs help. Immediately.

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originally posted: 09/22/02 15:10:58
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