“Where’s the tingle?” might be the grouse come the end of “Spinning Gold,” a drama about Neil Bogart, the music-business impresario who founded Casablanca Records. Nearly every music biopic has a moment in which the dawn of a hit song stirs us anew. And while the executives often get their minute, they aren’t the main attraction. Not so with this movie, which was written and directed by Timothy Scott Bogart, a son of Neil Bogart. (The elder Bogart died of cancer in 1982, at 39.)
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Neil Bogart started out singing pop, then landed a succession of indie-recording-company positions before opening Casablanca in 1973. The Broadway actor Jeremy Jordan has Bogart’s cadence down as he recounts his life to an unseen listener. Everything “is true,” he promises. “Even the parts that aren’t.” The movie begins with Bogart visiting a church to convince the gospel great Edwin Hawkins that “Oh Happy Day” can be a hit. A choir claps and sways.
That start reawakens bristling thoughts about white executives and Black talent. The film includes Bogart beneficiaries such as Bill Withers, Donna Summer and the Afrofuturist progenitor George Clinton. The Motown expats Gladys Knight and the Isley Brothers signed with him. It also focuses on Casablanca’s first act, Kiss. But Bogart’s creative affinity for artists, for his collaborators, gets muffled by the spin of the movie, which tries to make him a singular legend.
With filial care but a flawed script, the filmmaker delves into what drove Bogart, the man, more than Bogart, the artist: his father’s gambling, his marriage to his first wife, Beth (Michelle Monaghan), and his love affair with Joyce Biawitz (Lyndsy Fonseca), a Kiss co-manager and Bogart’s future spouse.
As for that tingle? It arrives not in a studio but on a parked tour bus as Bogart and a sulking, smart Gene Simmons (Casey Likes) talk — just two culture-altering, self-described Jewish boys from New York.