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Donna Summer is to this day considered the Queen of Disco thanks to her chart-topping hits throughout the 1970s, famous for her commanding stage presence, dramatic makeup and voluptuous curls. But a new documentary “Love to Love You, Donna Summer,” released on HBO Max on May 22, pulls back the glamorous mask that the singer hid behind throughout her fame to reveal her most intimate moments.
The film, co-directed by filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Brooklyn Sudano (Summer’s daughter), pulls together home movies and archival footage from Summer’s life in order to tell a captivating story about her rise to fame and the internal troubles she consistently went back to when she left the stage. Clips from her performances — in which she effortlessly shimmies to songs like “On the Radio” and “MacArthur Park” and croons to ballads like “I Love You” — are contrasted with her moments backstage and at home, where she struggles with her artistic ambitions and being away with her children while on the road.
Overlayed atop the archival flow are featured interviews with Summer’s three daughers (Brooklyn and Amanda Sudano and Mimo Sommer) in addition to her husband Bruce Sudano. Their memories, all brimming with reverence, also shed light on the currents of despair she nurtured in private.
Of course, the film also covers the last period of her life when she was battling lung cancer. Before her death in 2012, at the age of 63, she refused to ever talk about the death, according to interviews with her husband.
“Summer died too young, but as ‘Love to Love You, Donna Summer’ captures,” Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote in his review, “the woman who made ‘I Feel Love’ into an anthem lifted you to a place where you couldn’t help but feel it too.”
In order to stream “Love to Love You, Donna Summer,” you’ll have to sign up for a subscription to HBO Max for $10/month. However, you can also sign up for a 7-day free trial of HBO Max on Prime Video.