5 Things We Learned from the New Donna Summer Documentary, ‘Love to Love You’

A new documentary, titled Love to Love You after Donna Summer’s 1975 disco hit, offers a glimpse inside the star’s life and legacy, painting a complex character caught between her guarded home life and explosive music career.

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With the help of never-before-seen archival footage, iconic onstage performances, intimate home videos, and interviews with Summer’s family, friends, and peers, Love to Love You provides a deeply personal portrait of the artist on and off the stage.

Here are five things we learned from the new Donna Summer documentary, Love to Love You.

1. Donna Summer was a Star in Europe Before She Became Disco’s Queen

Summer’s career first took off in Europe, in Germany, specifically. At the time, she wasn’t performing in the disco style that would become her trademark. She first went to the country to be in the German production of the musical, Hair. “Being in Germany gave me license to be myself, and I hadn’t had that license before,” she could be heard saying in the film.

2. “Love to Love You Baby” Was the Start of It All

Her hit song, for which the film takes its name, kickstarted a disco-tinged sexual revolution. The song started as a concept, her voiceover can be heard explaining alongside in-studio footage. It was never meant to be the hit tune it became.

“I just made up a voice and kind of tried to create a vibe,” she said of the seductive tune. “‘Love to Love You Baby’ was becoming like this world symbol of freedom, of liberation … People would begin to rip their clothes off and throw them on the stage, and bras, underwear. The audience would get completely uncontrollable. It was kind of terrifying.”

Even though the racy song could only be played on underground radio stations or on the airwaves late at night, “Love to Love You Baby” took off and carried her career to the top with it.

3. She Wasn’t Just a Performer, She Was a Storyteller

The film explores Summer’s powers as a performer, how she could shape-shift and disappear into these elaborate characters and tell a story with her songs.

“Donna’s shows were theatrical,” the singer’s sister, Mary, explained. “There was always a story. There was a heroine. There was a problem, and in the end, she overcame. She thought in theatre.” Mary went on to detail her sister’s ability to think outside of the box, and in turn, blaze a trail for other artists of color to do the same.

4. She Was an Innovator

Summer was an innovator. Her 1977 classic “I Feel Love,” especially, was proof of that. The song featured the first drum machine click track used in music.

“We weren’t listening to what other people were doing and trying to emulate,” one of her producers said in the film. “We were forging ahead … I think others were following.”

“Whatever dance songs came up later on with electronics is based on ‘I Feel Love’,” another of her producers said. Even the great Elton John chimed in, recalling hearing the song at the legendary Studio 54. “It sounded like no other record,” he said. “It changed the way people thought about music.”

5. She Had a Complicated Relationship with Fame

The film first introduces Summer through home videos as the voiceovers of her now adult daughters can be heard describing what it was like growing up during the star’s heyday. “She was really famous and everyone wanted her,” her daughter, Mimi, shared. “There was this element of her always having to be public, but mommy was a very private person in a lot of ways.”

Summer’s daughter Amanda added, “A lot of her life revolved around privacy and secrecy.”

She didn’t dream about fame, Summer can be heard explaining in the film. Rather she dreamt about singing. “Whenever I dreamt about fame, it was being on stage,” she said. “It wasn’t the accolades and all the people screaming ‘I love you!’ When that part came into it, it threw me for a loop because I really didn’t know how to deal with that.”

Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

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