The Donna Summer Tribute Site

Love To Love You Donna Summer

The Documentary

May 21, 2023


OK let’s talk documentary. First, what this film ISN’T. It’s not a music history piece with talking heads analyzing every song in chronological order and expounding upon each song’s significance in both Donna’s career and the history of music in general.  This is not the story Brooklyn and team wanted to tell, in fact Brooklyn said in an interview that there are other people who would be better suited to create a work like that.  Unfortunately, that is just the sort of documentary some people were wanting or expecting, and so some criticism of the film stems just from that expectation vs reality. And that’s not really fair.

Now what exactly IS Love To Love You Donna Summer? Well, it is the story of the woman behind the art – her personality, her motivations, her insecurities, her heartbreaks… all the things that made Donna who she was. It is also a love letter from Brooklyn to her mother. And, it’s the sort of documentary that THIS fan wanted to see. (I don’t really need to hear talking heads recite dry facts that I probably already know. Although in fairness, if someone does make a film like that about Donna, I will watch it… because, you know, Donna.  LOL)

So what do we have? It’s a semi chronological story of Donna’s life, with music, photos, videos, etc all chosen and placed to illustrate whatever part of the story they are telling at that point.  Of course we open with Love To Love You Baby – I mean, of course, right? That’s the name of the movie!  It would be pretty stupid to call it Love To Love You Donna Summer and then open with Last Dance, right?  LOL  I Feel Love is also used at the very beginning and it sets the tone for the club scene that really made Donna a star, and let’s be real it has to be the most significant song in her entire back catalog in terms of music history.  45 years later and people are STILL sampling it or covering it.

From there we move into the meat of the documentary. And here we have Donna’s story told mostly in voiceovers by family members, a few friends, and Donna herself, while videos and photos are shown underneath.  Some of Donna’s voiceovers you may recognize from interviews she gave over the years, some is new (to us anyway) audio she recorded while she was working on her autobiography. We start with a general discussion of Donna’s artistry and, most importantly the revelation that at some point she bought a video recorder and filmed things ALL THE TIME. (I picture her daughters as teenagers saying “Oh mom, put the camera away you are SO uncool!” LOL Of course I also picture those same daughters as adults being thankful their mom did make all those recordings.) Now there is the explanation why we have all these wonderful home movies sprinkled liberally throughout the documentary.

Moving on from there… oh, and this is the spoiler free part of my report on Love To Love You Donna Summer. I will mark clearly when I am about to venture into spoiler land. So we move on to discussion of Donna’s early years – being in The Crow, moving to New York and then to Germany and being in Hair.  Then we go on to becoming famous, trying to figure out how to balance fame and family life, bringing her family into her shows, meeting Bruce, and leaving Peter.

From there it is back to the business/creative end of things with talk about songwriting, about Casablanca undermining the success of Dim All The Lights by perhaps prematurely releasing Enough Is Enough and a quick mention of Donna’s lawsuit against Casablanca. From there we go to the story of She Works Hard For The Money (both its creation and significance) – and that comes with a cute home video (that’s in the trailer so I don’t consider it a spoiler) of little Brooklyn singing, followed by Donna just belting it out in the backyard.

From there Donna’s career slows down a bit as she focuses on family, painting, and faith. And that of course leads to “the rumor” - Adam and Steve. Bruce freely admits that they screwed up the way they handled that situation. They thought it would go away, but it didn’t and then it morphed into the AIDS is divine retribution thing that Donna absolutely DID NOT say. And unfortunately that’s become something that just won’t go away. And it hurt her. (Which is not to say it didn’t hurt her gay fans. Please don’t get me wrong on that. I have articles in my article archive that specifically address “the rumor”. My personal take on that was the Adam and Steve thing was  Donna’s “open mouth insert foot” moment. I believe that she thought she was making a silly joke to get the women to sing along to Woman instead of the men and she had no idea how hurtful that joke could be. If she had, she never would have said it.  And yeah, not addressing it quickly made it much worse.  As for the divine retribution quote, I knew that was garbage the first time I heard it. Put aside how Donna felt – or how you think she felt - about gays. That quote doesn’t jive with the way she talks about God. Divine retribution is the domain of a vengeful Old Testament God. The God Donna always talked about was a loving New Testament one. Just my two cents….)

From there we reach the end of Donna’s life. We get to see some of Donna’s last Christmas and of course we hear the family talk a bit about her last days. And it is very sad.  Brooklyn caps off that segment with a song that, in my opinion, just fits perfectly.

But that’s not the end. The film does not leave on a sad note. As you cry through the last notes of that perfect song, you are suddenly greeted with a series of hilarious outtakes from the 1980 TV Special. That makes me think of two things. The first is an interview Bruce did when his Angels On A Carousel came out. That album was written when Donna was sick and she had told him that he cannot write a sad depressing record. He had to give people hope. The other thing I thought of was the funeral scene in the movie Steel Magnolias. If you have seen that movie you know what I am talking about, and if you haven’t – then you really need to watch it.

And that’s still not the end because as the credits roll – they play a demo of Bad Girls. A demo we never got to hear before.  (Okay, that might be a spoiler. Deal with it.  LOL)


And now on to the real spoilers.  STOP HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN LOVE TO LOVE YOU DONNA SUMMER AND WANT TO GO IN SPOILER FREE!  You have been warned!


I guess I’ll start with the music. The music is not all that chronological. Instead, songs are used that best illustrate whatever is going on in the story at the time. I mean, of course they play Love To Love You, I Feel Love, Dim All the Lights, etc when those songs are specifically being discussed.  But songs like Summer Fever and Bad Girls are used when talking about Donna’s fame. Black Lady is used to underscore the novelty of being a black woman in Germany in the late 60s/early 70s. And some songs have “new” video to go with them. For example, I Feel Love starts off as the same clip we used to see on VH1 all the time, but then it gets replaced by other live concert footage that I have never seen before. She Works Hard For The Money has the home movie footage I mentioned before, and Dim All The Lights uses the  1980 TV Special footage, but it starts differently than they did it for the broadcast. Oh and I almost forgot. You know the live version of I Feel Love on the original Live & More where she sings “feel it" a few times? There is a lot more before the feel its that I never heard before.   😊

We also have a few surprises sneaked in. Can’t Understand sounds like a demo, Bad Girls is the unheard demo I talked about before, and then there are “new” songs – which are mostly just snippets of songs.  In order they are:

When I Believe In Miracles (written and performed by Donna). This is from a home movie of Donna at the piano with a little Brooklyn.

Just Say You Don’t Love Me (written by Hoby Cook and performed by The Crow). This plays as they talk about The Crow.

Take Your Baby Home (written by Danny Peck and performed by Donna, Bruce and Danny). This is the scene with the three of them singing around the table.

Watchin’ Daddy Dance (Performed by Sunshine and written by Donna and Bruce). I don’t know if this counts as “new” as bootlegs of this have circulated in the past, but you get to see studio footage of them working on the song.

Electricity (written and performed by Donna and Bruce). This is a scene of the two of them noodling around in the studio while the voice over talks about the way Donna and Bruce wrote together.

Two Kids Playing In An Alleyway (written and performed by Donna). This is Donna at the piano when she is interrupted by a phone call.

Lost In The Moment (written and performed by Bruce). This plays under a discussion of marriage, motherhood and spirituality.

Just The Other Day (written and performed by Donna). I believe this is the one that plays under the discussion of Donna’s cancer, but that one is hard to make out under the dialogue.

And before you ask – all the song credits are right there in the movie credits (assuming you are watching on a device that actually lets you read the credits instead of shrinking them into a tiny box surrounded by ads for the next thing you can watch. I freaking HATE that! I am the nerd who likes to see credits!)

On to some of the revelations…

Ok, I guess the first thing is the fact that Donna was abused by a pastor when she was a teenager. I mean, those who saw Summer: The Donna Summer Musical found out about it, but that was not something Donna ever discussed publicly while she was alive. She was also physically abused by her boyfriend, Peter Mühldorfer. He was jealous of her success, and at one point beat her unconscious – broke a couple ribs, etc.  Nice guy, huh? Strangely enough, he was willing to talk to Brooklyn about this and he says that is something he never forgave himself for. After that, Casablanca made him go away. Then, Donna and Bruce had a tempestuous relationship in their younger days. Mary described then as oil and vinegar that together made a really great salad dressing.  (Love that description!) But of course in the end it all worked out – they stayed together the remainder of Donna’s life, and (get your tissues ready) on her deathbed she told him, “You are my heart.” (Dammit, my screen is getting blurry…)

Other things that came up – Mimi herself was a victim of abuse from someone related to Donna’s housekeeper. That has been in the publicity. What was absolutely gutting was her revelation that at about the age of 12 she moved in with her mom full time (she had been going back and forth to her grandparents before then) and the reason she opted to do this instead of going back to the grandparents – knowing the risk involved - was because she couldn’t leave Brooklyn and Amanda there alone to face that risk themselves. We see Brooklyn brought to tears by that revelation. As for Donna and Bruce – Mimi didn’t tell them what was going on until she was 19. Mimi must have been one tough kid to keep that inside for so long.

And then of course there is the cancer. We get to see footage of Christmas 2011 where they are looking forward to a better 2012. Death was not talked about while Donna was ill because she didn’t want to give death power. One thing that hit me really hard about this part of the movie was Mimi talking about one night when her mom couldn’t sleep, so she rubbed her mom’s back until she fell asleep. And she said her mom was so tiny at that point that she just pulled her into her lap and just kept rubbing her back. It was like her mom was a helpless baby. As someone who fairly recently lost one parent and now finds herself in the position of caregiver to the other – that struck a nerve. And I think it probably will for many of us watching. Let’s face it, most of the diehard fans are of a certain age and we are dealing with the loss or infirmity of our aging parents.

They then end the story with If There Is Music There (the VH1 clip). That’s a song I have always loved and I remember after the VH1 taping, all the fans there were talking about it - raving about it actually. It’s moving all on its own, but placed after discussion of Donna’s death the lyrics take on new meaning and I DARE you not to cry. That song will always be a little different to me now. Just listen to the end….  “I’m sorry honey. I did love  you, but I just have to go.”  Tell me that’s not perfect. (And yeah, there is music in heaven… Donna is there.)

But like the documentary, I will not end on a sad note. I absolutely LOVED the outtakes from the 1980 TV Special. You know those scenes where they would have Donna in close-up saying something to transition to the next song, or even to sing part of the next song?  (The special is on YouTube if you haven’t seen it for awhile.) Well, the outtakes were mostly from those close-up shots. She was pulling faces and doing funny accents.  There was even one clip from from the live part of the show where she said (in a funny accent) “There is too much light, you are bleaching my color.” (I feel like I want to use that line somewhere – which would be absolutely ridiculous coming from someone like me who has no color to speak of – well, other than the occasional sunburnt red.  LOL)If they EVER release the special commercially, it better have outtakes as a bonus!

Oh! I almost forgot! There are videos of Brooklyn (and others) going through Donna’s stuff. There is a whole giant room filled with paintings and awards and such! I think it is part of “the vault.” When can we raid it? LOL

Complete song list: Love To Love You Baby, I Feel Love, When I Believe In Miracles, Elijah Rock by Mahalia Jackson, Once Upon A Time, Faster And Faster,  Walk Away, Just Say You Don’t Love Me, Piece Of My Heart by Janis Joplin, Can’t Understand, Born To Die, Let The Sunshine In by the German cast of Hair, Aquarius by the German cast of Hair, Black Lady, Spring Affair, Lady Of The Night, Summer Fever, Bad Girls, Mimi’s Song, MacArthur Park, Take Your Baby Home, The Man I Love,  Watchin’ Daddy Dance, I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), Hot Stuff, Last Dance, I Love You, Electricity, Dim All The Lights, No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), She Works Hard For The Money, Two Kids Playing In An Alleyway, Lost In The Moment by Bruce Sudano, Winter Wonderland by Johnny Mathis, I Found The Answer, On The Radio, Forgive Me, Woman, I’m A Rainbow, Just The Other Day, Heaven’s Just A Whisper Away, If There Is Music There, Sunset People

Voice overs by: Donna Summer, Brooklyn Sudano, Bruce Sudano, Mimi Dohler, Amanda Sudano Ramirez, Mary Gaines Bernard, Dara Bernard, Ric Gaines, Jack Waddell, Helmuth Sommer, Joyce Bogart Trabulus, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, Bob Conti, Susan Munao, Peter Mühldorfer, Elton John, Bobby Stewart, fan David M. (Some of these people only have a line or 2 – some talk throughout the whole film. Not counting Donna – and they have a ton of audio from her! - Mary, Mimi and later Bruce have the most to say. )



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