Fittingly taking the cinematic low road at the same time that higher-profile porn entrepreneur Larry Flynt gets the all-star screen treatment, Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein makes a case for himself as a First Amendment-brandishing outlaw in this grungy, digression-filled documentary. As sourly humorous and intriguingly disagreeable as the subject himself, Alexander Crawford's film fairly wallows in the cut-rate sex culture celebrated by Goldstein's hard-core rag and should perform adequately on the specialized and midnight theatrical circuit before thriving as a vid title. A paunchy Brooklynite in his mid-50s, Goldstein at first seems as though he will be a charmingly irreverent, caustically philosophical guide to his seedy world and legacy. It doesn't take long, however, for his ferocious anger and misogyny to take over, much of it seeming to stem from his feelings toward his four ex-wives, especially the last.

In addition to hanging out with Goldstein in his horrendously cluttered apartment, at a Screw editorial meeting, during his vituperative tirades on his “Midnight Blue” cable show and in the company of a porn agent and sex stars, one of whom Goldstein briefly services on camera, pic scores some of its best points while airing the views of devoted Screw readers.

In particular, there is Big Bob, a very large black man who owns 8,000 porn videos and regards Goldstein as something of a current-day Moses, the bearer of The Truth. Virtually everyone who appears onscreen seems to inhabit a demimonde that’s a soiled remnant of the sex-sated ’70s; these are guys whose erotic lives are either voyeuristic or paid for. For his part, Goldstein comes off as a counterculture hangover somehow still making his way, after nearly 30 years of publication and 19 arrests for obscenity, in a significantly upsized world, a neighborhood porn merchant in a Times Square quickly becoming sanitized and corporatized.

Perhaps this journey could have been made poignant, but Goldstein’s abrasive personality prevents it from being so. His harsh rantings become wearying after a while, and the film itself increasingly devotes itself to digressions that seem like desperate attempts to create lurid, provocatively scummy scenes. Like most porn, ultimate effect of this unblinking look at Goldstein’s career and lifestyle is vaguely depressing, an impression unleavened by Goldstein’s remark that porn is “a self-hating business of losers.” Pic’s style is appropriately raw.

Screwed: Al Goldstein's Kingdom of Porn

Production

A Cinema Village Features release of a Headlock Films presentation of a Saint Dympna production. Produced by Andrew Gurland, Todd Phillips. Co-producer, Victoria Cook. Directed, edited by Alexander Crawford.

Crew

Camera (Magno Lab color, 16mm), Crawford; additional camera, Tom Priestley Jr. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 11, 1996. Running time: 85 MIN.

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