Judge Paul Corupe is the Clown Prince of erotic documentaries.
"I will take you down!"
A self-admitted vulgarian and shameless pornographer, smut kingpin Al Goldstein became an institution in the American publishing business when he began Screw magazine in 1968. A New York-based newsprint tabloid, Screw was a decidedly downmarket publication overflowing with naughty pictures, smirking articles, and vitriolic editorials. It featured reviews of seedy 42nd street porno flicks, escort services, sex shops and brothels—a proudly sordid little rag that eventually had Goldstein crowned the "Clown Prince of Porn." In 1975, Goldstein even managed to parlay his local publishing success into a cable access series, Midnight Blue, which spiced up Manhattan Cable for more than 25 years with Al's insider view of the murky, quirky adult movie biz. Thus far, Blue Underground's groundbreaking series of Midnight Blue DVDs have collected some of the best, worst and most bizarre segments of Goldstein's show. This fifth release, Midnight Blue: Porn King, is a major change of pace. It's a bittersweet documentary by director James Guardino about the downfall of Screw, Midnight Blue, and Goldstein himself, who went from riches to rags in just a few short years.
Facts of the Case
Al Goldstein is no stranger to court rooms, having been repeatedly hauled in for obscenity charges over the material he published in Screw. But no one could have predicted that a simple criminal harassment case would prove his undoing. An ex-secretary of Goldstein's, fired over a rental car snafu, took the porn king to court for a series of expletive-laden answering machine messages he left for her which included the vague declaration "I will take you down!" Beginning on the first day of the trial, this documentary captures Goldstein's outrageous behavior during the case and its ultimate ramifications. After a veritable media circus, a contempt of court charge, and a three day jury deliberation, Goldstein was convicted of the charge and sentenced to 60 days at Riker's Island (though the decision was reversed nine days later). As the gentrification of porn and the internet destroyed the last of his sleaze empire, Goldstein landed in court again for publishing an ex-wife's phone number in his rag and encouraging readers to call—an offense that landed him three years probation. With his health in massive decline and his sex industry livelihood prohibited by his probation officer, Goldstein ended up virtually penniless, living in homeless shelters and trying desperately to land a minimum wage job.
Eschewing the smut and sleaze of prior volumes in the series for foul-mouthed First Amendment rants and heartbreak, Midnight Blue: Porn King is an engaging documentary that captures Goldstein at the height of self-destruction. Through interviews with Larry Flynt, Ron Jeremy, "Grandpa" Al Lewis and Jimmy Breslin, first time filmmaker James Guardino offers an intimate portrait of the controversial free speech advocate. It shows how he became a victim of both a rampant id and a manic insecurity complex that compelled him to mouth off to anyone who would listen, in a desperate need to keep himself relevant.
Guardino takes the viewer into every corner of Goldstein's life, from the Screw offices to his insanely clutter-filled apartment and his multi-million dollar Florida mansion (complete with a statue of a giant middle finger facing out over the adjacent lake) . It's interesting to see how both Screw and Midnight Blue, once bastions of smutty sex for thousands of sweaty New York perverts, eventually became little more than a soapbox for vitriolic personal attacks. The porn king even admits early on that wank material doesn't excite him in the least anymore, that he gets more worked up over his latest cause du jour than in grainy newsprint pics of tits and ass. Shrouding himself with the First Amendment, Goldstein milks his legal problems for all they're worth, generating even more controversy when he shows up for his sentencing in a Halloween store convict outfit. All the while, he was publishing the home phone numbers of Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes and Judge Daniel Chunon the front page of his mag, along with photos of them doctored to appear as Nazis, transsexuals, and even Osama Bin Laden's gay lovers.
Over the course of the first trial, Goldstein repeatedly accuses director Guardino of trying to paint him as a tragic figure. It seems that the porn king does a pretty good job of that himself by the time the end credits roll. It's easy to see this turn of events as some sort of karmic retribution for a life of hedonistic abandon and vulgar, nasty verbal assaults. But the real tragedy here is Goldstein's strained relationship with his son, Jordan. After supporting his son and sending him to Harvard, up-and-coming lawyer Jordan decided he didn't want to have anything to do with his smutmonger father, to his total heartbreak. The only time Goldstein truly drops his public persona in the film is when he gets on this subject. He literally can't stop talking about the kid, showing off his grades, feuding with Hugh Hefner on his behalf, and even breaking down in tears at one point. Though some might feel Goldstein ultimately brought his bankruptcy on himself, it's hard not to be affected by his obvious—and even tender—love for his estranged progeny.
The only real flaw in this documentary is that it leaves out a significant chunk of Al's downfall. After receiving his 60 day sentence, Goldstein effectively cut off Guardino. He refused to co-operate any further because of some perceived slight, only to be allowed back in to the inner circle after the Screw empire completely collapsed. It documents the trials of post-gastric bypass surgery Goldstein, as he shuttles him around to men's shelters and helps him get a job as a host at New York's Second Avenue Deli. Found footage and media interviews from this time period help connect the dots, but it's unfortunate that we don't get to hear Goldstein's more intimate thoughts when he was forced to shut down Screw and Midnight Blue forever.
Presented in a crisp and clear 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Midnight Blue: Porn King looks just fine for a recently shot DV-doc. The audio quality is also good, with a full rich tone to this stereo mix. The sole extra here is a 45 minute compilation of editorials called "The Last Days of Midnight Blue" that comprise Goldstein's final appearances on his cable access show before it went off the air for good. With an American flag hanging behind him, Goldstein launches into malicious, filthy rants against his ex-secretary, his ex-wife, Hynes, and Chun. Though an interesting companion piece to the film, it's not much fun to watch, as you can see Goldstein's mental and physical capacities deteorating before your eyes, ending with a depressing final sign-off after a degenerative jaw disease forces him off the air.
While earlier Midnight Blue DVDs provided a vintage peek behind the dark shrouds of the fledgling adult entertainment industry of the 1970s and the birth of the "porno chic" movement, this release seems a little out of place. I can't help wondering whether it should have been released outside the collection, or maybe as an extra on another volume. Still, this fascinating film is a fine addition to the rapidly growing porn documentary genre which seems to have literally exploded over the last five years. It should satisfy all smut scholars looking for some perspective on Goldstein's checkered career as New York's most controversial pornographer
Al Goldstein is unequivocally not guilty. How often do you get to hear that?
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