A Review of "Screwed," The Documentary of Screw Magazine and Its Infamous Publisher, Al Goldstein
This was originally written for papermag.com.
Al Goldstein isn't exactly a mythical character, but he is a character
of mythical proportions, and Alexander Crawford has captured him in all
his carnal, corpulent glory with Screwed. An ambitious documentary,
Screwed took years to complete, which meant that Alexander and his crew
had to follow the esteemed founder of Screw magazine and cable TV flesh
carnival Midnight Blue from one coast to the other, up and down the
weight scale and into just about every aspect of his life.
See Al get dragged off to jail as he righteously defends the first
amendment! See Al kneeling between the legs of assorted adult film
stars! See Al declare his undying love for wife number four and then
call her a rancid . . . well, you get the picture.
Augmenting the extensive footage--and girth--of Al are testimonials in
favor of pornography, freedom of speech, sex and Screw itself. Screw
reader Big Bob invites us into his boudoir, where he proudly displays
his collection of over 3,000 porn videos. The man is a serious
consumer. He recalls the day he first purchased a copy of Screw, the
same day it initially hit the stands, and it's almost enough to make
you misty-eyed. Interviewing readers was a brilliant touch; it brings
home the concept of "regular guy-ness" that Goldstein's business
ventures so enthusiastically address. As managing editor Manny Neuhaus
puts it, "Society says that sex is for the beautiful and glamorous," as
opposed to the unpretentious readers of the newsprint periodical. There
ain't nothing glamorous about Screw. We're also treated to what Curtis
Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, thinks of Mr. Goldstein. He is
everything that is evil in this world, according to Curtis. "He doesn't
have a humanitarian bone in his body." But that's about as eloquent as
Mr. Sliwa gets, before descending into garbled platitudes and rampant
malapropisms. Which contrasts nicely with Al's erudite observations on
sex, smut and his place in the grand scheme of things.
I doubt Crawford had to look hard for people to speak out against
Goldstein. As Goldstein himself says, "I am hated by the government,"
and quite a few other people, for that matter. The list grows with each
new "Fuck You" segment on Midnight Blue, which Al admits is "more about
revenge than porn." As obscene and scathing as they may be, Al's rants
are quite therapeutic, and I for one would love to be in a position to
point that middle finger at everyone who's pissed me off.
Al's employees are subjected to the camera's lens in a workaday
editorial meeting and vignettes which serve as windows into the porno
world. One employee in particular subjects himself to even more, in a
somewhat out of place--but, for the filmmaker, what must have been
irresistible--S&M scene. Strung up and stretched on a rack, David
Aaron Clark is pierced and prodded by three magnificent Mistresses.
They appear again later in the film, teaching another one of Al's
readers a lesson in obedience. The women add that extra little dash of
The two most amusing clips are of Cyrano, Screw maintenance man, and
office manager Tracey. Cyrano recounts dusting under Al's desk one day.
Seems there was a loaded shot gun under there along with the dust
bunnies and it went off, blowing a hole through the desk and rattling
the hell out of poor Cyrano. Tracey tells the tale of one especially
attractive "lady" visiting the Midnight Blue set. Al wanted a "date,"
and it was up to Tracey to make the arrangements. There was an office
controversy as to the exact sex of the guest, but Tracey dispels any
doubts in Al's mind. "He didn't care if it was a TV. He still wanted
her number. Al doesn't care about stuff like that." The two situations
sum up the somewhat joyous chaos of Al's life.
The historical aspect of the film, aside from putting Mr. Goldstein's
life into perspective, also inspects how society has dealt with the
editorially unacceptable over the years. Arrests, front page news
articles, and enough lawsuits to break a lesser man, Goldstein comes
off like a mouthier Larry Flynt. And through it all, Al has persevered,
proclaiming that he doesn't consider himself "a defender of
pornography. Only its right to exist."
Screwed exposes plenty of insights into the porn industry, from social
and psychological angles, and goes even further to put a human and,
yes, sensitive face on smut. You really do get to know the man behind
The Clown Prince of Porn. He comes off as an irreverent, intelligent
iconoclast and genuinely happy guy. "I have a wonderful life," he says.
"It beats being in a nursing home."
No doubt. And Al's most faithful reader, Big Bob, believes that as long
as Screw is around, he's a happy guy, too. He offers up the most
profound quote of the whole movie: "A world with no porn is a world
with no imagination."
[Written in the late '90s sometime...]