While not as recognizable as Larry Flynt or Hugh Hefner, Al Goldstein is never the less an important figure in the adult entertainment industry, having started the notorious SCREW magazine with his partner and only a few dollars to their collective names. Goldstein built the magazine into an empire but as the internet starting eating away at his readership the magazine started getting more and more political and becoming more and more of a mouth piece for the eccentric publisher rather than the smut rag that it started out as.
Eventually, Goldstein would go too far. He left a message for a former secretary of his who quit without giving notice and on the tape he called her various names and threatened to 'take you down' which she in turn reported as a death threat. Goldstein was hauled into court and his already dwindling empire was subsequently yanked out from under him. He was pretty much bankrupt and his life was pretty much in shambles.
Filmmaker James Guardino pieces together the last days of the SCREW magazine empire by following Goldstein around with a video camera and capturing him during the period under which the trials were underway. Through interviews with people who knew him – Ron Jeremy, Larry Flynt, and the one character witness that Goldstein brought in to testify on his behalf, Al 'Grandpa Munster' Lewis – and through plenty of interviews with Goldstein himself we learn of his struggle to stand up for his right to free speech and, however convoluted his take on things may be, his freedom of the press.
As the trial dragged on, Goldstein used his magazine to publish inflammatory pictures of the D.A. and of the judge on the case and even went to far as to give out personal information such as phone numbers on the air of his New York City public access show, Midnight Blue. He pushed and pushed as hard as he could in hopes maybe not so much of putting off the prosecutors but of getting his name back into the spotlight. As the movie progresses it becomes very obvious that Goldstein feels useless, washed up, and no longer important like he was back in the heyday of the seventies. Here he's overweight, diabetic, and half crazed, his anger which used to be charming and funny now bitter and even frightening.
Along the way we also learn about Goldstein as a person. We learn of his childhood, how he got his start as a publisher and what he did before he was a 'smut monger' and we also learn bits and pieces about his personal life (which he seems somewhat guarded about). He's estranged from his son (who would not return phone calls from the filmmaker seeking an interview) and has been divorced numerous times. Towards the end of the movie he claims that he's still an atheist and that he only wears the Star of David to 'fool God into thinking I'm one the chosen people, a Jew' which almost sums up his take on life right there. If he's willing to try and lie to 'God' as he states it's obvious how important appearances are to him and how keeping up with the public persona he built him empire on means more to him than anything else, including family (he tells his son 'tough' when talking about how it might be difficult to deal with having a pornographer for a father).
We also get a few interesting glimpses into Goldstein's day to day life. We see him interact with employees at the office and we see him relax at home in his Florida mansion, mooning a tour boat the floats by his patio. Later in the film the entire contents of this mansion would be moved into a small eight hundred square foot apartment in New York City, but before that Goldstein would actually wind up living at an inner city men's shelter, completely penniless. This film doesn't glorify the man nor does it judge him, it simply lets him speak for himself and allows the viewer to make up his own mind. While more biographical information would have been interesting, the meat of the movie is simply watching as Goldstein more or less shoots himself in the foot and has to deal with the consequences. It's at times both funny and traffic, though provoking and repulsive, but it's never dull.The DVD
While the archival footage culled from the various Midnight Blue episode used throughout the film show their shot on video tape roots, the newer footage (which looks like it was shot on DV) looks very good. Color reproduction is strong and there's plenty of detail present in the picture. The black levels stay deep and don't pixelate. There is some moderate to heavy line shimmering and aliasing present here and there but thankfully it doesn't prove to be overpowering so much as simply a minor annoyance. For a low budget independent documentary, Porn King looks just fine on this Blue Underground DVD.Sound:
Likewise, some of the archival clips don't sound so hot either but they're definitely listenable and there aren't any problems following the English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. No subtitles or closed captions are provided on this release which might alienate some but those who are okay with the English track will find that the newer interviews sound good as does the background music used in the film. Some of the older interviews don't sound quite as hot, but again, it's more to do with the source rather than the authoring of the DVD itself.Extras:
Aside from chapter selection and animated menus, the only supplement on this disc is a segment called The Last Days Of Midnight Blue. Thankfully, this is the perfect companion piece to the feature documentary that makes up the bulk of the disc in that this segment is basically forty odd minutes of Goldstein's notorious rants, many of them of the f*ck you variety, directed towards those involved in the legal proceedings he was involved in during the last while that the public access show was still on the air and before he really fell from grace. As potent as anything in the documentary, this is over half an hour's worth of pure, unadulterated Goldstein rage and it serves as an excellent document of where his mind was at during all of this and how his temper really could and would flair at those who earned his wrath. The presentation is basic (it's simply clip after clip with a text screen before each snippet telling us when it first aired) and the audio and video quality isn't top notch but everything is perfectly watchable here and this does give us a really good idea of just how Goldstein winded up in so much hot water during this tumultuous time in his career. Once again, Blue Underground uses Danny Hellman's artwork on the cover of the DVD, which is a nice touch – this volume in particular features a great illustration of Goldstein being thrown out of court with a copy of SCREW under his arm.Final Thoughts:
Anyone interested in Al Goldstein's unique place in the history of the adult entertainment industry or who just enjoys odd human interest stories would do well to check out Midnight Blue Volume 5 – Porn King. Though the content might put some off, it's a fascinating look at Goldstein's rise and fall and Blue Underground's presentation, though light on extras, leaves little room to complain. Highly recommended.