Midnight Blue: Porn King

Midnight Blue 5Synopsis: A Compelling, Fair-Handed Portrait Of A Complex Individual Who Is Intelligent And Compulsively Self-Destructive.

Al Goldstein, larger than life smut peddler, made a fortune with his satirical sex tabloid Screw Magazine and became a New York icon with his sleazy TV show MIDNIGHT BLUE. His legendary first amendment battles earned him comparisons with Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt. But by 2001, those glory days are long gone and the fading giant of filth must make one last, desperate grab for relevance.

Filmmaker James Guardino takes an uncensored peek into the salacious, incendiary and self-destructive world of Al Goldstein. With revealing contributions from Larry Flynt, Ron Jeremy and Al ‘Grandpa Munster’ Lewis, PORN KING is an essential document of one man’s fight for free speech — no matter how vulgar.

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Midnight Blue: Porn King 7.25

eyelights: the apparent newly-found humility of its fallen subject.
eyesores: the documentary’s lack of depth.

“I feel like a used condom.”

This volume consists of two features, ‘Porn King: The Trials of Al Goldstein’ and ‘The Last Days of Midnight Blue’. It’s a bit misrepresentative, because you think you’re going to watch a documentary called ‘Porn King’, which I assumed was a feature-length biography of Al Goldstein, and then a small documentary on the decline of ‘Midnight Blue’.

Not quite.

‘Porn King: The Trials of Al Goldstein’
Produced in 2006, this 80-minute documentary is mostly a look at Al Goldstein’s later years, focusing in particular on his 2002 trial for harassing a former employee who ripped him off and destroyed many of his computer files. It only barely broaches Goldstein’s younger years, saying he was initiated at 16 with a prostitute (with his parents’ blessing), was in the military and started Screw in 1968.

Pretty much nothing else of his life is discussed here.

Interviews with friend Larry Flynt and Ron Jeremy, and his therapist shed little light. Fast forward to the trial, and his lawyer discusses in interview that he was sure he would get the case dismissed. However, he didn’t consider just how mouthy Goldstein was: in ‘Porn King’, he is seen insulting everyone all of the time, including the filmmaker; he’s harsh, prejudiced, offensive and even abusive.

Goldstein had already been tried 19 times on obscenity charges over the years. So he’d become a huge believer in First Amendment rights and believes that ‘Screw’ gave him a forum for socio-political discourse – especially in the end, when competitors moved in on his turf and the magazine struggled. He could barely pay to keep staff – and that’s not even taking into account how difficult he was to work with.

Interestingly, he talks quite a lot about his son’s disapproval of him, and how he wasn’t invited to his graduation from Harvard Law. With all his bluster, it’s hard to see beyond his shell – so this was a surprising reveal. At one point, later on, he even says that he no longer exists: he’s just a fabric of self-agrandizing lies. So it gives the impression that he eventually did some self-reflection.

But even then, he wasn’t at all a dignified guy: for instance, he had a large statue of a hand giving the finger placed on the waterfront of his Florida property. And when he was upset with people, he would tear into them in his ‘Screw’ editorials and ‘Midnight Blue’ rants – and sometimes publish his opponents’ contact information for fans to harass them (as he did with his case’s judge and district attorney!)

Eventually he was found guilty, and faced two years in jail. Forever pushing the limits, he showed up for his sentencing wearing the striped garb of prisoners or yore. He got 60 days in Rikers Island, was plagued with health issues and returned in poor shape. To make matters worse, his businesses suffered: ‘Midnight Blue’ went off the air on November 20, 2002 and ‘Screw’ folded in October 2003.

Goldstein wound up homeless. He lost 150 pounds due to gastric bypass surgery (and, likely, a limited diet). In the documentary, they show him landing his first job in a year – as the host at a deli he once frequented. He was soon fired. By that point, he’d become more humble, more self-reflective. Or perhaps by then he was too defeated to be combative. Either way, he was a shadow of his former self.

I don’t enjoy watching Al Goldstein: he’s mostly shown as an abrasive, rather unlikable character, the likes of which I would avoid like the plague: in one moment he could be pleasant, but he would become abusive even of his close friends. ‘Porn King’ certainly makes that clear. What it doesn’t do, however, is show us how Goldstein became this person – because, surely, he wasn’t always this way.

No one is.

But ‘Porn King’ doesn’t dig deep enough; it’s perfectly content letting Goldstein rant and make a fool of himself.

It’s a lost opportunity, given the access the exclusive the filmmakers had.

Oh well.

The Last Days of Midnight Blue
This 46-minute special feature isn’t actually a documentary on ‘Midnight Blue’s decline; it consists mostly of various rants that Al Goldstein rants did in the last year of the show.

Presented chronologically, with the original airdate, in it he complains about the court case and threatens to “take down” various people involved in it. He also frequently talks about his son, Jordan, who refuses to have anything to do with him.

He eventually faked his son’s death, claiming that he’d died in a car accident, and wept openly on TV. And yet later Goldstein ranted against him again, telling him he’ll never amount to anything. Messed up. No wonder the kid doesn’t want him around.

But the most disturbing part of all of this is watching his return from Rikers Island, looking haggard and distraught… and seemingly wearing a wig, in which he talks about the mistreatment there. Or seeing him with his mouth falling apart. Yuck.

This is a document, but it’s not a documentary.

And it’s an unfortunate way to wrap a DVD collection that could have produce much more of a historical perspective on this iconic show. Seriously, as someone who has never seen it and had never heard of it before picking up the set, I would have liked to see something that explored the origins and history of the show, to better understand its cultural impact.

Alas, we are left with collections of tidbits, mere sketches of what the show represented.

Then again, maybe it’s not deserving of that kind of attention.

Story: n/a
Acting: n/a
Production: 7.5

Nudity: 1.0
Sexiness: 0
Explicitness: 1.0

Date of viewing: April 16, 2016

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