Meet the New Sheriff

recently.
Typically 72 pages thick, and priced at $2.25 (it cost 35 cents back in 1968), Screw mixes unabashedly sexual articles with movie-ad satires, reviews of books and other media, and advertisements for prostitutes and phone-sex lines. Throughout, the publication is illustrated by photographs of people engaged in the three activities often used to define obscenity: erection, penetration, and ejaculation. You won't find any of that in Playboy or Penthouse. Along with the pornography are dozens of witty bits: articles carry bylines such as Warren Pietz, Benjamin Waugh (for the Ben-wa masturbation device), and the ever-popular John Milton; headlines are generally clever - "Satin Worship" over a story about sheer lingerie, "On the Rags" for a piece about sensationalist tabloids from the past, "Dragnut" for a report covering the trial of 2 Live Crew, which began, "Ladies and genitals, a word from our Leerless Feeder, Al Goldstein...." Goldstein bon mots are placed in the staff box on page three, a la Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman: "I wish I had a dollar for every nickel I have," "I went from fabulous to fat in 21 days," and "I'm an eats-seeking missile."

Goldstein attributes Screw's longevity to something more philosophical than puns and buns. "I think if anything, unlike [Playboy's Hugh] Hefner and [Penthouse's Bob] Guccione, I think readers like me because they've identified with me. I'm not better than my reader, I'm as confused and bewildered and befuddled as he is. I really see myself as everyman." Screw does indeed present an editorial product that touches - and fondles and gropes - a nerve in anyone who wasn't born celibate. It attempts to cater to every sexual tendency except pedophilia, violence, and bestiality. "In the same way that Geraldo and Oprah get weirder and weirder subjects, people get a little desensitized," Goldstein says. "I think a lot of people are bored with sex and they're looking for kinkier and kinkier stuff. And in no way are we talking about the two things which I'm against: child pornography and rape I'm absolutely appalled by. But as long as it's consensual, let people play it out. I know a lot of people who go to S&M clubs - wonderful, you wanna hang from the ceiling upside down, do it. There's nothing wrong with fun. That's my fantasy with Nick Navarro - handcuff him, tie him upside down, hang him from one of his tent-city jails. Probably love it. Probably give me a couple hundred dollars."

Not everyone is as multidimensional as Al Goldstein, whose acceptance in more mainstream circles is intriguing given his rebel-without-a-pause gusto for shocking people to their senses. He's had his work published in Playboy and Penthouse (not to mention the New York Times, Film Comment, and Harper's), appeared on Geraldo, and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Sexuality. His carefully favorable PR bio (instead of dropping out of Pace, for example, it says he "completed his education" there) describes Goldstein as "a writer, a photographer, a gadget buff, a film aficionado, a family man."

In 1970 Terry Southern, in his novel Blue Movie, envisioned the future of adult movies. Two decades ago skin flicks were relegated to the deep, deep underground - most were poorly crafted, one-camera, 8-mm stag films shown at crude parties and in urban red-light districts. In Southern's book, the world's top film director, Boris Adrian, who has won the Best Picture Oscar two years running, is inspired by these silent, black-and-white movies. He wonders what would happen if a sex film were made on a three-million-dollar budget, with real actors and actresses, proper lighting, and multiple camera angles. Another character, a producer, says to the great director: "Jesus fucking Christ, B.! Here you are with everything in the world going for you, and you worrying about making some dumb broad hooker look good in a dirty movie! Whatta you, nuts?!?"

Almost immediately after its publication, Southern's prophecy was fulfilled by Deep Throat (filmed in Miami during 1970), which captured the nation's attention, did boffo box-office, and made Linda Lovelace something more than a household name when it appeared in 1972. A slew of blue movies shot on 35-mm stock followed in Deep Throat's wake, and for the first time porno reached beyond the raincoat crowd. Based solely on the publicity generated when law-enforcement officials cracked down on theaters bold enough to show it, couples and other curious mainstreamers went in droves to see Lovelace's X-rated antics.

Though at first Linda Lovelace basked in the media spotlight, in her autobiography, Ordeal, she denounced pornography and her performance. In the book, she claims she was beaten, raped, and forced to act in the movie by her husband/manager, adding that she assuaged her traumatic suffering with heavy doses of the painkiller Percodan.

"There was a time," Goldstein recalls, "in 1971, '72, '73, when the films really got much better. They were shooting 35-mm, Gerry Damiano [who directed Deep Throat as well as the highly regarded The Devil in Miss Jones, which Goldstein chooses as an all-time favorite] was making some really good movies. Sure he had Bergman pretensions...." Goldstein has cited many of the films from porn's Seventies heyday in the "X-rated Video" review column he writes for Penthouse. About The Opening of Misty Beethoven, he opined in 1985 that "this consummate piece of adult entertainment had `classic' written all over it when it was released as a film, back in 1976...." Of 1974's The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, he offered this: "These last two [actresses] turned in a state-of-the-tart lesbian scene. And when Barbara Bourbon is asked to deep-throat Marc Stevens, she performs so well she'd qualify as a sword-swallower for Ringling Brothers. Pamela Mann proves that although nations fade and empires crumble, a good blowjob is timeless."

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