OK, so exploitation is business as usual in the big bad world, but watching certain forms of it turns the stomach. The "sex industry," examined so forcefully in films like Showgirls and Boogie Nights, goes back under the microscope in Screwed, an oblique portrait of the Nero of porn, Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw magazine, "New York City's longest-running X-rated weekly."
Director Alexander Crawford chooses the interview approach to unveil the business of arousal and flesh trading that Goldstein has parlayed into a small fortune. But, aside from what we can infer from the clipped, unforthcoming, embarrassed testimonies of the women who work for the boss of booty, Screwed supplies little understanding of its object.
Goldstein himself comes off like some neurotic schmuck with too much ego and loose cash to recognize the bloated, stinking mess that he's made of himself and the "sexual revolution." Can he be the end result that the events of the last four decades -- the project of self-realization that began with Freud, feminism and the various sexual-preference movements -- have produced? This liberty seems more like death.
Well, then isn't Screwed a success, an exposé par excellence? Not quite. The most transparently honest interviewees to go before Crawford's camera are a couple of Screw readers: one guy with a collection of thousands of porn videos, and another who likes to be humiliated, literally pissed on, by professional dominatrixes. Goldstein's harshest critic is a surprisingly articulate Curtis Sliwa, head of the Guardian Angels, those self-appointed patrollers of the mean streets of New York; but his diatribes seem almost set up for laughs by the film.
Instead we get reels of self-conscious preening by Goldstein, with pretty young women fawning over his greasy, misogynist carcass. He can't get over the realization that his fourth wife was only after his money -- what else would she (or any of the others) be with him for? -- and we get nothing but compliant giggles from the "dumb cunts" (Goldstein's oft-used phrase), the nervous but smiling babes of his entourage.
Screwed gets no closer to the hearts and minds of those desirable women who make the whole edifice work than a surface "objectivity." And it manages no discussion of the whys and wherefores of this whole depressing, "free" enterprise shitload.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.