A LOOK BACK AT AL GOLDSTEIN’S “S.O.S.: SCREW ON SCREEN”

Last week, Jonny Abomb took a look at the life and legacy of Al Goldstein, the Screw Magazine publisher who passed away from renal failure Thursday at the age of 77.  There’s no question the world of sexuality in media would be vastly different today had it not been for Goldstein – a man who understood what the First Amendment was all about (unlike, say, some people), Goldstein fought for the rights of free speech and the right to create and consume sexual materials even if they couldn’t be justified under the guise of “art.”  His views on sex were vastly different from Hugh Hefner’s, whose Playboy helped bring nudity out of the shadows, and as civil rights advocate Alan Dershowitz once commented, “Hefner did it with taste.  Goldstein’s contribution is to be utterly tasteless.”

There’s no question that Goldstein was essentially the personification of “sleaze,” using his public access “Midnight Blue” talk show as a basis to spout vicious remarks about those who have “wronged” him and refusing to give filter sex through the Vaseline-shrouded filter that most adult-oriented periodicals would use in order to class it up a bit.  But he fought like hell and never gave up, keeping a resolve (or stubbornness) that even his harshest critics could appreciate, even if this refusal to play by the rules most likely contributed to his slow decline, living in a homeless shelter and on the couches of friends and relatives.  “I’m infantile, compulsive, always acting out my fantasies,” he said in 1998.  It’s these qualities that made Goldstein both the fighter he was and the casualty he became.

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In 1975, however, Goldstein was on top of the world.  “Midnight Blue,” his New York-based talk show that reveled in the seedier aspects of the then-burgeoning porno chic movement, had debuted the previous year.   Screw Magazine also released its first, and last, theatrical feature film, the gonzo fiction flick S.O.S.: SCREW ON THE SCREEN.

A pastiche of newly-created sexually explicit shorts punctuated by brief gags and occasional interstitial segments featuring Goldstein or narration by director Jim Buckley, S.O.S. is similar in nature to the likes of Chuck Vincent’s BANG BANG YOU GOT IT! (1976) or a porn version of sketch film showcases like DYNAMITE CHICKEN (1971) or KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, which emerged two years later.  I hesitate, however, to call S.O.S. a comedy, as while several of the bits seem to set up potentially comedic premises, there are rarely any “jokes,” save for some cutaway gags from the “Laugh-In” school of editing.

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The film begins with Goldstein’s introduction, justifying the film (and Screw’s) existence through occasionally stuttered lines, announcing that “society makes people cripples, and then tries to arrest us for limping.”  We then cut to a prehistoric-set segment about the origin of sex, and Goldstein continues to narrate, talking about how man has created rockets but still can’t break out of the cave of sexuality.

This, along with the occasional cutaways to a teacher (Erica Eaton) seducing her student (David Savage, who would also appear in the aforementioned BANG BANG and Vincent’s similar, though non-hardcore, AMERICAN TICKLER), announce the subtlety (or lack thereof) on display for the next hour or so.  The next segment claims that filmmaking was created by some guys in New Jersey for the purpose of showing sex, and the claim is about as dubious as the “smoker” film they then show as an example, starring a woman credited as “Weedhead” who satisfies three guys wearing disguises.  Narrator Buckley opines that penis sizes have changed over the years.

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A history on the importance of the “Peter Meter” follows, which leads naturally to Goldstein reviewing three new skin flicks, no doubt a segment that would have been carried over had the film made enough to become a franchise.  Narrating the clips, he calls THE HOTTEST SHOW IN TOWN “a bubble bath of buffoonery,” says that he’d take his wife or ex-wife to WET RAINBOW, and comments that the best thing about Gerard Damiano’s PORTRAIT is the presence of Jody Maxwell, “the famous cocksucker.”

The teacher/student cutaways continue, leading to the teacher using Savage’s ass as a pencil sharpener.  A goofy short about Victorian-era seduction is up next, shot in the style of a silent film and, like most of S.O.S., more conceptually funny than actively humorous.

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The following segment shows just how impressively permissive the sexual culture of the ‘70s where, as an army recruit narrates the tale of stumbling on his sergeant reading pornography in his bunk with a huge hole in his crotch.  While the modern eye keeps expecting this to turn into a joke or for a woman to enter the picture at any second, the scene between A.C. Jones and Don Allen instead extents into a perfectly sincere blow job, done in the style of an all-male Penthouse Letter.   It’s an impressive surprise, and one that shows that Goldstein’s acceptance for consensual adult sexuality wasn’t limited to having girls around.

The next segment is more like something out of a mondo movie, as we get a peek behind the scenes of the tattoo parlor of Spider Webb, who talks about his work as an artist and we get a detailed description as to exactly what getting a tattoo entails.  (Webb, impressively, is still in business and his work is still quite impressive.)  There’s also a brief gynecologist joke, just to ensure the audience that we’ll be back with the ladyparts soon enough.

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“A lady so dirty, she has to wear gloves when washing her hands” is next, as Honeysuckle Divine appears and performs her act.  Inspired by a Screw article about a guy who could sneeze with his ass, Divine gleefully cleans the floor using a mop held by a delicate location, and then proceeds to blow out candles using the same orifice.  He odd nature and unabashed lack of filter makes her come off a bit like “Strangers With Candy”’s Jerri Blank finally performing in the part she’d always meant to play.

The longest segment is left for the finale, a “Tonight Show” rip-off starring Buckley, with Goldstein as the sidekick.  Their first guest is none other than “famous cocksucker” Jody Maxwell, who pays off her favorable mention earlier in the film by showing off why she’s known as “the singing cocksucker from Missouri” by crooning “Old McDonald Had a Farm” while indulging in fellatio.

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S.O.S.: SCREW ON SCREEN is an odd mixed bag, and like a lot of sex-heavy “comedies,” it rarely manages to be funny.  It is, however, often entertaining, and the nature of the format means that if a segment is dull, you can usually just wait a few minutes before something new and different comes along.

Long unavailable on any format, Distribpix announced that S.O.S. would be issued on DVD in multiple versions (apparently there is also a version in which Maxwell sings “Doggie in the Window” instead – it’s discussed on the “Old McDonald” version, but we never hear it)  but it has yet to materialize.  As much of an oddity that S.O.S. is, it would be great to see the film get a proper transfer, if only to bring to light a curiosity of Goldstein’s, one just as infantile and compulsive as the life he led.

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