If you’ve ever read about the adult enter­tain­ment busi­ness, you know it’s full of char­ac­ters.  For Your Humble Reviewer’s mon­ey, no char­ac­ter ever pro­duced by that busi­ness has been more mem­o­rable — or trag­ic — than Al Goldstein.  This NYC smut mogul and 1st Amendment cru­sader hit on a suc­cess­ful if high­ly con­tro­ver­sial suc­cess for­mu­la by com­bin­ing the gut­ter­snipe atti­tude of under­ground news­pa­pers with explic­it sex­u­al con­tent to cre­ate Screw Magazine.  He ruled the roost in NYC from the 1970’s into the 1990’s until his infa­mous ego and take-no-pris­on­ers atti­tude led to his down­fall in a trumped-up court case that scut­tled his Screw empire and left him des­ti­tute.

In oth­er words, the rags-to-rich­es-to-rags tale of Goldstein is a clas­sic American saga — and it is cap­tured to good effect in the short but infor­ma­tive con­fines of Jack Stevenson’s new Goldstein Bio, Beneath Contempt.  In 208 pages, it gives the read­er a quick overview of Goldman’s career: his schlub-like ear­ly exis­tence and mul­ti­ple failed careers, his rise to the top of the under­ground paper heap in NYC, the con­tro­ver­sy and obscen­i­ty tri­als that dogged Screw, the many rela­tion­ships that rose and fell with the tides of Goldstein’s suc­cess and the slow demise that took away his mag­a­zine, his for­tune and his health.  Since this is the most recent book on Goldstein, it also offers some inter­est­ing cov­er­age of his recent years, with Goldstein strug­gling to regain a foothold in the adult film busi­ness as he tries to escape abject pover­ty.

The short length of this book can par­tial­ly be explained by the fact that Stevenson did not have access to Goldstein for the book and derived his research pri­mar­i­ly from exist­ing resources.  That said, Beneath Contempt nev­er comes off like a glo­ri­fied mag­a­zine arti­cle thanks to the author’s atten­tion to doing thor­ough research: Stevenson’s work ref­er­ences count­less issues of Screw, episodes of Goldstein’s show Midnight Blue and Goldstein’s pro­lific blogs as well as pri­or mag­a­zine arti­cles and books.  Luckily, Goldstein has been vocif­er­ous enough through­out the years in inter­views and blogs that his defi­ant voice comes through loud and clear.

More impor­tant­ly, Stevenson is a long time jour­nal­ist on top­ics of cult/underground movies and oth­er alter­na­tive sub­ject mat­ter so he’s able to bring a real his­tor­i­cal world­view to the table.  He’s adept at pars­ing the gap between Goldstein’s accounts of events and what actu­al­ly hap­pened.  For exam­ple, a key recur­ring ele­ment in Beneath Contempt is Goldstein’s inabil­i­ty to main­tain strong part­ner­ships and friend­ships with men­tors or rivals: a short list of those who Goldstein has run hot and cold on include Larry Flynt, Myron Fass and Screw co-founder Jim Buckley.  Stevenson also offers some impres­sive analy­sis of Goldstein’s phi­los­o­phy and atti­tudes, par­tic­u­lar­ly on how he pur­sued a scabrous, delib­er­ate­ly vul­gar approach to sex in an attempt to demys­ti­fy it.

Those amused by the sub­ject of Screw Magazine will also be hap­py to note that there are plen­ty of black-and-white repro­duc­tions of cov­ers, ads and sev­er­al fea­tures tak­en direct­ly from its pages.  These sleaze-satire arti­facts do a great job of pro­vid­ing a fla­vor of what this infa­mous tabloid was like.  Even more inter­est­ing are some repro­duc­tions of pages and ele­ments from Death, a short-lived off­shoot mag­a­zine of Screw that rep­re­sent­ed Goldstein’s attempt to come to terms with the mono­lithic top­ic of our mor­tal­i­ty.

In short, Beneath Contempt is a solid lit­tle primer on Goldstein’s life and mis­ad­ven­tures and is par­tic­u­lar­ly strong as an objec­tive addi­tion to the body of exist­ing lit­er­a­ture on Al Goldstein.  Anyone fas­ci­nat­ed by this sub­ject or the wild-west hey­day of the adult enter­tain­ment busi­ness in gen­er­al should check it out.