Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Filthy Gorgeous: It’s a Publishing Story
Guccione hired a lot of science and science fiction writers for Omni Magazine. He published other stuff
too. Of course, that is what built his
publishing empire and it is why he is now getting the documentary profile
treatment in Barry Avrich’s Filthy Gorgeous: the Bob Guccione Story (trailer here), a selection of
this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which premieres this Friday on
painting was Guccione’s calling. He was
more or less content to live the hand-to-mouth life of a struggling artist in
Europe, but his first wife—not so much. Moving
to fill a void, Guccione originally conceived Penthouse as the domestic British answer to Playboy, but he quickly recognized the American circulation titan
was vulnerable to upstart competition and moved in on its turf. Guccione initially served as the staff
photographer, because he could not afford anyone else, but obviously those
duties agreed with him. Readers (or
whatever the correct term might be) seemed to agree, until things started to
turn in the 1990s.
Filthy is much more interesting when
analyzing the collapse of the Guccione empire than celebrating its rise. An entire film could probably be made on the
tempestuous production of Caligula and
it would be far more watchable than the train wreck resulting from Guccione’s
battles with Tinto Brass. There were
also cash-draining misadventures with a cold fusion reactor scam and an aborted
Atlantic City casino. More costly in the
long term, Guccione fundamentally lacked a vision for the whole internet thing,
just like his archrival, Hugh Hefner.
is some fascinating, honest to goodness publishing history in Filthy.
There are also plenty of reminisces about what a progressive gentleman
Guccione was in his business dealings and how shy he was in private. That is all very nice, but it gets repetitive
quickly. Likewise, attempts to position Guccione as yet another First Amendment
crusader fall flat, notwithstanding the efforts of Alan Dershowitz. In fact, the lack of critical voices in Filthy is a serious flaw. There really should be someone somehow
associated with Vanessa Williams tearing into him for the nude photo scandal.
Avrich periodically gives viewers peaks behind the magazine covers, because
duh. Yet, the sequence that resonates
the strongest describe attempts by Guccione, Jr. (a rather candid interview
subject) and several of his father’s loyalists to take the magazine in a more
demur Men’s Health or Maxim direction. There is something to their arguments that
might have been explored in greater length.
Needless to say, Guccione, Sr. went in the opposite direction with dire
The magnitude of Guccione’s downfall is almost
worthy of classical tragedy. As a posthumous
profile, there is no escaping the inevitable, but the closing fifteen minutes
or so are surprisingly sad. Still, there
are some worthy object lessons for budding media moguls in Filthy regarding the importance of seizing opportunities and acknowledging
seismic shifts in the marketplace. There
are also pictures of naked women, scrupulously selected for their comparative
tastefulness. Conspicuously one-sided
but still consistently interesting, Filthy
Gorgeous is recommended to mature viewers for the documentary equivalent of
its articles when it airs on EPIX this Friday night (11/8).
Labels: Documentary, EPIX