LOS ANGELES—Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story airs tomorrow night on the Epix network, and as expected, the documentary on America's all-but-forgotten porn king provides mainstream media with yet another opportunity to moralize about porn rather than take an objective look at the subject before them.
A perfect example of this is the New York Times review by Neil Genzlinger, who opens his piece by immediately carping about the documentary's lack of anti-porn emphasis. "The documentary, Friday night on Epix, is a softball treatment of the life of the founder of Penthouse magazine, who died in 2010 at 79," he writes. "Relatives and former co-workers go on at length about Guccione the entrepreneur, Guccione the hypocrisy-buster, Guccione the defender of the First Amendment. The guy who made a fortune by turning women into sex objects and appealing to some of the baser human instincts is nowhere to be found."
Actually, considering his bias, one might assume that the Times editors would have relieved Genzlinger of the obligation to review Filthy Gorgeous, in the same way compromised judges are recused from certain cases, but such was not the case. To the contrary, Genzlinger doubles down by deigning to instruct the reader on how s/he should think about the subject matter, writing, "Whatever your opinion of Penthouse and related indulgences, you at least are aware that some people find them crassly exploitative and deeply offensive."
Declaring much of the film "laughable" for its "disinclination to engage in a serious examination of Mr. Guccione’s role in tumultuous times," Genzlinger finds that its only "honest stretch" comes near the end, when it "gets to the collapse of Mr. Guccione’s empire and the squandering of the personal fortune all those nude photographs had built."
Evidently, director Barry Avrich did not make the film Neil Genzingler thought he should make, and was roundly denounced for it. Genzlinger, it should be noted, is apparently a big fan of Duck Dynasty, so who knows; maybe the Guccione story went over his head?
In contrast to the Times take-down, Regina Weinreich wrote a balanced review over at HuffPo, even calling the documentary "illuminating," and adding, "The big reveal: Bob Guccione, whose interests also went to math and science (he created Omni Magazine), wanted to be remembered as a fine arts painter. And guess what: he could paint."
In further contrast to Genzlinger's one-note take, the NY Daily News' David Hinckley observed a much different Filthy Gorgeous, one that revealed "more than one side to Penthouse founder Bob Guccione," and "never makes a black-or-white judgment" on the man. While admitting that the movie "tilts" toward depicting Guccione as "an impassioned champion of the First Amendment, a bold exposer of religious hypocrisy and a sexual revolutionary who liberated women by celebrating beauty and giving them a voice," neither does it "duck the basic, obvious truth: Penthouse magazine, on which Guccione built his fortune and reputation, soared to success in the 1960s by serving up a more raw brand of naked women than rival Playboy."
Hinckley adds at the end of his review that "critics are unlikely to be swayed by Filthy Gorgeous." We're assuming he didn't have to read the review of his Gotham competitor before coming to that conclusion.
Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story airs on Epix Friday at 11pm, Eastern and Pacific times; 10 pm, Central time.