"There's always been a trajectory of rise and fall in my other movies," says Barry Avrich, whose profiles of movie-industry titans such as Lew Wasserman and Harvey Weinstein have made him something of a mogul when it comes to movies about moguls.
"But I think Bob Guccione is unlike the others in that he had such a seismic impact in so many areas: the First Amendment, on sexuality and on society." Avrich says Filthy Gorgeous, which makes its world premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a "warts-and-all portrait" of the late magazine magnate, who founded Penthouse in the late 1960s to compete with Playboy and ended up becoming an icon to rival Hugh Hefner.
"The open shirt with all the gold chains, the leather pants … several people in the film talk about how he gave people what they wanted to see, which was almost like a Roman emperor," says Avrich, who started work on the project after Guccione's death in 2010.
(The film includes interviews with many of Guccione's collaborators and family members, including his son, Spin magazine founder Bob Guccione Jr.) Like Rome, Guccione fell hard, brought low by a combination of eccentric investments and changes in the porn industry. "With a lot of empire builders, it was all about cash, but with Guccione, it was about credibility," Avrich adds. "He wanted people to see him as something other than a pornographer."
Filthy Gorgeous, one hopes, will provide a clear-eyed look at a man who was a master of seductive images – including his own.