UK | USA 2012
Starts August 29, 2013
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Writing credits: Matt Greenhalgh
Cast: Imogen Poots, Anna Friel, Steve Coogan, Tamsin Egerton, Simon Bird, David Walliams, Chris Addison, Matthew Beard
Length: 121 minutes
British Paul Raymond was proud of his achievements which earned him titles such as King of Porn and King of Soho. In 1958 he established the basis for his future fortune with the Revue Bar, which featured sumptuous strippers. He opened other similar clubs and then expanded into soft porn publications. He invested his earnings in real estate until he owned almost 70% of Soho, an exclusive part of London. He said, “Nothing confirms more respectability than property.” He married one of his “girls” named Jean, had several children, including a son Derry from an early relationship, whom he saw probably one time. He divorced, began other relationships and died at age 82 in 2008.
Steve Coogan plays Raymond (originally a poor boy from Liverpool, his real name was Geoffrey Quinn) on his rise to wealth and fame. He enjoyed the limelight, posing in his long fur coat, sitting, his arms around the nubile girls, or in expensive sports cars. The big tragedy in his life was the death of his daughter Debbie (Poots) at age 36 in 1992 of alcohol and drugs. He never really got over this loss.
He can be compared to the American Hugh Hefner, an especially interesting comparison if you have seen the 2009 film Hugh Hefner: Playboy Activist and Rebel. That film was a documentary whereas The Look of Love is a docudrama. These two men were born within a year of each other (Hefner in 1926, Raymond in 1925) each in a first-world country, each offering members of the 1950s generation something they had not seen on such an impressive scale: legal, legitimate, acceptable pornography. Perhaps the time was right and both had the insight to grasp this opportunity. Hefner seems to be more sensible in his private life without having suffered any real debilitating tragedy as did Raymond. I wonder if they ever met. The film does arouse your curiosity about life 50-60 years ago, is well acted, and ably represents a mogul, who might have been unfamiliar if you didn’t originate from England. ( )
The look I loved in this film was the attention to period details. The opening title sequence, a combination of graphics and photos with colors and music popular in the late 1950s, sets the mood. “My name’s Paul Raymond. Welcome to my world of erotica” is simply the topping on a richly laid out desert. Flashbacks, beginning with B&W footage, relate how after arriving in London with only 5-bob in his pocket, Raymond (Coogan) became—for a time—the richest man in England. He built his empire on flesh, i.e. soft porn. Laws relaxed in the 1960s, and he dispensed with G-strings. Intermingling his wife’s (Friel) choreography, nubile nude women and flashy staging made Raymond’s Soho bars synonymous with sex and sophistication.
Moving forward, time phases are augmented through fashions, hairstyles, and color film: Raymond’s messy divorce, his first mistress’s influence, and launching his flagship magazine, the sensational Men Only in 1971. With success, his lifestyle spirals—multiple bedmates, drugs and cockiness—so does his reputation. Sleaze replaces sophistication. Daughter Debbie (Poots) is his only darling, and she grows up emulating him. With her death—the film’s starting point—Raymond becomes a recluse. At the end of the film, black cards with a film still shot of each individual provides current information for the main players. This docudrama does not shy away from authenticity—there is female nudity galore, and at least one bedroom orgy scene. Yet director Winterbottom, cast and production team transcend raunchy and present an informative, and entertaining walk-through-the past.