BERLIN (Reuters) - British actor Steve Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom reunite for "The Look of Love", a biopic of pornography publisher and night club impresario Paul Raymond that brings to the screen the sleaze, success and tragedy in his life.
Dubbed the "king of porn", or, more politely, the "King of Soho" after the London area where his empire was based, Raymond began amassing his fortune in 1958 with the opening of the "Raymond Revuebar" and expanded to theatre and men's magazines.
The erotica club played host to the likes of The Beatles and Frank Sinatra in its heyday and Raymond was named Britain's wealthiest man by 1992, the year his daughter and heir apparent Debbie died of a drug overdose aged 36.
"I thought he was an interesting character who was sort of largely ignored because he was associated with porn," Coogan told reporters at the Berlin film festival where "The Look of Love" was screened outside the main competition.
"His character was ignored in pop culture for that reason, because the British have got a very difficult relationship with sex in a way that the Germans and the French (do not)."
Coogan said Raymond dealt candidly with sexuality while British filmmakers struggled to handle sex in an interesting way.
"It's either very, very serious, portentous, or it's titillation, and I thought we could combine that and have titillation and portentousness," he said.
"The Look of Love" features plenty of nudity - on stage, in bed at photo shoots - and Coogan plays Raymond and his playboy lifestyle with obvious relish.
But the actor also attempts to convey his subject's sense of loss and bewilderment at the death of a daughter he had cared for materially if not emotionally.
"NOT A FILM ABOUT PORN"
"The Look of Love" is the fourth time Winterbottom and Coogan have collaborated following "24 Hour Party People" about music producer Tony Wilson, "A Cock and Bull Story" based on "Tristram Shandy", and "The Trip" about restaurant critics.
Winterbottom said the latest picture, which hits British theatres next month, was not about pornography.
"It's about his life," the filmmaker said of Raymond, who died in 2008 aged 82.
"His career lasted 50 years and we could have told lots of different stories about his life, but I think our film is organised around the three women closest to him."
These were his wife Jean, played by Anna Friel, his lover Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton) and daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots).
Coogan admitted the movie had taken "plenty of liberties" with the truth, but the on-screen Raymond openly cheats on his wife, works hard, drives expensive cars and has a preference for menages-a-trois-or-more.
Cocaine and champagne fuel business meetings as well as parties, but life in the fast lane takes its toll on friends and family, most notably his daughter.
There is a nod to Raymond's humble roots - he was actually born Geoffrey Quinn in a modest suburb of Liverpool - and Coogan portrays him as someone with deep-rooted insecurities that turned him into a serial name-dropper.
Ringo Starr helped him design his luxury penthouse, Raymond tells visitors, and he is good friends with all of the Beatles "except Yoko", a reference to John Lennon's wife who some say was behind the band's eventual split.
Winterbottom sought to capture changing fashions - clothes were sourced from second hand shops, vintage fairs and eBay - and reflect how the streets of Soho also altered over the years, all on a shoestring budget.
The annual Berlinale, one of Europe's most important film festivals, runs until February 17.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)
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