The People Vs. Larry Flynt: A Smut Peddler’s Triumph

YOU MAY NOT LIKE WHAT HE DOES, BUT ARE YOU PREPARED TO GIVE UP HIS RIGHT TO DO IT?

The war on pornography is reignited now and then, usually by people with a poor understanding of the democratic values that guarantee pornography’s right to exist. Regardless if they’re religious right-wingers or misguided feminists, they attack a phenomenon that is protected by freedom-of-speech laws. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the damaging influence porn can have on teenagers, or the conditions under which people are working in the business.

But it’s pretty amazing that it was up to a proud smut peddler like Larry Flynt to drive home what really matters in the debate on porn.

In the early 1970s, Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson) is running a strip club in Cincinnati when he comes up with the idea of publishing a newsletter. Calling it ”Hustler”, it has nude photos of the strippers working at the club. Hustler soon develops into a regular magazine and becomes a competitor to Playboy, offering more eyebrow-raising material. As Hustler takes off and becomes a national success, Flynt makes a fortune. Always by his side is Althea (Courtney Love), one of the strippers from the club that Flynt fell in love with. He constantly clashes with anti-pornography activists who have powerful friends among conservative politicians, and the court cases pile up. Flynt finds a fighter in young attorney Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton), but as Ronald Reagan wins the presidency, an increasingly drug-addicted Flynt becomes more reckless…

Forman’s last great movie
Director Milos Forman’s last great movie is familiar to his fans. It’s not the first time he has portrayed a troublesome, noisy rebel, this time finding him in a publishing tycoon who fought stubbornly for the right not to have great taste. Larry Flynt is one of the most colorful people in the history of American publishing and the film explores both his personal life and what he achieved as a businessman and First Amendment icon.

We see Flynt struggle after the attempted assassination in 1978 that left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. We see him finding God through Ruth Carter, the sister of the U.S. President, which leads to a huge conflict with his free-spirited wife Althea. And we see him take on the mighty hypocrite Jerry Falwell (Richard Paul), a pastor who co-founded the Moral Majority and thought he could take down Flynt by suing him because of a caricature in Hustler. That led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1988 in favor of freedom of speech, which also becomes the climax of this film (although it doesn’t mention that Flynt and Falwell actually became friends later on). Forman keeps the story fun and lively, never losing our attention; there’s a lot going on but it doesn’t feel too hurried. It’s quite an accomplishment also by the two screenwriters. Over the years, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have made real-life stories a specialty. Their breakthrough was Ed Wood (1994) and they collaborated with Forman again on Man on the Moon (1999). They know how to turn newspaper headlines into touching and darkly humorous stories.

In The People Vs. Larry Flynt, the cast is amazing, with Harrelson in one of his greatest performances, going off the rails in a compelling manner as Flynt loses it during the 1980s. Paul is very amusing as Falwell – and looks exactly like him. There’s subtle comedy in his effort.

The real revelation in the cast though is Courtney Love, the punk and grunge singer who gave everything as Althea, sinking into a far worse drug addiction than her husband. An outrageous and tragic performance. 

The People Vs. Larry Flynt 1996-U.S. 127 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Michael Hausman, Oliver Stone, Janet Yang. Directed by Milos Forman. Screenplay: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski. Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot. Cast: Woody Harrelson (Larry Flynt), Courtney Love (Althea Leasure), Edward Norton (Alan Isaacman), Brett Harrelson, Donna Hanover, James Cromwell… Crispin Glover, James Carville, Oliver Reed, Norm Macdonald. Cameo: Larry Flynt.

Trivia: Bill Murray was reportedly considered for the lead role.  Flynt’s brother is played by Harrelson’s brother Brett.

Golden Globes: Best Director, Screenplay. Berlin: Golden Bear.

Last word: “[I went to see Flynt] because I wanted to use his building, his office. So with great trepidation I went to see him. He went through the script page by page, saying, ‘Well, this didn’t happen in March, it was in the fall, and my mother wasn’t really in this scene, just my father, and this scene actually happened in Cincinnati,’ details like that. And I looked at him and I said, ‘Larry, there are a lot of unflattering things about you in the script. I hope you don’t mind, because I want your collaboration.’ He said, ‘Of course I mind. But it’s true, so what can I do?’ That’s a great attitude. On one side, he’s a very creepy guy, but on the other side he’s a completely straightforward, honest guy.” (Forman, DGA)

 

IMDb

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