With nearly all the critics in the world calling THE PEOPLE
VS. LARRY FLYNT the best movie of 1996 and most major religious
figures decrying it from the pulpit, this movie was top on my list of
movies to see this holiday season. TURBULENCE and THE RELIC
can wait, because this movie's got everyone shaken up in one way or
another. The movie theater people were actually checking IDs and for
this one so you know it's controversial. And yes, it is damn good.
THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT tells the fascinating true
story of a low-class man's rise to fame through the exploitation of
nude women. Larry Flynt, played by Woody Harrelson, is stereotypical
white trash running a series of seedy strip joints when he gets the
idea to publish a newsletter to promote it. The newsletter is, of course,
a bunch of topless photos, and that leads to the establishment of
Hustler magazine, which begins selling millions of copies an issue
once it prints nude pictures of Jackie Onassis.
Hustler, like Flynt himself, is undisguised perversion. It
doesn't have the pretenses of the higher-class Playboy, which tries
to mix articles and interviews with the photo spreads. Hustler focuses
solely on sex, and so does Flynt. It's Playboy for the common
pervert -- sure there's the Playboy Mansion, but wouldn't most
people rather visit the Hustler Mobile Home?
With the success of Hustler, Flynt becomes rich and
influential but retains the same set of friends and associates as
before. Making the journey with him is bisexual stripper Althea
(Courtney Love, of Hole), who becomes his wife early in the film.
Swingers that they are, though, they scoff at the notion of
marriage and monogamy being interrelated. There are a couple
sex scenes in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, and Love
does appear in the buff many a time. Being subjected to her
naked body so many times, I'm starting to get an idea of why
Kurt Cobain shot himself.
With the graphic pictures and cartoons in his magazine,
outcries are inevitable. Flynt goes to court three times in the
movie, twice because he's being sued by the Reverend Jerry
Falwell for printing a parody ad that quotes Falwell as saying he
had sex with his mother in an outhouse. The court scenes are
the most memorable in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT,
particularly the scene in which Flynt decides to get back at the
system by throwing an orange at the judge and wearing the
American flag as a diaper.
Life is a long, twisted trip for Mr. and Mrs. Flynt. He turns
to God after much prodding from the President's sister, Ruth
Carter Stapleton, but his outlook remains as sex-saturated and
blasphemous as before. Once he is shot by an unknown sniper
and ends up paralyzed from the waist down, he abandons his
belief in God entirely and gets hooked on various forms of
drugs, legal and illegal, to ease the pain. Althea too finds herself
hooked on heroin and eventually dies of AIDS.
THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT has a compelling story
that is most interesting for trying to paint Flynt as some kind of
folk hero but only making him look more insane and perverse.
Harrelson did a great job portraying a complicated man who
has at least a small degree of mental illness, but the big acting
trophy here should go to Love. I never would have pegged her
as someone who would make the transition from music video
to movies so successfully on the first try.
The movie depicts a lot of depravity and is uncomfortable
to watch at times, but still brings with it a very powerful and very
true theme -- that the First Amendment of the United States
should provide freedom of expression for everyone. Defining
obscenity is difficult and undeniably subjective, but as this
movie points out, outlawing one form of speech could lead to
the outlawing of other forms. Flynt may not be the picture
perfect messenger but the message is at the heart of
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks