The People vs Larry Flynt (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Very entertaining flick.

There must have been a great temptation, in writing a biographical script about a man who is still living, and in doing so with his co-operation in the filming and writing of the project, to sand and varnish some of the rougher edges of his life. And when you are talking about Larry Flynt's life, those edges are very rough indeed.

But this film, to its credit, doesn't do much of that. It depicts the years wasted, the addictions, the foolish dalliance with religion, the immature courtroom behavior, the sleaze, the poor taste, the mistakes, the nutty theories about his own shooting, the tasteless nouveau riche lifestyle he adopted, pretty much every wart Flynt and his brother and his wife and his friends ever had. One can only assume that Flynt himself must want to expose his rough edges intentionally, in a form of reverse snobbery.

I like that. I like the fact that he didn't make much effort to sugar-coat his life, because it makes the point of the movie much stronger. That point being, of course, that even the lowest scumbag is protected by the First Amendment, and that a constitution which shelters such a man under the same roof as Thomas Paine is a document which should be celebrated for that fact, not reviled. (Note: did an excellent job at comparing and contrasting the fictional Flynt life with the real thing, and they make a good case that the film did sanitize substantially.)

I also like the fact that Flynt's strongest redeeming virtue - his iconoclastic sense of humor - was featured prominently in a movie that could otherwise have disintegrated into a boring polemic on free speech.

And I liked Milos Forman's eye for style and offbeat humor. It is amazing that he managed to bring similar approaches to the lives of men so diverse as Mozart and Flynt.

And I enjoyed the leads as well as some of the off-beat casting. Brett Harrelson, Woody's real brother, played his brother in the film. Larry Flynt himself played one of the most irritating judges along his path, and noted left-wing nutbag James Carville played the role of a right-wing nutbag. To the credit of those two men, neither portrayal deteriorated into shameless caricature. On the other hand, I don't think either should quit his day job. Assuming Carville still has a day job.

The biggest disappointment of the film is the scene that showed Courtney Love recreating Althea Flynt's famous Hustler pictorial. It is disappointing because it was performed with panties on.

Don't misunderstand. This is not disappointing because I expected to see Courtney's naughty bits laid out Hustler-style, but because it was so damned dishonest.


Courtney Love is seen naked in several scenes, and exposes almost every corner of her anatomy, but does not do so in the typical Hustler pose.

There is some other incidental nudity involving Althea Flynt's female sex partners, and there are many pictures of naked women in magazines

It strikes me that this scene should have been shot in one of two ways:


1. Have Courtney show her stuff.


2. Have the camera set up in such a way that Courtney seems to be recreating the pose accurately, but we can't actually see the goodies.

Either way would have been fine, but to do it with panties on is - well, it's un-Hustler. It suggests that the incident was shot in good taste, and that's the last thing we'd ever think of Flynt.


DVD info from Amazon

It's one of those early-two-sided DVD's with a 2.35:1 letterboxed widescreen on one side, and a standard 4:3 on the other. But there are no extra features of any kind.

Special edition DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by actors Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton & Courtney Love

  • Commentary by writers Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • two short deleted scenes with optional filmmaker commentary

  • Two featurettes: Free Speech or Porn?, Larry Flynt Exposed

  • Photo gallery

  • New York Times film review

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

The Hustler publisher who spent so much time in court on obscenity charges finally made it to the Supreme Court on a completely different matter. His Supreme Court appearance wasn't about porn at all, but rather about his right to ridicule celebrities. In my book, this places him slightly above Paine, Jefferson, Voltaire, and Lincoln in the defense of mankind's most important freedoms. 

Flynt's victory was so essential to the interpretation of the First Amendment, that a ruling against him would have affected any form of scathing satire of public figures. Flynt's contention that Jerry Falwell lost his virginity to his mother is in principle no different from Garry Trudeau's contention that Reagan had no brain, or Rush Limbaugh's ongoing ridicule of Clinton's lesbian mafia, or ultimately my ongoing rants and lampoons about such diverse public figures as Gary Oldman, Bill Shatner, James Carville, Dan Quayle, Ken Starr, and the entire population of Nova Scotia.

If the world war made the world safe for democracy, Larry Flynt made it safe for making fun of celebrities. And which, I ask, is more important?

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: nearly four stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Maltin 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.2, Apollo users 84/100.
  • With their dollars ... it was only a moderate success, with $20 million domestic gross and $23 million overseas. Maybe a bit graphic for mainstream tastes???
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Terrific film. As close to mainstream as they could get with this subject matter, but not close enough to generate a big mass-market box office. You could argue for an A rating, and I'd really have no objection other than the fact that there's too much sleaze to win over the conservative religious audience.

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