THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996)
Filmic Context:  Print -- Video -- Online
Print Resources
Alexander, Scott, and Larry Karaszewski.  The Shooting Script: The People vs. Larry Flynt.  New York: Newmarket Press, 1996.

A “must-read” for anyone interested in the making of The People vs. Larry Flynt, this book exhibits a revealing narrative that illustrates the chronological order of events leading up to the production of the film.  The writers admit to a fascinating “dramatic legerdemain,” which functioned as a major turning point in the film.  In the movie, they portrayed Falwell’s “AIDS is a plague” speech as the catalyst that provoked Flynt to bring Falwell’s case to the Supreme Court.  In actuality, Althea’s death had nothing to do with the appeal.  The book also contains the screenplay, various scene notes, worthy illustrations, an interview with Milos Forman, and other appendices.

Billen, Andrew.  “Larry Flynt, All-American Hero.”  The Observer 9 Feb. 1997: 3.

If this article was an attempt to clear up discrepancies between the film and reality, it did not succeed, as it triggered even more debate about Flynt.  The ambiguous headline of this article reads “He peddles porn to rednecks.  His daughter says he abused her.  But at least he believes in free speech…”  In this in-depth article, Billen discloses his thoughts about Flynt’s portrayal in the movie based on his interview with Flynt and his research on his life.   After a description of the pornographer’s lavish possessions, he illustrates several unhappy events in his past and his subsequent ill physical condition.  Disputing Flynt’s claim that the movie is an accurate portrayal of his life, Billen states, “For a film about sleaze, it is squeakily unpornographic.  For a film about injury and death, it is remarkably humorous.  For borderline art-house, its plotting is so conventional that it follows the structure of a three-act biopic boy from nowhere finds success.”  In order to validate or refute criticisms about the contents of Hustler, he asks Flynt a series of possibly incriminating questions—most of which the pornographer turns around in defense of his magazine.    In summary, Billen says, “The People vs. Larry Flynt takes its greatest liberty by presenting Flynt as a bucolic innocent, ingenuously tripped up by his libido, incorrigibly but harmlessly anti-authoritarian.  This is not the Flynt I meet, a canny businessman who well understands the modern meaning of ‘spin.’”

Podhoretz, Norman.  “Lolita, My Mother-in-Law, the Marquis de Sade, and Larry Flynt.”  The Best of 1998: The Anchor Essay Annual.  Ed. Phillip Lopate.  New York: Anchor Books, 1998.  366-95.

In this brilliantly provocative essay about pornography and censorship, Podhoretz recollects notions that left his peace of mind “so disturbed that [he] was left wishing that those old memories and those settled questions had been allowed to remain in their contentedly slumberous state” (367).  Essentially, the essay tracks how his views about censorship have altered since his youth (when he applauded free speech and ridiculed his mother-in-law for being provincial and close-minded), to his opinion today—contemplating a restoration of censorship.

Podhoretz commences his essay with an account of Nina Bernstein’s New York Times article that unearthed a list of thousands of children’s names that were collected by an imprisoned pedophile in a Minnesota.  He then accounts his involvement against censorship in the late 50’s, recalling a speech he presented on the values of pornography, which represents “a kind of utopian fantasy of pure sex, sex liberated from consequence and into unalloyed ecstasy” (371).  During the discussion period, he remembers he was thrown off-guard by a scholar who proclaimed, “You are taking all the fun out of sex. . . . don’t you know that pornography soon becomes boring?”  Podhoretz then explains the transformation pornography underwent—from something that one needed a “connection” in order to obtain to its thriving state today.

He discusses Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (about a man who marries a woman to seduce her twelve year-old daughter) and wonders about its possible effects on our society.  He claims that the novel admitted “something truly forbidden into public consciousness and by doing so it was—whether Nabokov liked it or not—insidiously seducing its readers into ‘thinking about the unthinkable’” (380).  He believes that Lolita shatters the taboo by essentially humanizing and even excusing a pedophile.

Podhoretz incorporates Larry Flynt into his essay, describing how his dishonest depiction in The People vs. Larry Flynt draws sympathy to this man who presents children as sexual objects an average of fourteen times in each Hustler.  Podhoretz asserts that no doubt fear of "seeing what Hustler is really like would alienate the audience’s sympathy for Flynt” (386).  He criticizes the film for (mis)representing Flynt as a harmless “likable rogue” and a “courageous fighter for freedom” (386).

An extremely interesting portion of the essay rebukes Forman’s “I was raised in two totalitarian regimes that both began by attacking pornography and homosexuals” spiel that fascinated every interviewer.  Podhoretz reveals that neither the Nazis nor the Communists started that way.  He states, “The original parliamentary unit of the Nazi party, the SA, was filled with homosexuals, including its commander, while in the early days of Communist rule in Russia, ‘free love’  was elevated over marriage and the avant-garde dominated the arts” (389).  Podhoretz also is revolted that Forman compares those totalitarian regimes to the American religious right.

In the final pages of the essay, Podhoretz reiterates the consequences of breaking taboos (that he once celebrated), the sexual revolution triggered by pornography, and the somewhat greater toleration of pedophilia.  He wonders, awkwardly, “whether, if we wish to clean up our moral and spiritual environment and at the same time put at least some of the weight back into sex, we should consider a restoration of censorship,” but he ultimately declares that he is not daring enough to “drop the other shoe” (392).  Overall, this is an exceptionally insightful and bold essay useful for weighing essential issues and provoking arduous thought.

Pollitt, Katha.  Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture. New York: The Modern Library, 2001.

The chapter entitled “Born Again vs. Porn Again” offers a unique point of view regarding the creation of the film.   After applauding the performances by the actors and actresses in the film, Pollitt asks the question, “What is the point of making a film about the founder of Hustler that airbrushes both him and his magazine?”  She criticizes the film for portraying Hustler as “a cheerful populist alternative to snooty Playboy” and criticizes Milos Forman for never having read the magazine (which he declares is untrue.)  She also disagrees with the feminists critics, who believe that pornography causes violence against women.  Instead, Pollitt pinpoints the Bible and the Koran as texts that have posed real-life harm to women.   She states that the bravado and swagger evident in Hustler barely conceal the envy and anxiety of the men who publish it.

Porton, Richard.  "Porn Again: The People vs. Larry Flynt: An Interview with Milos Forman."  Cineaste  22.4 (1997): 28-32.

The interview is prefaced by a longish essay generally in favor of the film:  "While the image of Flynt as a likably goofy crusader for press freedom that the film promotes may be as inaccurate as the heterosexual Cole Porter depicted in Night and Day or the homespun naif honored in Young Mr. Lincoln, the pleasures of this irreverent tribute to a selfstyled 'scumbag' reside in a series of lovingly evoked picaresque comic details.  For most of its
duration, Larry Flynt is imbued with a screwball ambience that is rare indeed in an era when film comedy tends to consist of either inept imitations of Capra or Sturges or simple-minded high jinks designed for the teenage market."

Russomanno, Joseph.  Speaking Our Minds: Conversations With the People Behind Landmark First Amendment Cases.  Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.

The chapter entitled “Hustler Magazine and Larry C. Flynt v. Jerry Falwell” transcribes an interview featuring the “interesting association” between Alan Isaacman and Larry Flynt.  Besides providing a background and illustration of the proceedings, Flynt and Isaacman comment on how Flynt’s life was portrayed in the film.  Flynt comments that when your life is reduced to two hours, many details get left out, “But what was there was accurate.”  Despite his own character being distorted, Isaacman agrees that Flynt was portrayed realistically.  In terms of the legal affairs, Isaacman notes that the original way in which the script depicted the trial would have been inaccurate and incomprehensible to a lay audience.  As a result, he intervened in the making of the film, resolving both of these factors.  This chapter provides excellent insight into the Supreme Court case and the “real” Alan Isaacman.

Svetkey, Benjamin.  “Porn on the 4th of July.”  Entertainment Weekly.  31 Jan. 1997.

This article details the film’s reception, focusing on the debate between Gloria Steinem and Milos Forman.  Svetkey also incorporates quotes from Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Jerry Falwell, Courtney Love, and Flynt.   His main criticism is that the writers removed the hardcore pornography and racist overtones.  Flynt states in the article, “The question is am I a smut peddler or a First Amendment crusader?  I’d say a little bit of both. . . . Milos Forman calls me a devil with wings—maybe that’s what I am.  All I know is that the debate is never going to go away.  Not in my lifetime, anyway.”  Svetkey provides a great summation of the conflicting emotions surrounding the movie.

See also:

Slater, Thomas J.  Milos Forman: A Bio-Bibliography.  New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.
 


Video Resources

"Milos Forman."  The Charlie Rose Show.  [2 Feb. 1997]  Prod. Charlie Rose.  Dir. Michael Jay.  Videocassette.  Rose Communications, 1997.

This show is an extremely provocative interview with director Milos Forman, who is challenged by the words of feminist Gloria Steinem.  When asked, “Why make a film about Larry Flynt?” Forman responds, “Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of democracy.”  What fascinates Forman is Flynt’s ambiguity.  He challenges one to ponder, “Is he really a conscious, courageous fighter for our freedom?  Or is he just a smut peddler, who is using, cowardly, the First Amendment to hide behind it to sell more dirty magazines?  Or is it possible that he is both?”  He claims that the real hero of the film is the Supreme Court of the United States.

Next, Rose plays a clip of Gloria Steinem, who claims that she felt heart-broken while viewing the film.  She could not fathom how a person like Larry Flynt could be “grandized” into a First Amendment hero.  She compares his depiction of women to the Nazi’s hatred of Jews or the Ku Klux Klan’s hatred of Blacks.  Steinem accuses Forman of being ignorant of the materials that he is defending because “he has never opened an issue of Hustler.”

Forman responds that Steinem’s accusation is false—he has studied several issues—he just never bought them himself.  He thinks it is ridiculous to compare Hustler’s depiction of women to organizations who kill people.  He asserts that the film is not about Hustler and pornography.  He states, “If I insisted to show these [graphic and violent] pictures in my film, the film would never been made.”
 


Online Resources

The Edward Norton Information Page: The People vs. Larry Flynt Product Information
http://www.edward-norton.org/pvlf/pvlfprod.html

Everything you ever wanted to know about the background of the production, the making of the film, the cast, and the filmmakers.

McBride, Joseph.  “Director Milos Forman Defends The People vs. Larry Flynt Against Charges that it’s Porn-Friendly.” Industry Central 9 Apr. 2003 http://industrycentral.net/director_interviews/MIFO01.HTM

McBride asks Forman several questions after being accused of “whitewashing the misogynistic and racist nature” of Hustler.  First, Forman explains his unfortunate upbringing and why he feels so strongly about free speech.  He states, “When the doors are open to censorship, it always boils down to the fact that the laws are formulated in a way that only what’s comfortable for the ruling party is acceptable.  Everything else is subversive and damaging to the moral fiber of the society.”  The disparity that Forman “never read Hustler” is also cleared up.  He clarifies that he examined hundreds of issues of the magazine before he made the movie—he just never bought them.  Forman strives to illuminate the fact that the movie is not about pornography—it is about his hero, the Supreme Court of the United States.  When asked about deleting the graphic material in the magazine, he states that adults “know” what is really on the pages of Hustler, and he doesn’t think there are “any pictures that can do any damage to adult people.”

Russell, Diana D. H.  “The People vs. Larry Flynt: A Feminist Critique and Protest.”  No Status Quo.  30 Sept. 2001. 4
http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/Porn/rusflynt.html

Highly acclaimed anti-pornography feminist, Diana Russell attacks the movie, describing it as “highly manipulative.”  She believes it was “designed by Director Milos Forman and Producer Oliver Stone to make a hero out of Larry Flynt, thereby fostering approval for pornography in general and Hustler magazine in particular.”  The article encourages women to protest the film and presents step by step instructions on how to take action.
 
 

Copyright (c) 2003 by Stephanie McElroy, UndergraduateStudent at Lehigh University.

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