THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT  (1996)
Scene Analysis
0:42:38

The Real Audience is YOU!

(film clip)

[1]    As Larry Flynt zealously orates about the true meaning of obscenity in the "Americans for a Free Press" scene (0:42:38), one might presume that he was vehemently opposed to violence.  One might also believe that the pornographic images displayed on the screen aptly portray the images in Hustler, that the real Flynt is as charming and well-spoken as Woody Harrelson, and that he actually gave this passionate speech.  All untrue.  The fact is, this scene is constructed to romanticize Flynt and is characteristic of the film’s inherent dishonesty.

[2]    The scene, in a way, is a conflicting patriotic scene.  On one hand, Flynt condemns the government for both starting wars that “spill guts and blood in the most ghastly manner” and sending him to jail for taking pictures of people having sex.  On the other hand, the convention hall and all of the people involved are adorned in red, white, and blue.  The man who introduces Flynt calls him a “freedom fighter,” but the topic of his speech is the obscenity of war.  The fact remains, neither Flynt nor the First Amendment would exist today if our ancestors had not fought and died for our independence from Great Britain.  Although the war images may be disturbing, war has given us the freedom we enjoy today.  Even more paradoxical is the fact that some of Flynt’s fondest memories are from his service in the army and navy.

[3]    This scene constructs Flynt as a martyr for non-violence.  At one point, a barrel of a gun is shown pointing at him as he struts across the stage challenging what constitutes “obscene.”  The irony kills me!  The film fails to mention that guns have played a big part in this Kentucky boy’s life.  Not only was receiving his first gun at the age of eight a “rite of passage,” he also shot a couple of rounds at the mother of his first wife and allegedly at his most prized possession, Althea.  Surprised?  Of course you would be—if your only knowledge of Flynt stemmed from this film.  The fairytale love story between Flynt and Althea (his fourth wife) was exactly that—purely fashioned for Hollywood.  Not only did he alledgedly fire a gun at her, he also allegedly beat and handcuffed her.  In fact, the couple separated several times and Flynt even (unsuccessfully) filed for divorce in 1981.

[4]    Yet, the camera still “looks up” to Flynt from down below, symbolizing that we should all look up to this man, who is doing America a great favor by fighting for our freedom.  At the beginning of the scene, a woman passionately sings “Glory, glory, Hallelujah, His truth is marching on.” This song is chosen for a reason.  She sings it in praise of Flynt, practically bringing him to a “God-like” status.  The line “His truth is marching on” refers to Flynt’s persistent battle against the evils of the “prude conservatives.”  Director Milos Forman wants the viewer to see the importance of Flynt’s battle and surmise, “if we didn’t have him fighting for us—where would we be?”

[5]    The presentation of pornographic images encompasses the greatest criticism of the film. The truth is—is that the actual graphic nature of the material in Hustler could not be shown in an R-rated movie.  The major reasons why people so vigorously oppose the material in Hustler are not depicted in the movie.  As the camera pans across the audience, many different types of people are shown—women, Blacks, the elderly, children, the obese—all of which are denigrated in Hustler.  For instance, the May 1984 issue portrays a man hiding behind a tree with a net, while a little girl runs to a doll placed under the tree with the attached note “Free Doll to Nice Little Girl.”  The March 1997 issue features a cartoon of an obese black woman with her legs spread open on a bed.  Flies surround this farting woman, who has huge lips and unknown bumps on her body.  In the background, a director sits wearing a black “X” tee shirt.  The caption reads: “Another Spike Lee movie documenting the problems of black men in America.”

[6]    So what is Hustler all about?  The images in this scene are on par with Playboy.  In the previous court scene, the courtroom is appalled when Keating expresses that the magazine depicts “Santa Claus posed in a lewd and shameful manner.”  These examples severely downplay what Hustler is most attacked for.   The magazine contains racism, female evisceration, rape, scatological garnish, occasional bestiality, and child molestation.  For example, this month’s issue of Hustler (June 2003) features the world’s first “300lb. Gang Bang,” in which each person weighs over 300lbs.  One of the women in the picture has lesions on her stomach.  One of the photo series contains a picture of three naked women holding up another woman by her legs as she urinates.  A man is underneath and between her legs, peering through.  This issue also features ads of young girls (who appear to be under 18) with captions such as “Squeeze my tiny tits and play with my virgin pussy.”

[7]    In his speech, Flynt proclaims, “Murder is illegal.  But you take a picture of somebody committing the act of murder, and they'll put you on the cover of Newsweek. . . .  And yet, sex is legal. . . . Yet, you take a picture of two people in the act of sex or just take a picture of a woman's naked body . . . and they'll put you in jail.”  This statement suggests that any pornographic photography will land you in jail.  Did Hugh Hefner ever serve time for the material in Playboy?  I don’t think so.  Child pornography is illegal, but according to Labash, a 1986 report stated that Hustler depicted children sexually an average of 14.1 times per issue.  But, of course, that incriminating information is not unveiled in the movie.

[8]    Director Forman claims that he didn’t airbrush or sentimentalize Flynt.  He inserts little segments to back up his case.  For example, preceding the oratory, Flynt admits that he planned and paid for the whole celebration, which gives the viewer a look at his sly nature.  In addition, the sparsely populated room shows that his case was not enthusiastically supported.  Ironically, though, those facts are practically forgotten after the spectator views the speech and is won over by Flynt’s (unauthentic) words.

[9]    The filmmakers attempt to induce sympathy for Flynt, so that he becomes a likable character.  The caption at the beginning of the scene reads, “Cincinnati Convention 5 Months Later,” and the announcers states “And now, Americans for a Free Press take extreme pleasure in welcoming, to Cincinnati, direct from jail, cleared 100% by the appellate court. . . . the freedom fighter, Larry C. Flynt!”  These statements suggest that Flynt spent a notable period of time in jail.  In actuality, it was only six days.

[10]    Another reason Flynt becomes likable is that he is played by the affable and enchanting Woody Harrelson.  I mean, who doesn’t love Woody?  He’s so charming, cute, and he could never really mean harm to anyone—right?  I mean, look at how he is so protective of Althea!  In the film, he admits that he’s a “scumbag,” but the film doesn’t show you why.  It really just seems like he’s being humble.  The filmmakers admitted that the physicality of Flynt is more comparable to John Goodman or Chris Farley, but they desired a more sexually attractive character.  An excellent comparison of the two men can be seen in the previous courtroom scene (0:33:19 -- Hamilton County Courthouse 1977) , in which the real Flynt plays the arrogant judge.  (Also see image gallery.)

[11]    Okay, so the real Flynt does not possess Harrelson’s good looks, but what about his platform skills?  According to one of his lawyers, Harold Fahringer, they are also fabricated in the film.  This scene and others present Flynt as an impressively intelligent and sharp man. Fahringer says that while Flynt was a “quick study with native smarts,” he taught him the basics of the Constitution since Flynt was an eighth-grade dropout.  Fahringer also reveals that at the actual convention, he was the main speaker—not Flynt!  He states, “I don’t know whether Larry spoke. . . . But all this stuff about the First Amendment with that rear projection behind him, there was none of that, of course” (Labash 3).

[12]    Forman wants you to triumphantly declare, along with the crowd, that war is undoubtedly more obscene than sex.  The slide show compares graphic war images to soft porn pictures (compared to Hustler standards, anyway).  In fact, the very next scene portrays Althea playfully posing for Flynt while the happy, “sing-along” song, “Dreamweaver” is played.  The director wants the viewer to think that Althea’s jovial persona and the “dream-like” environment while posing for the magazine is characteristic of Hustler.  In reality, if the viewers saw some of the images I described above that Hustler is most criticized for, they would be even more shocked than when viewing the war images, which most people have seen before.

[13]    After Flynt finishes his “what’s more obscene?” speech, Forman already knows that you are going to take his side.  Again, Flynt -- facing the screen with his arms outstretched before an image of a burning cross -- is compared to the martyr, Jesus Christ.  Could his plight be any more glorified?  In any case, from that point on, the viewer is in favor of Flynt, unless, of course, his or her knowledge about the subject exceeds the realm of the film.  The director’s “saving grace”—the details that Flynt planned the convention himself and that the room is sparsely populated become basically irrelevant by the end.  The real target audience is you, the viewers of the film.

Works Cited

Labash, Matt.  "The Truth vs. Larry Flynt." Weekly Standard 17 February 1997: 19.

 

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

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