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Well, look here – it's a movie from Hollywood that actually defends pornography! In this day and age when the whining and crying over sexual content in the media – especially "newer" media such as the Net – seems to be reaching an all-time Pinkness saturation, we finally get a movie that comes out and says "This is porn, a lot of people want to see it, and by God, we've got a right to make porn available to people who want to see it!" It's about damn time we got a movie that makes a sensible statement like that. The movie's far from perfect – it's a typical Hollywood whitewashing of the porn controversy, a simple black-and-white, good-vs.-evil story – but hell, it's still a lot of fun to watch, and at least it says something about our culture. You'll get more good Slack from this movie than you will from Evita or Dante's Peak.
As you've probably heard, The People vs. Larry Flynt is supposedly the story of Larry Flynt, the owner of a few strip bars and publisher of a sleazy skin magazine who happened to get lucky: he acquired nude photos of Jackie Onassis and published them in his rag. That caused a national sensation, and he rode the wave of infamy to build his baby, Hustler, into a huge publishing empire. (If THAT'S not Slack, tell me what is! ) Of course, you have to remember that this is a Hollywood story, and it's aimed at mainstream audiences – i.e. the Pink masses who hate to THINK. So the makers of this movie (Director Milos Forman, who made One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest – and producer Oliver Stone, that egotistic jerk who thinks every one of his movies has to be an Important Wake-Up Call To America) dumbed it down and made Larry Flynt into a Hollywood Good Guy. He's a clean, straight, good ol' boy who loves his wife dearly and just wants to turn an honest profit…and he just happens to be in the business of publishing dirty pictures. Right. And I just happen to be J.R. "Bob" Dobbs' legitimate son and heir, too. Needless to say, the real-life story probably has as much to do with this movie as the movie JFK had to do with the real Kennedy assassination – i.e. little to none – but hell, at least Woody Harrelson (who plays Flynt) manages to have a lot of fun with the role and get away with pulling some fine stunts on film. It's fun to watch as Flynt tells his photographer to forget trying to be "arty" and just go for hard-core smut.
There's one great scene where Flynt is standing in front of a huge movie scene, making a sermonizing speech about the First Amendment and the right to publish porn; as he says this, the movie screen is illustrating the difference between pictures of war and murder (which nobody seems to mind publishing), and sex (which gets people upset for some reason). It's a great visualization of the classic defense of pornography, namely: "Why is it okay to show pictures of murder and suffering, but not okay to show pictures of people having sex and enjoying themselves doing it?"
It's a simple message, and frankly this is a simple movie. We've got good guy Larry Flynt, crusading to bring his porn to the grocery stores of America. For bad guys we've got the usual enemies: Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, and the other fat old white men who wield all the power in government, and who usually play the role of the bad guys in movies of this sort. (Falwell sued Flynt after Hustler made fun of him by publishing an alleged "story" of Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse.) There's no exception here: The rich old white men in suits all hate this evil, disgusting filth, and the movie emphasizes their hypocrisy by using Charles Keating as a major player in the anti-porn crowd. (Keating was the central figure in the nationwide savings-and-loan scandal of the late 1980s, which cost the taxpayers over two billion dollars.)
So it's a simple "good" (Flynt) vs. "evil" (Falwell) story. But, the movie's still a hell of a lot of fun, and Larry Flynt is such an outrageous figure that even Hollywood can't tame him. He wanted Hustler to be as lewd, shocking, and offensive as possible, and this movie has the good sense to give us at least a few glimpses into that milieu. Even so, viewers familiar with the real Larry Flynt will recognize the whitewashing the film gives him, as he remains a thin handsome guy from the first scene to last (instead of the bloated slob he became). Most amusing is the way Flynt behaves like a complete angel in the presence of the Supreme Court, when in reality he threw oranges at the Justices, called them "eight assholes and a token cunt," and was arrested for contempt of court (though the charge was later dropped).
We get a lot of laughs (mostly from Flynt's antics at bucking the "establishment" ), we get some great gags (mostly taken from the pages of Hustler itself – wait till you see what they do with Santa Claus and the Wizard of Oz), AND we get a knockout performance by Courtney Love, who plays Flynt's drugged-out wife Althea. Courtney is everything Madonna ever wanted to be – namely, a real actress – and she's a wonder to look at. She also does a striptease, so you folks who want to use this movie as an excuse to look at some naked women won't be disappointed either. Whether she's posing for her husband (or the photographer), or getting zonked out on Flynt's "pain killers," she steals every scene she's in. You can't help but watch her, even when she's getting thin and pale.
You can tell Oliver Stone produced this movie because of the two mysterious "conspiracies" that never really get resolved, one of them involving the would-be assassin who paralyzed Flynt from the waist down and confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But fortunately, director Forman know how to tell a story without beating the audience over the head with it (Stone's forte), so we don't mind the fact that this movie is trying to force its "porn is good" message down our throats. It even gets wimpy at one point, when Flynt finds religion and tries to turn over a new leaf (sort of)…but that doesn't last long.
Hollywood (and Sony Pictures, the distributors) is raining praise on this movie as a way of trying to show us they can "take a stand" over a supposedly controversial issue. Bull. If this movie was made at an independent studio with about 1/10 of the budget, it would probably be the scathing, vicious attack on "the establishment" it wants to be…but then it would be rated NC-17 (which is still box-office death) and it would barely reach 1/10 of the audience it's reaching now. The original poster for this movie had an image of Harrelson wearing a diaper made of an American flag, crucified between a woman's legs…but Sony decided that image was too "controversial" and they pulled it in favor of the much tamer image we see on the movie posters now (Harrelson's face, with a flag covering his mouth). That's the true face of Hollywood, which is (as always) dominated by the Conspiracy: it's afraid of real controversy, and it pulls back in the face of anything really daring and produces a pale facade instead.
But, nonetheless, we've still got a fun, intelligent movie from Hollywood that tells us that people like looking at dirty pictures, and by God, we've got a right to see those dirty pictures! So even if it's not a perfect movie, The People vs. Larry Flynt is still worth seeing. It's a movie with its mouth in the right place. It reveals a lot more about Hollywood than Hollywood realizes…but then, that's why Hollywood is Hollywood and we are SubGenii. They've got the MONEY…and we've got the SLACK.
And so does this movie.