New York, December 8, l996
"...if you love the beauty and freedom of the jungle, you have to live
with the leeches and mosquitoes and snakes, the tigers and the sharks."
- Milos Forman (from an interview by Liza Bear in Bomb Magazine, Winter
A savagely funny burlesque/courtroom drama based on real trial transcipts,
"The People vs Larry Flynt," Milos Forman's latest film, wrings
a hard bargain from the contradictions of American culture, and to maximum
effect. With Rabelaisian flair and an unerring nose for irony, the film
cleverly manages to satirize the grotesqueries of capitalism represented
by Hustler magazine and to pay homage to the First Amendment in one breath,
somehow without ever falling prey to the scuzz that Flynt exemplifies. The
film may well reap another slew of Oscars for its formerly Czech director.
Partly a wrenching love story between shock/schlockmeister Flynt (wickedly
played by Woody Harrelson) and his fourth wife Althea Leasure (Courtney
Love in a dazzling turn) who died of AIDs, and part ode to the Supreme Court,
the first-rate, incisive script tracks the rise and fall of Kentucky-born
Larry Flynt's fortunes across three decades, from bottom-feeding smut peddler
to First Amendment hero by default.
Flynt's outrageous challenges to authority (he famously wore the US flag
as diapers in court) and his constant need to outdo himself in print eventually
taxed everyone's patience, including his wife's and his lawyer's, and sparked
intense opposition, not only from the religious right. But the arc of his
life - with his rags-to-riches ascent as porn king, obscenity trials, attempted
assassination, religious conversion, and tenacity in the face of growing
opposition - has all the ingredients for raunchy comedy and high drama.
Having been permanently paralyzed by a sniper's bullet, Flynt takes his
fight for his legal rights to a more exalted plane when the Reverend Jerry
Fallwell sues him for libel in a Virginia court for a satirical lampoon
(Fallwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse) and is awarded damages
for "emotional distress." Flynt and his indefatigable lawyer Alan
Isaacman took the case to Washington DC, made the Supreme Court laugh, and
won a unanimous ruling in his favor.
In its heyday Hustler easily outstripped its peers Playboy and Penthouse
by being the first glossy to "show pink" (porn lingo for women's
most private parts). It gradually escalated in sensationalism and sheer
grossness, with graphic sections like Assholes of the Month and Beaver Hunt,
blending crude humor with debasing imagery and broadening the scope of its
targets to cultural icons like Santa Claus and the Wizard of Oz (shown in
the film), then focussing on prepubescent nudity and coprophilia (not shown
in the film).
In a very different way, Forman's life has been as dramatic as Flynt's:
he lost both his parents at the hands of the Gestapo at an early age, made
his first three, internationally-shown films in Czechoslovakia and, after
moving to New York, won Academy Awards for "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's
Nest" (1975) and "Amadeus" (1984). "The People vs Larry
Flynt," with Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love and Edward Norton as Alan
Isaacman, premiered at the 1996 New York Film Festival and opens nationwide
in December. With the fate of the Communications Decency Act - declared
unconstitutional by a three-judge court - pending and censorship, actual
and implied, threatening the untrammelled exchange of protected speech on
the Internet, its release couldn't be more timely.
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