Thursday, February 15, 2018

The People vs. Larry Flynt

The People vs. Larry Flynt; drama / satire, USA, 1996; D: Miloš Forman, S: Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton, Brett Harrelson, Crispin Glover, Vincent Schiavelli, Donna Hanover, James Cromwell

Larry Flynt is a striptease bar owner in the 1 9 7 0s who quickly finds out that he can earn a lot more money by selling erotic images of women in a magazine, called the Hustler. Thanks to the magazine, he gains a fortune and marries his co-worker, Althea. However, he also becomes the victim of Christian persecution when he is charged for obscenity and sentenced to 25 years in prison by a local court. Luckily, due to his lawyer, Alan, the conviction is overturned on appeal. From there on, Flynt becomes an unlikely hero for the freedom of the press and the speech. An assassin shoots at Flynt and leaves him paralyzed. Althea dies from AIDS. After a satiric article in the Hustler, which published a fake interview of pastor Jerry Falwell who allegedly having sex with his mother, Flynt is sued by Falwell. Flynt loses the case, but appeals at the Supreme Court, which allows satirical articles of public figures as a right of free speech.

Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski seem to be fascinated with outsiders who were persecuted or shunned in society only because some people at the top did not like them just because they were different: "Ed Wood" showed the enthusiastic title hero who was declared the 'worst director of all time' yet still went on to follow his dream whereas "Man on the Moon" showed the alienation of comedian Andy Kaufman who was misunderstood due to his bizarre humor. "The People vs. Larry Flynt" follows this theme by depicting the title hero who showed incredible tenacity by demanding to live the way he wants: this is not so much a depiction of Flynt's porn magazines as much as it is a legal case study of development of civil rights and some "grey areas" which had yet to be determined by law. Flynt was a complex, sometimes even a shady character, yet by demanding to have the right to publish his magazine despite conservative opposition, he became an unlikely defender of human rights and a promoter of the freedom of speech, thereby consolidating the system.

Director Milos Forman starts the film with a prologue in Kentucky, depicting Flynt and his brother living in extreme poverty as kids, and thus selling liquor in order to earn money and escape from this misery anyway they can. Some of the court speeches are highly intelligent: when the lawyer asks: "Isn't a community allowed to set its own standards?", Flynt replies: "No. That's a disguise for censorship. This country belongs to me as much as it belongs to you." Later on, when Flynt was sentenced to prison, he tells this to one reporter: "Why do *I* have to go to jail to protect *your* freedom?" Upon people complaining at the nudity in his magazine, he says: "Don't complain to me! Complain to the manufacturer!". This helped in progress of law, since it clearly showed that nobody can be sentenced or punished just because a judge does not like that individual. Woody Harrelson is excellent in the leading role, giving for a lively and engaging show by embodying this character who never gives up on himself. The storyline is rather chaotic and meandering at times, skipping several chapters of Flynt's life, which somewhat leaves the screenplay feeling rushed. For instance, after surviving the assassination attempt, the story suddenly jumps forward to five years, without giving a clue what happened during that time. Flynt's secret tape involving a cocaine selling is another subplot that just suddenly "disappears" and is never brought up again. Forman also politicizes some of Flynt's trials, even in those in which he was just plain ridiculous or silly, yet overall gives a fluent and interesting depiction of that time: it is not just a story of Flynt's life, but also a small depiction of how history was written due to some groundbreaking verdicts that allowed people more room for free speech and less room for oppression of authority figures.


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