The People vs. Larry Flint
starring Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Brett Harrelson, Edward Norton and James Cromwell
written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
directed by Milos Forman
I hesitated a long time to watch this film because I feared that it would be an uninteresting, or just plain gross, handling of the topic of pornography. But I was wrong. I rather enjoyed it thanks in no small part to the talent of Woody Harrelson.
For those people who do not know, Larry Flint is the infamous publisher of Hustler magazine, the men’s magazine that practically introduced North American to genital photography and telephone sex. Larry Flint, working up from his strip club in Cincinnati, Ohio in the early 1970s (the “Hustler” club), founded one of the grossest, most law-provokingly explicit sex magazines there is. It became much more popular than Playboy, or even Penthouse with curious teenage boys.
Along the road to building his large adult publishing business, Larry Flint became - in his and his lawyer’s testimony, at least - a champion and a martyr of the American First Amendment right to freedom of the press and free speech. In order legally to get away with publishing and selling is filth Flinthad to argue the freedom-of-the-press card, and he got away with it. In tandem with Flint’s defense of his right to publish his magazine, the social boundaries of accepted (and acceptable) explicit sexual depictions expanded.
Along the road of his career Larry Flint was shot and paralyzed by an unknown would-be assassin, so today he is confined to a wheelchair. I was surprised that Flint himself appeared in the film in a cameo. When I saw his name in the credits I was excited and re-wound the video to check him out, to see what he looks like. I desperately wanted to study the face of this infamous man that Woody Harrelson portrayed with great flamboyance. (Flint appeared as a judge in the dramatization of one of his own obscenity trials.)
I was interested to see Woody Harrelson’s brother, Brett, playing with him in the movie. It made me think of other sets of sibling actors. I thought first of Sylvester Stallone and his brother, Frank; then Ron Howard and his brother, Clint; Sean Penn and his brother, Chris; and, of course, the Carradine brothers (all five of them) in the U.S.; the Wayans brothers (three of them - Shawn, Marlon and Keenan Ivory); the Baldwin brothers (four of them); the Bridges brothers (Jeff and Beau); Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez; bull Murray and Brian Doyle Murray; Dick and Jerry Van Dyke; John and James Belushi; Owen and Luke Wilson; Randy and Dennis Quaid; Shirley Maclaine and Warren Beatty; Justine Bateman and her younger brother, Jason; Vanessa Redgrave and her sister, Joanna; Stacey Keach and his brother; Martin Kemp and his brother, Gary; Natasha Richardson and her sister, Natalie; and many others. (I learned only redently that John and Joan Cusak, although they look like siblings, are actually cousins.)
One key to understanding the place of pornography in America is the First Amendment right to freedom of expression (speech, publishing). But another key is the debate on the nature, constitution, and limits of a community. Community standards must be established if advocates want to bar a practice on the grounds that it violates the accepted community standards.
Here, then, re some of the meat-and-potato lessons of the Larry Flint story: no one has the authority to speak for a community including the people who life in it. No one has the authority to expound on and declare what a community’s “standards” are. No one owns the community. It does not “belong” to its members. (It is more easily argued that a community’s citizen-members belong to it rather than the other way round.) The definition of what a community is necessarily must be pliable, not rigid, making it all but impossible for anyone to point and say, “That is the community. This is what it means, and these are the physical, psychological, moral and legal boundaries of it.” No one.
Courtney Love, widow of Seattle-based grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, gives a disturbingly easy performance of flint’s s tripper, drug-addicted sleaze-bag wife. People I know who do not like Love say that is the way she is. She is not so much acting as simply being herself.
Anyway, I am glad I took the time to watch this film.