…and the quest to see everything

Once Upon a Time, Larry…

…Flynt (Woody Harrelson) discovers God. An old woman named Ruth wearing pastel-coloured suits leads him to this path. He gets baptized in a river, accompanied by stereotypical black gospel singers, robes and all. He misinterprets the word of God or our traditional understandings of it. He tells his editorial staff that he wants to show hardcore depictions in his magazine or have a golden plaque that says Jesus H. Christ on his office table. The older woman drives a wedge between Larry and his ex-stripper wife Althea (Courtney Love).

There’s musicality in the scenes’ speedy montages in Milos Forman‘s The People Vs. Larry Flynt, reminding us that he’s the same guy who directed Hair and Amadeus. Nothing is impossible, not ‘surprise ending’ impossible or ‘special effects’ impossible in 1996 but 1970’s impossible, when anyone can make a big budget film about a man who made an empire out of prurience. Imagine what Orson Welles and Michael Cimino would do if they collaborated, without the indulgences and the meticulous crazy. Who else but Milos Forman, who makes out with Catherine Deneuve in movies now instead of making films as ambitious this.

Even the decline of Larry’s Jesus years play like trumpet notes in the wind. After facing another obscenity trial in some Southern town he gets shot, paralyzed. The older woman comes to him and he laments that he can’t make love to his wife again. Despite her comforting words and his paralysis he says something that shocks the non-practicing Catholic in me. ‘There is no God.’ Powerful stuff.

Then Althea says ‘We are porn again’ with such executive delivery, as if it isn’t Love’s post-Hole acting.

I first saw this film in Media Class in Grade 11. It was my semi-formal initiation into art house films, a class that taught me about the appearances in the media and how they fool their demographics. The People vs. Larry Flynt is one of the movies my teacher showed us. And it was a perk because I worshipped Love because she was skinny and had the right amount of crazy. Because we were in a Catholic school, he told us to promise not to tell anyone that he’s showing us this movie. That makes my guitar teacher who taught us heavy metal riffs look way innocent by comparison.

This movie tells a story about a slightly incapacitated Goliath slinging stones at his own demons, from a poor country boy to starting Hustler magazine. Since the magazine’s foundation he’s been trying to reclaim his control of his publications despite of enemies from without and within. He knows exactly what he wants in his magazine, which forbidden body pats these women will be showing, what or who the women will be with and how it is going to look on the magazine’s matted paper. And will not apologize because of it.

In 1996 this is another male character paralyzed because of his job while his devoted and altruistic wife inflicts harm upon herself. In Althea’s case she keeps taking opiates way after her husband has quit taking them. Their physical challenges intertwined like a bittersweet tragedy, this time playing out within the tacky opulence we expect from an adult entertainment mogul.

I think it difficult for Love to play a drug addict or easy, depending on what you think and/or know about her. And if Harrelson, who got an well-earned Academy Award nomination for this role, loses the physical charm that he gives Larry in the movie’s first half, he becomes one of many actors playing physically challenged roles excellently, using his face to deliver emotion, compassion and affection. His eyes go to and fro before the words slowly leave his tense jaw, talking with the direct authority and a cultivated deep slur that the real Larry Flynt still has. His blue eyes mark the traces of handsomeness, coming out through the unkempt hair. And he gets to play around with the wheelchair quite a bit too.

Larry Flynt offended middle America both with pornography and irreverence towards sex, politics and religion. What ensues are many courtroom scenes where, among his many troubles with the law, he and Jerry Falwell challenge each other. Falwell sues because of a satirical Campari ad claiming that he had committed incest while Larry counter-sues because Falwell restrains on his right to satire. These litigations are taking place while Larry’s lawyer (Edward Norton) is babysitting him, even getting a laugh from the Supreme Court. The movie should have some credit for America giving Flynt respectful indifference while Falwell, revered in Reagan’s years is now one of the most hated men in America.

One response

  1. Harrelson is awesome and this film really moves at a great pace, much ado to Milos Forman. Great film. Great review.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm

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