The People vs. Larry Flynt is producer Oliver Stone's retort to critics of his pornographic, violent, and historically distorted films. Painting pornographer Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, as a hero and defender of the First Amendment, Mr. Stone campaigns for a lopsided form of freedom of speech while sticking it to conservative citizens, officers of the law, judges, ministers, and anyone who draws the line at obscenity and libel.
The film--worth discussing because it is receiving rave reviews and awards from liberal critics and movie industry stalwarts--purports to tell the life story of Mr. Flynt. The pornographer is played with gusto by Woody Harrelson, from his moonshining childhood to his career as a proud and self-acknowledged smut peddler. Filmgoers are subjected to scenes of drunkenness, child abuse, sexual exploitation, nudity, group fornication, drug abuse, cursing, and liberal proselytizing against traditional marriage, community moral standards, and the application of religion in the social arena--particularly "the reign of Christian terror," as Althea Flynt (Courtney Love) labels her husband's brief dalliance with "Christianity."
Director Milos Forman, responsible for the film version of Amadeus, noted for its altered account of Mozart, uses all his talents to glamorize a significantly less talented individual. He tries to ennoble Mr. Flynt with the prosthetics of colorful cinematography, technically precise period settings and costuming, and swelling classical music at crucial plot points. All of this only underscores the tastelessness and lack of character that Flynt personifies.
The movie centers around Mr. Flynt's hearing before the Supreme Court--not for pornography, but for a libel suit by Jerry Falwell, subject of a filthy satire in Hustler. Another Christian connection is the portrayal of Mr. Flynt's "born again" experience through the ministry of President Jimmy Carter's sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton. Her bad theology--that "God is [only] love" and does not require obedience to the moral law--is at least a reminder that attempts to devise a "kinder, gentler" gospel apart from Scripture not only do not change lives, but have a messy way of backfiring.
One segment has Mr. Flynt contrasting his sex pictures with photos of graphic violence, asking, "Which is more obscene?" Ironically, the director could have gathered his grisly snapshots of death from another Oliver Stone film, Natural Born Killers, which does for violence what Larry Flynt does for pornography.
After Killers (also starring Mr. Harrelson) was cited as the inspiration for four copy-cat murders, Mr. Stone was confronted in the press last spring by popular author, lawyer, and Southern Baptist John Grisham, who argued that filmmakers should be subject to product-liability statutes. Mr. Stone's response at the time was, "I'm sorry about the deaths of these people, but I don't feel in any way accountable.... People who commit crimes and are under the influence of drugs or alcohol are deeply disturbed people."
So why does Mr. Stone use his freedom of speech to glorify drugs, alcohol, crime, and the kind of behavior that undermines the value of the human being? Why does he treat the people who engage in these activities as celebrities and heroes?