`Flynt' Accused of Ignoring Reality of Hustler's Appeal: Film Seen as Mixing Fact, Fiction

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 31, 1997 | Go to article overview

`Flynt' Accused of Ignoring Reality of Hustler's Appeal: Film Seen as Mixing Fact, Fiction


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


One month after the opening of "The People vs. Larry Flynt," the movie is a hit, with two Golden Globe awards and talk of an Oscar or two in March.

The deeper question is whether the film, starring Woody Harrelson as the publisher of Hustler magazine, is more about fantasy than the First Amendment. Larry Flynt says the story line is accurate. His eldest daughter says it's not. Film critics use words such as "airbrushed" to describe how the more degrading aspects of Hustler and its founder are left out.

The film details the more savory aspects of Mr. Flynt's odyssey to the U.S. Supreme Court as First Amendment freedom fighter, ending with the country's premier blue-collar porn publication winning the right to publish a satirical cartoon portraying a popular Christian evangelist having sex with his mother in an outhouse.

The movie's account of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's libel suit is a mishmash of fiction and what really happened, said Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for Mr. Falwell. The film shows Mr. Falwell learning about the parody from two students while sitting in his Liberty University office, but he actually heard of it from a reporter at a Washington news conference, Mr. DeMoss said.

The film also shows Charles Keating Jr., who attained notoriety in the 1990s through the savings and loan scandals, as an ally of Mr. Falwell's, but the real Mr. Falwell said he's never met the man.

Some blame the movie's high fantasy level on co-producer Oliver Stone, whose epic movies on Presidents Nixon and Kennedy have been criticized for lying about history.

"My main complaint is they left out the magazine's torture and evisceration of women, which is what is hurting society," said Tonya Flynt-Vega, the publisher's eldest daughter. "The movie makes him look like a hero because they won't dare show those horrible photos."

The 31-year-old first spoke out against the movie last spring, claiming that her father sexually abused her when she was young.

"The thing most important to know about Larry Flynt is what he's all about - sexual harassment, rape, child sexual abuse - and it's all covered by the First Amendment," she said. "It's not an issue of taste. It is an issue of obscenity, which is against the Constitution, period."

Reviewers said one close-up of a typical Hustler crotch shot would have sent the movie into NC-17 ratings, beyond the reach of most teen-agers. Instead, actress Courtney Love, who plays Mr. Flynt's wife, Althea, wears demure pink panties.

Those who see the movie but don't read Hustler may not grasp all of what Mr. Flynt is about, especially since the original publicity poster for the movie, with a crucified Mr. Harrelson superimposed over a woman's crotch, was nixed by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Advertisers substituted a photo of Mr. Harrelson with an American flag covering his mouth.

Still, the film takes potshots at religion, such as portraying Ruth Carter Stapleton, the evangelist credited with coaxing Mr. Flynt into a two-year flirtation with Christianity, as lusting after the magazine publisher. The film cannot seem to conceive of a religious figure who can't be pulled into the gutter. Asked by a judge why Hustler mocked Mr. Falwell, lawyer Alan Isaacson - played by Edward Norton, a dead ringer for Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed - explains Hustler's philosophy: "Let's deflate this stuffed shirt and bring him down to our level. …

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