Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> People vs. Larry Flynt, The (1996) >>

The hundreds of reviews for The People vs. Larry Flynt range from very positive to outrageously negative. The main criticism is that the film fails to depict the true, violent, and repulsive nature of Hustler. Other reviewers applaud the film for its honest and reliable portrayal of the subject. Kathryn Fuller notes that the film was initially praised for Flynt's tragic nobility and later censured by liberal rather than conservative critics. She remarks that the critical reception surrounding the film makes for a fascinating case study of cultural controversies about sexuality and gender politics in American society in the 1990s.

De Witt, Karen. "Don't Cry for Them; Once Villainous, Now Virtuous." New York Times 22 December 1996: 4.10.
De Witt believes that director Milos Forman changed a "scatological exhibitionist" into a "self-styled defender of the Constitution." She reviews several movies in 1996 that turned villains into heroes, focusing mainly on this one. Dewitt compiles several comments from researchers describing the changes a story undergoes from history to the movies. Forman states, "You don't have to be faithful to the facts. History has to be faithful to the facts. Drama has to be faithful to the spirit of the facts."
Fuller, Kathryn. "The People vs. Larry Flynt." Journal of American History 84.3 (1997): 1185-86.
Fuller describes the evolving reactions to the film -- how initially it was praised for its "very honest championing of First Amendment rights" but later criticized by feminists and liberals for downplaying the most repulsive details of Hustler. They feared the dangers of such an "inaccurate portrayal" of Flynt and Hustle. The debate was then centered on the question of pornography victimizing women. Fuller remarks that "the critical reception surrounding the film makes for a fascinating case study of cultural controversies about sexuality and gender politics in American society in the 1990s."
Herbert, Bob. "Naked Truth." New York Times 3 February 1997: A17.
Herbert, in an extremely negative review, criticizes the film for its essential dishonesty. He boldly states that it is "a cowardly movie that keeps trying to tell us how brave it is." He reveals the true, vile nature of the content in Hustler magazine that people find so repulsive, such as outwardly racist pictures and ones promoting child molestation. Herbert points out that the film chose to conceal the real reasons why the magazine relies so greatly on constitutional protection. He points out that if the movie were truly honest, then it would have given an accurate portrayal of what Hustler is about —- "an extreme and unrelentingly violent hatred of women, a hatred every bit as fanatical as the Klan's hatred of blacks and the Nazis' hatred of Jews."
Labash, Matt. "The Truth vs. Larry Flynt." Weekly Standard 17 February 1997: 19.
This shocking review reveals many of the discrepancies between the movie and reality. Labash not only accuses the film of obscuring the nature of Larry Flynt and the material in Hustler —- he also gives hard evidence to back up his claim. He says, "The truth is that, scene by scene and line by line, the distortions, omissions, and outright fabrications in The People vs. Larry Flynt make it a dishonest piece of work in almost every particular." According to Labash, some of more extreme fabrications in the film include the portrayal of Alan Isaacman, Larry's drug use, Jerry Falwell's AIDS speech, and his relationship with Althea —- "one of the film's central acts of deception." Labash also transcribes portions of a horrific tape he listened to in which Larry asks his daughter to take down her panties. He wonders why the writers who "know more about Larry Flynt than any person on earth could possibly care to" chose to portray this man as a hero and freedom fighter. This review forces the reader to look at the "truth vs. Larry Flynt."
Maslin, Janet. "The People vs. Larry Flynt." New York Times 27 December 1996: C3.
Maslin, in a highly positive review, calls the movie, "smart, funny, shamelessly entertaining and perfectly serious too." She comments that the movie reluctantly makes one respect Larry Flynt's right to crude self-expression by means of Woody Harrelson's "devilish charm." She also compliments Milos Forman's use of humor to "deflate sensationalism" and Courtney Love's "smashing portrayal of Althea."
Podhoretz, John. "Shut Up, I Explained; Unwelcome Interjections at the Multiplex." Weekly Standard 17 January 1997: 37.
Podhoretz calls the film a "dud," relating his initial fear of seeing the movie because he did not want to like it but anticipating that he would anyway. Fortunately for Podhoretz, he did not enjoy the movie. He believes that Forman clearly set the audience up to despise the enemies —- the conservative figures of Jerry Falwell and Charles Keating. He remarks, "Pavlov couldn't have planned it better; liberals in the audience titter and murmur appreciatively, then leave the theater thinking they've had a thought-provoking experience."
Rich, Frank. "Larry Flynt, Patriot." New York Times 12 October 1996: 1.23.
In a positive, pre-release review, Rich calls the film the "most timely and patriotic movie of the year."  He claims that the movie's effectiveness lies in the fact that "it doesn't sentimentalize or airbrush Larry Flynt."   The movie's depiction of the women and humor in Hustler is done with "untitillating honesty," according to Rich.  In the concluding paragraph, he calls the movie a celebration of freedom.
Rosin, Hanna. "Hustler." New Republic 6 January 1997: 20.
Rosin's negative review of the movie attacks many critics who applauded it. She says, "In their desperation for a resounding liberal epiphany, the media seem to have swallowed Flynt's glossed over image of himself." She criticizes the writers for making Flynt seem like he's a kind, good-natured man who just happened to stumble upon the pornography industry, make it big, and, as a result, influence our country in a huge way. The movie applauds Hustler magazine for being noble by "breaking taboos," but, according to Rosin, "sex in Hustler is a freak show." To convey her point, Rosin describes some of the discriminatory, violent, and perverted images in previous issues of Hustler, concluding that Flynt went to court not to "stop the totalitarians from starting down the slippery slope of censorship" but "to protect his bank account. In doing so, he accidentally protected the right of free speech."
Steinem, Gloria. "Pornographers the Likes of Flynt Should Not Be Made into Heroes." Buffalo News 19 January 1997: 5J.
Steinem is appalled at the notion that Flynt has been fashioned into a hero of the First Amendment. In her revealing review, she compares the real Flynt with the reel Flynt, criticizing the film for leaving out the worst aspects of Hustler. Steinem also shows that the pictures and cartoons in the magazine can trigger violence in the real world. In one issue, a woman was shown being gang-raped on a pool table —- a few months later, a woman was likewise gang-raped on a pool table in New Bedford, Massachusetts (the subject of the 1988 film The Accused). Steinem also reveals that "Chester, the Molester"cartoonist, Dwaine Tinsley, was convicted of sexually molesting his daughter. Steinem states, "No, I am not grateful to Flynt for protecting my freedom . . . No more than I would be to a racist or fascist publisher whose speech is protected by the Constitution."

See Also

Menand, Louis. "It's a Wonderful Life." New York Review of Books 6 February 1997. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/article-preview?article_id=1284>.

Steinem, Gloria. "What's Wrong With This Picture?" Ms. March/April1997: 76.

Taylor, Charles. "Pissing on Virtue, Monogamy, God & Patriotism." Salon December 1996. http://www.salon.com/dec96/flynt961223.html.