Archive for The People Vs Larry Flynt

Porn Again

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2018 by dcairns

Probably we’ll be revisiting a few Milos Forman films, in the wake of his passing, but the one I dropped in the player was THE PEOPLE VERSUS LARRY FLYNT, mainly because we hadn’t seen it since it came out. It’s still very amusing and affecting — Courtney Love provides the untrained quality Forman admired as Althea Flynt, and Woody Harrelson brings the more actorly professionalism, creating the perfect blendship. It comes across as a genuinely sweet relationship between two filthy people in love. And Harrelson’s brother Brett is really good, he should do more.

Since then, screenwriters Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski have brought us The People Versus O.J. Simpson on TV plus several more biopics of Great American Weirdos. including Forman’s follow-up MAN IN THE MOON. I think this is one of their most successful attempts at character portraiture in their specialised sub-genre, the one in which character is in constant flux and motivation is often inexplicable, two challenges which would derail most writers.

Away from the human element — the movie does pretty well with its mercurial madman hero — it’s a defence of free speech, and the movie is effective enough here, but sort of slanted.

Firstly, feminist criticism of porn doesn’t exist in this film, so Flynt’s legal opponents are bluenoses and creeps like Jerry Falwell. This is fair enough in narrative terms, since those guys threatened the real-life Flynt more than attacks by Andrea Dworkin. But it leaves out a whole aspect of the subject, which could potentially enrich the movie. Ed Norton — playing a composite of all Flynt’s actual lawyers through the tears — yet appearing in the end-of-film summary as if he were a real person — talks about finding Hustler magazine distasteful, and Harrelson’s Flynt himself says, “The most I’m guilty of is BAD TASTE!” — a good line — but might there have been room for a more nuanced consideration? The weird effect is that the movie seems to take place in an alternative version of the 60s, 70s and 80s in which feminism never happened.

You can make up your own pearl necklace joke, if you absolutely have to.

Secondly, that analysis of what’s actually in Hustler is limited by censorship — the movie can’t actually show a real centrefold from the magazine, because vaginas are bad. So it can get a lot of good comedy value out of showing prudes at a fundraiser gaping in horror at unseen images, but it can’t let the other audience, us, view those images and make up our own minds. In other circumstances, this could make us imagine that the skinzine contains images of UNIMAGINABLE HORROR, I suppose, but instead it’s more like a suggestion of “nothing to see here.”

I’m not completely sold on my own suggestion that an analysis of the feminist objections to Hustler would improve the movie. Storywise, it’s not certain that feminism ever posed a threat to, or otherwise impinged on the life of Mr. Flynt whatsoever. The movie also omits three of his marriages and five children, including the one who claims he sexually abused her. And in today’s climate, it’s easier to say he may well have done. Apart from the fact that most such accusations tend to be truthful, Flynt was, in his youth, obviously highly sexed and sexual, morally flexible, mentally somewhat unbalanced (not that any of that automatically makes you a rapist). He makes a good suspect. How does that suspicion make the film play? More uncomfortably, which may be a good thing. The movie is a little too sure of itself.

We have to factor in Forman’s Goyaesque side, too, even though he hadn’t made GOYA’S GHOSTS yet. In fairness, Flynt’s staffers are a carnivalesque bunch of freakazoids, with Forman fave Vincent Schiavelli vying with sleepy-eyed Crispin Glover for physiognomy first prize, but it’s the prosecutors attacking Flynt who get the really repulsive reaction shots. All this is complicated a bit more by Flynt’s own cameo as a biassed judge, his flat delivery and bulbous features making for a caricature that works against both himself and his opponents. The satirical laser bounces between two funhouse mirrors and ends up just making the room seem hot.

The tendency to slant things towards Flynt is maybe most apparent in the scene where Love’s character drowns in the bath — while Flynt is on the phone trying to get her more medical help for her AIDS and drug addiction. It’s a pat, inelegant construction in an otherwise very smart screenplay, because it seems to be trying to force sympathy out of us that we should be quite willing to give freely. I don’t know, maybe that’s exactly how it happened in real life, but real life can sometimes need a rewrite.

But! I’d missed the news that the guy who shot Flynt, paralysing him, had actually been caught and executed. And Flynt campaigned to save his life because he’s opposed to the death penalty. That is some serious Christian forgiveness from a proud atheist. (Maybe atheists are more Christian than the Christians? I can’t imagine Falwell doing that.)

 

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Scuddy Mags

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2015 by dcairns

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We called them scuddy mags or scuddy books at school. Not sure why. Scuddy rhymes with nuddy which is childish slang for nudie, but I don’t know that explains anything. I don’t know how widespread the term was. More information required. What did YOU call porno mags when you were at school?

THE LOOK OF LOVE is Michael SpringbottomWinterbottom’s film of the life of British porn mogul Paul Raymond. While THE PEOPLE VERSUS LARRY FLYNT used the smut-peddlar bio form as a device to explore issues of free speech and censorship, Raymond’s career does not lend itself to such lofty matters — he mainly stayed safely within the UK’s notoriously vague obscenity laws (for which the word “draconian” could be applied except that it would be unfair to dragons) during his heydays in the sixties, seventies and eighties. He made a vast amount of money, lived the playboy lifestyle in his Bond villain penthouse, and ended up pretty sad, as do so many of us humans. If the film has a point, it’s a study of a failed father, I guess.

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Steve Coogan is the pillar around which the film is constructed — the master impersonator cast as the self-made man who transformed himself from, we are told, humble origins, changing his name, his accent, his persona. There are some funny bits — Coogan can’t let two hours go by without doing SOMETHING funny, but there’s also some tonal uncertainty about how snarky and kitsch the film can be when detailing the story of a man who, essentially, kills his own daughter with kindness.

I generally hate Summerbottom Winterbottom films but all his stuff with Coogan is very watchable. This one is interesting because he solves some of his usual problems. There’s a kind of childish desire to be EXPLICIT, showing pigs slaughtered (JUDE), childbirth (JUDE, A COCK AND BULL STORY) and sex (9 SONGS) and violence (THE KILLER INSIDE ME) in a slightly confrontational, slightly obnoxious, and slightly naff way — “This is what it’s REALLY LIKE, yeah?” I loathe this side of Autumnbottom Winterbottom. But here, despite the subject matter, it’s mainly kept in check. There’s quite a bit of tit and bum, but one’s face is not rubbed in it. I assumed, going in, that the auteur would find it artistically essential to fill the screen with beaver shots, but either Film4 cut them out, or he’s got all that out of his system. (One highly regarded makeup artist’s first “big job” was making a cast of Kate Winslet’s private genital parts so a special-effects childbirth could be staged for JUDE. Welcome to showbiz!)

Good supporting perfs. The piling on of comedians is distracting — Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Miles Jupp, Stephen Fry, Mark Williams and Dara O’Briain (playing what seems to be a sort of approximation of Alexei Sayle — I forgot that Raymond owned The Comedy Store, where alternative comedy was born). The one who is an unqualified success is Chris Addison, a brilliant, loose, natural performer (only ever not great in his recent Dr. Who guest spot — I blame the writing there). Addison is playing Men Only‘s editor, hilariously called Tony Power (but that’s nothing: another real-life Raymond associate is called Carl Snitcher. The comedy is inherent).

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I’m sure I had a kind of encounter with Tony Power. In the early days of video rental, our local shop gave us a free tape when we borrowed something else — it was a VHS compendium of clips and trailers, sort of suggestions for things you might want to rent (except of course your local shop probably didn’t have any of these titles). This thing had a presenter, a bloke in smoky shades with a Pink Panther cuddly toy as his sidekick, and he was very creepy. He definitely had a porno vibe, but he was trying to be family-friendly, despite sporting tobacco-smoke shades and a Yorkshire Ripper beard. But there he was, with his cuddly-toy co-host, showing you tits-out footage from Bert Gordon’s THE WITCHING. It was all very… inappropriate. Based on the excellent portrayal of Chris Addison, I am morally certain that strange, unsettling man was Tony Power.

I feel a little bit sorry for screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh — the film feels quite improvisatory in its dialogue, which is often quite amusing — Coogan does a few impressions (not sure if this is something Raymond ever did) — but it’s full of anachronisms. Many writers will work quite hard to get realistic period-sounding talk, but once the actors start making it up as they go along, how are you going to impose quality control on the authenticity? One quite inoffensive example is when Tamsin Egerton (as porn goddess “Fiona Richmond”) says “I did not know that,” a kind of catchphrase that seems to have come in in the late nineties. In fact, the earliest utterance of it I noticed was from John Goodman in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Weirdly, by creating a late nineties catchphrase in a movie set in the early nineties, Goodman may have somehow originated an anachronism, inventing a phrase now associated with an era later than the one in which the movie takes place. But I’ll let him off with that.

(My memory is that CONTROL, also scripted by Greenhalgh, had a very sure sense of period in its dialogue as in everything else.)

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One thing about 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, the first Coogan-Winterbottom joint, which is very good fun, is that Winterbottom seemed helpless to visualise or exploit the music, which was in a sense the film’s subject. Here, he arrays a medley of sixties and seventies hits across the soundtrack, including the titular Bacharach track, sung by Imogen Poots as Debbie Raymond with a touching, thin voice. Her big, hopeful eyes, grin of a thousand teeth, and projecting, mouselike ears make her a heartbreaking presence. She’s like an impossibly thin champagne glass lying fragile on the floor while porno elephants in jackboots dance a troika all around her. While the song selection isn’t exactly imaginative — there’s nothing that wouldn’t be on a greatest hits collection — it’s appropriate and each number gets a chance to make its impression. There’s a double use of Anyone Who Had a Heart that seemed wrong, though. Maybe because the song is so great you can’t use it except in a masterpiece, or maybe because the lyrics are too explicit to fit to a different situation, maybe because the montage it plays to is completely wrong — a flashback that wants to be about happy memories of one particular character but instead feels like an entire scene lifted out of an earlier point and dropped into the timeline later, full of irrelevant stuff of other characters who have no place in this sequence. (See PRIEST, which is no masterpiece, but finds an effective way to employ the song.)

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As far as I can tell, nobody went to see this movie, which is a shame because it’s not bad at all. Sex still sells, but maybe people don’t like the thought of seeing Steve Coogan doing it or selling it, and people prefer to consume it in private. Check the movie out if it comes your way: good Coogan, Poots, Addison, Egerton, and a revelatory hard-bitten Anna Friel.