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Thread: BACK ISSUES: THE HUSTLER MAGAZINE STORY (Michael Lee Nirenberg 2014)

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    BACK ISSUES: THE HUSTLER MAGAZINE STORY (Michael Lee Nirenberg 2014)

    Review by Chris Knipp



    Althea: Are you going to paint the White House black?
    Larry: No.
    Althea: Will you declare homosexuals an endangered species because of AIDS?
    Larry: Yes.
    Althea: Will you appoint Andy Warhol as the official White House photographer?
    Larry: Yes. And I'll paint the White House pink, because pink is what put me there.


    --Dialogue from a Larry Flynt for President TV ad, 1984, with his wife Althea, in which Larry wears a "FUCK THE OLYMPICS" T-shirt.

    Russell Means, the Native American activist, was Larry's running mate. Larry was paralyzed from the waist down from gunshot wounds when shot in 1978 by Joseph Paul Franklin (interviewed in prison for this film) while involved in an obscenity trial. Franklin targeted Flynt for publishing a photo depicting a white woman and a black man as lovers. Flynt's magazine, Hustler, was a cruder (eventually much cruder) and working-class knockoff of Hugh Hefner's more bourgeois Playaboy. There was also Penthouse. And there was the much more political Screw, founded in 1968 by Al Goldstein, respected by Flynt, but not as a businessman. They all came into their first flowering during pornography's heyday decade, the Seventies. The nude girls in Playboy were big-boobed and blonde and perfect and their vaginas were never shown. Hustler's girls seemed more accessible, and they had vaginas, always. That's what Larry meant when he said "pink is what put me there." "Pink" is the code word for vaginas, and Flynt, who stopped at nothing, even put up a billboard on the Sunset Strip advertising the magazine as "For Those Who Think Pink."

    "Stopped at nothing" is too polite and vague a way to express the extremes of which the man was capable or that went into the magazine, and his public behavior, as we learn in detail from the new documentary, Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story, directed by Michael Lee Nirenberg. He's the son of Bill Nirenberg, one of the magazine's art directors, whom he interviews at some length. Miloš Forman's 1996 feature about Flynt's life and legal battles, The People vs. Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson, is a good movie, but it doesn't begin to touch on the salty, rude, outrageous, obscene, disgusting, and groundbreaking material in Hustler. Nirenberg interviews Flynt himself and also a number of the personalities involved, including art editors, editors, artists, cartoonists, photographers, and models. There are also "Pink Tapes" delivering vituperative and obscene exchanges between Flynt and others, including a bitchy, drag-out verbal fight between Larry and his brother Jimmy laced with mutual threats and F-words.

    Some of the looks provided into the mag's contents are appalling, such as its racially and sexually offensive cartoons, photos and hand-painted illustrations. On the other hand, artists were invited to do their own photo shoots, and these include ones by Dennis Hopper featuring nudes with his own abstract paintings and another by Frank Zappa for which Larry ordered there be no budget limit. We are told Hustler was one of the first general publications to talk about greenhouse gasses and global warming and we see an artist's conception of New York City under water. It's also interesting to learn that although Flynt rode a long way on his conversion to born-again Christian, and as late as the Nineties tried to put up Jesus Christ on the masthead as the Publisher, in the interview for the film he has another explanation. He says he learned that he was bipolar and he thinks most born-again conversions are due to this. "Just take some Lithium and you'll be okay," he advises. While in prison he enlisted the help of a leading atheist and threatened to turn over his publishing empire to her organization.

    The Internet was the end of the porn industry as it had been, talking heads point out. Porn is free to teenagers whenever they want it. There are still sex websites that charge membership fees, but only those with a "paper fetish" would rely on a magazine for masturbatory purposes. Has Larry Flynt fallen on hard times? Not a bit of it. He is a wealthy man. Crazy as he constantly sounds throughout his career (listen to recordings of what he said to the Supreme Court), he came back from prison in his paralyzed state and took firm control of Hustler, which had sold big ever since it published the nude photo of Jackie Kennedy in 1975, a year after being started as a magazine. Larry Flynt, who started out with strip clubs, now has a Hustler online porn website and chains of bars and clubs and stores. And his legal victories, notably the Supreme Court's overturning damages against him for his parody of Jerry Falwell, extensively dramatized in The People vs. Larry Flynt, stand as milestone interpretations of the First Amendment. Sleazy and crazy, contentious and outrageous, the man has bravely represented civil liberties, and that has its positive payback for everybody. Despite Flynt's southern hillbilly drawl and his born-again phase, he has always swung to the left politically.

    Nirenberg's film is rough and ready and moves along with dispatch, indulges a little too frequently in the frustrating habit of many documentaries of flashing reams of legal and other documents at us that we cannot possibly read, along with all or pieces of perhaps every Hustler cover ever published. A lot of revoting illustrations, including a dozen different representations of excrement, also skip by before your ADD catches up with them. If you have stop-motion, perhaps you will go to town. Not surprisingly, the film is not going into a theater near you, though it has been well received in festivals, notably one in Cleveland, where Hustler operated before it moved to southern California. It will be available for home viewing via the evil Web.

    Back Issues: The Hustler Magaine Story, 89 mins., debuted 14 February 2014. Watched for this review on a screener provided by Filmbuff. VOD Tues., 15 July 2014 release including iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, PlayStation, X-Box, Vudu, and others. Australia DVD release through Accent in August 2014.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-14-2014 at 07:13 PM.

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