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Larry Flynt is no stranger to the big screen. Milos Forman’s 1996 “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” with Woody Harrelson playing the quarrelsome pornographer, chronicled Flynt’s colorful run-ins with the law as he challenged establishment moralists. Flynt is no stranger to the small screen, either: Most recently, he has popped up decrying Washington hypocrisy as Sen. David Vitter, R-La., admitted to dealings with a D.C. escort service after receiving a phone call from an editor with Flynt’s Hustler magazine.
Now, Flynt also is the subject of a new documentary, “Larry Flynt: The Right to Be Left Alone,” which will screen as part of the International Documentary Assn.’s DocuWeek, which gets under way today and runs through Thursday at the ArcLight Hollywood and the Landmark Theatre in West Los Angeles.
The film marks the feature directorial debut of Joan Brooker-Marks, a former TV writer who moved on to teach film at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Even though Flynt has gotten plenty of media attention, she was convinced that most of the previous accounts of his life “were more biographical. I wanted to touch on the seminal events in his life but also wanted to really, really concentrate on his court battles on behalf of the First Amendment. Personally, I think the First Amendment is unequivocal, and Larry’s efforts have been significant — particularly for writers and satirists — even though they have been minimized because he is a pornographer.”
Her husband, Walter Marks, who happened to be an old acquaintance of Flynt’s, introduced her to her subject, who gave her carte blanche, opening up his extensive archives. With Marks serving as producer, Brooker-Marks launched the project under her own Midtownfilms banner.
While the film, which was privately financed at the cost of several hundred thousand dollars, began shooting in October 2005, Brooker-Marks has been adding bits of footage right up until locking it for its DocuWeek premiere — for example, adding Flynt’s reaction to the recent death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, whose libel suit against Flynt led to a Supreme Court victory for the publisher in the 1980s.
As a piece of advocacy filmmaking, “Left Alone” could almost have jumped from the pages of Hustler itself. It includes interspersed footage of a Hustler photo shoot — albeit a relatively discreet one — as well as political-minded cartoons from the magazine. It jumps from topic to topic: Flynt’s first court case in Cincinnati, where he was convicted of pandering in 1977; his refusal to surrender sources for the tapes revealing the FBI sting operation against carmaker John DeLorean in the ’80s; and his exposés of prominent Republicans during the Clinton impeachment trail in the ’90s.
The docu does tend to lionize Flynt at points. It reports, for example, how Flynt filed suit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so that his reporters could accompany troops into battle in Afghanistan. Although a U.S. district judge denied Flynt’s request for a preliminary injunction and the Supreme Court subsequently refused to hear the case on appeal, the docu argues that the Defense Department allowed embedded journalists to accompany the military into Iraq as a result of Flynt’s legal efforts.
The film takes its title from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ contention that the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy includes “the right to be left alone” — a sentiment that Flynt echoes. In the buttoned-down world of constitutional law, Flynt emerges as a most unlikely champion of free speech because, as Brooker-Marks says, “In the beginning, he just wanted to be around pretty girls and publish a magazine.”
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