Angel to First Amendment advocates and devil to moralists, Larry Flynt seems to be one of those guys with whom no moderation is possible. Rather than being the sober-minded, even-keeled doc portrait needed for a figure of Flynt’s magnitude and outsized dimensions, Joan Brooker-Marks’ “Larry Flynt: The Right to Be Left Alone” is a self-descriptive feature-length huzzah to the Hustler mag magnate, as warm to libertarian free spirits as it is sloppily made. Without further honing, even tube sales look unlikely.
There’s no clear tracking to this film: One moment, Flynt is jetting off to Boston to speak before students at Harvard Law School; then he’s back in his Beverly Hills offices, asking the perfectly reasonable question, “What’s the point of having a First Amendment if you’re not offensive?” Then there’s a flashback to Flynt getting a 25-year sentence in Cincinnati for obscenity and racketeering, then back to Beverly Hills, for a haphazard planning session of an upcoming Hustler issue.
On it goes, jumping around with Flynt as if he were a bouncing ball of controversial topics and provocations. Brooker-Marks makes very little of Flynt’s dirt-poor background in Appalachia, or how his story remains one of the most unlikely post-WWII tales of an American entrepreneur bucking the odds to build an empire.
Indeed, the basis of Flynt’s continuing financial success — which forms the basis from which he can play out his worthy hobby as a free-speech advocate — isn’t so much Hustler per se, but the diverse range of publications managed by his company (something that was lost on now-defunct Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione). None of this is noted in the pic, except obliquely when Flynt points out that, contrary to certain of what he terms “right-wing feminists,” he employs a good deal of women in upper management in his various magazine ventures, and considers women to be superior managers to men.
Flynt’s admission to his Harvard aud that he was off-base printing the infamous Hustler “meat-grinder” cover provides one of the few times the pic pauses to let the publisher admit a mistake. Brooker-Marks’ camera also catches one editor musing why Hustler can’t return to its earlier, raunchier self, offering a too-brief moment of revelation that Flynt’s world isn’t quite what it used to be.
Pic is, in effect, a rambling, lumpy account of Flynt’s ups and downs, but serves as little more than a mid-grade PR feature for the cause. Any skeptical questioning during interview segments is nowhere to be detected.
Indifferent vid lensing in the oddly chosen widescreen format (by Katharina Rohrer and T.J. Martin) only adds to the film’s flawed nature.