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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The People vs. Larry Flynt: SE (1996)

"Seven million people buying it, and nobody's reading it. Gentlemen, Playboy is mocking you."
- Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: May 04, 2003

Stars: Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love
Other Stars: Edward Norton, Brett Harrelson, Crispin Glover, Richard Paul, Donna Hanover, James Cromwell, Vincent Schiavelli, Miles Chapin, James Carville
Director: Milos Forman

MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use
Run Time: 02h:09m:20s
Release Date: May 06, 2003
UPC: 043396006058
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B+B A-

DVD Review

Czech-born director Milos Forman has, over his career, become the cinematic champion of the left-of-center underdog, whether it be fictitious characters like Randall P. McMurphy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) or real-life people such as Mozart (Amadeus) or Andy Kaufman (Man on the Moon). In 1996, Forman once again tackled the subject of a wild-eyed oddball by helming a biopic on the life of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, a man reviled by many as a pornographer, but seen by others as an icon for free speech in the United States. Columbia TriStar has seen fit to assemble a new special edition release, dropping the full-screen print found on the earlier barebones release and adding a respectable set of extras.

Forman's film traces the rise of Flynt (Woody Harrelson) and his brother Jimmy (Brett Harrelson, Woody's real-life brother) from their hard scrabble days as young boys in a dirt floor Kentucky cabin (where they sold moonshine to the locals) in the 1950s to their seemingly rocket-powered ascent to untold infamy and wealth as the founders of a pornographic magazine that rattled conservative thinkers to their tightly wound and uptight cores in the 1970s. Even Flynt's brief and surreal born-again phase (referred to here by one character as a "Christian reign of terror") in the mid-1970s did little to derail his detractors.

Flynt's many legal battles against censorship, free speech and obscenity charges are loudly accounted for here, all handled by the character of Flynt's lawyer Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton), who is actually a blend of about five or six real-life attorneys. Forman builds his film covering all the major landmarks, until we get to Flynt's famous battle with Rev. Jerry Falwell over a controversial Campari liquor ad parody that appeared in Hustler, a case that eventually found its way to the Supreme Court. Forman isn't particularly subtle in making the constitutional challenges and actions of the often unlikable Flynt seem almost noble, and the screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski definitely runs a little Flynt-centric, even while making its subject look less than appealing at times.

Despite the biographical milestones found in the film, the comparatively underplayed centerpiece of The People vs. Larry Flynt is the wonderfully cock-eyed relationship between Flynt and wife Althea Leasure (Courtney Love). While it appears here to have been fueled by mass quantities of drugs and sex, Forman paints the pair like a romantic version of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, and their reliance upon each other is both endearing and alarming. Though Woody Harrelson spends most of his time spouting endless wads of vitriolic dialogue with a weird Kentucky twang, Love runs away with the film whenever she is onscreen. I've never been particularly overwhelmed by Love as an actress in other film roles, but her portrayal of Althea is remarkable; she oozes sleaze, love and power with a kind of unfettered ease that never seems forced or unnatural. I will never be able to listen to Hang On, Sloopy again without seeing Love as Althea gyrating on the stage of the Hustler Go-Go Club.

The message here, practically spelled out in big, neon lights, is that while you don't have to like the man, you should rally behind his cause. I've always been of the "if you don't like it, don't read/watch/view it" school, but I understand there are quite a few folks who think otherwise. In fact, when this film was released in 1996, there was a well-orchestrated public backlash about The People vs. Larry Flynt actually promoting pornography that severely affected its theatrical run. I guess some people will never be able to see the forest for the trees.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: I'm not certain if this is the same 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer found on the earlier release, but this one looks very, very good. The transfer is clean, and free of any nicks or scratches, and sports colors that are full and vibrant, with solid, deep black levels. I caught some mild haloing and ringing (noticeable on window blinds and grillwork on cars), but grain and color bleed was not evident at all.

Not flawless, but nicely done.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround, and like the video transfer, I'm not certain if this is the same track ported over from the original release. Rear channels are largely ignored, and dialogue is anchored firmly in the center channel. While the presentation is fine, there just isn't a lot of flash to this transfer, though there are occasional deep bass passages will temporarily bring your sub to life.

French and Spanish 2.0 surround tracks are also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Charlie's Angels:Full Throttle, Auto Focus
2 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton, Scott Alexander,Larry Karaszewski
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. New York Times article
  2. Easter Eggs
Extras Review: Columbia TriStar has dressed up this special edition with a fine set of worthwhile extras, which is an obvious improvement over the earlier barebones version. To start, there are two, full-length scene-specific commentary tracks, with the first by screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and the second by Courtney Love, Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton. The Alexander/Karaszewski track covers the usual areas of story origins, studio pitch, and even trickles over into casting issues, and generally stands as a fairly informative set of comments on the creation process of a script, as opposed to techniques about shooting a scene. Most importantly, the pair explain why eccentric Crispin Glover needed to have his character's eye glued shut during filming. The actors commentary, while scene-specific, appears to be assembled from three individual sessions. The chatty Love gets the most the talk time, and deservedly so, as Harrelson and Norton seem far too restrained and low-key. While this track isn't as fully informative as the screenwriters', and concerns too much talk of getting in character, etc., I found listening to Love to completely entertaining. Her fascination with the thinness of her figure during her strip scene is very, very funny.

Larry Flynt Exposed (29m:25s) is a new mini-bio on the man, narrated by Dennis Hopper, featuring comments from folks like Jimmy Flynt, Woody Harrelson, photographer Suze Randall and even Rev. Jerry Falwell. This is essentially a well-made, shortened version of the film, and provides a mix of real-life photos and Forman's film footage.

Free Speech or Porn? (30m:09s) addresses the creation of the film, from origins through casting, production design, the problems finding insurance for the hard-to-insure Courtney Love, through the public backlash that occurred after its release in 1996. All of the principal actors, as well as director Forman, producer Oliver Stone and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski offer pertinent input, and for added entertainment screen tests from Edward Norton and Courtney Love are included as part of this short.

A pair of Deleted Scenes, available with optional commentaries from Woody Harrelson (for the :53s Running For President) and Larry Karaszewski (for the 01m:24s Kentucky House scene) are not especially enlightening, and their brevity is pretty indicative of that. Of the two, the Kentucky House scene is the most telling, and is a touching moment where Flynt unveils a recreation of his rundown family home in his palatial mansion.

A twelve-screen text version of a New York Times article by Frank Rich, entitled "Larry Flynt—Patriot," is also included, as are three trailers (People vs Larry Flynt, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Auto Focus). Easter egg hunters should be able to find a :40s ad for Flynt's 1983 presidential campaign, as well as footage of Jimmy Flynt and Brett Harrelson (01m:27s) talking in a men's room.

The disc is cut into 28 chapters, and includes subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Thai.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Generally I'm not a big biopic fan, but this treatment of the life and times of the Hustler magazine founder and free speech rabble rouser is a damn good one, especially if you are discouraged by people telling you what you can or cannot see. Plus, there is an incredible performance by Courtney Love as the drug-addled Tinkerbell, Althea Leasure, and a nice set of extras that makes this special edition worth owning.



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