Austin Film Festival Review: Larry Flynt for President

New documentary gets inside the Hustler publisher's campaign

Larry Flynt for President

In 1984, America blanched at the idea of making a foul-mouthed businessman president. Not to suggest that Hustler publisher and professional provocateur Larry Flynt would have made for a good commander-in-chief, but new documentary Larry Flynt for President gives insight into exactly what motivated his tabloid-ready campaign.

Flynt was, in his own words, "wealthy, white, pornographic" - and, as he noted, like his nemesis, Ronald Reagan ("the nuclear mad cowboy," as he dismissively dubbed the by-then senile ex-actor), he'd been shot for his political positions. Flynt had been in a wheelchair since 1978 after a failed murder attempt, and that's the sparking moment in Nadia Szold's new documentary.

The archival footage assembled here draws heavily on footage from the campaign itself, a sign of how serious Flynt appeared to be in his truly maverick campaign. Analysts and consultants, T-shirts and badges, a candidate with name recognition who was pre[pared to get into the ground game. "We were doing our job," ruefully recalls running mate Russell Means, "but the guy's too crazy."

Larry Flynt for President is almost a misnomer. It's hard to believe that Flynt really thought he ever stood a chance of winning the Republican primary, even with Reagan's polling numbers in the dumpster. Instead, it's a timeline of a rage-filled backlash by Flynt, who had the money, energy, and time to point out the hypocrisy of the American ruling class. His magazine may have been crude, crass, often distasteful but he didn't get rich by not selling huge numbers of copies. Szold presents him as showing a mirror up to power, at a time when the Republican Party was doubling-down on the religious right, the unholy alliance of conservative Christianity and commerce that plagues America to this day. Her version of Flynt absolutely has right on his side, but was absolutely the wrong man to make those arguments - but then again, if not Flynt, then who?

It's often a depressing watch, as American politics slides down the gutter and Flynt himself - disabled, drugged up, paranoid, at odds with his family, watching his wife Althea getting more strung out and sick - becomes a target for staid media outlets, law enforcement, whackos, and phony godbotherers. Worse, it's watching him make himself a target, both deliberately and accidentally. There's not even a hint of a suggestion that a Flynt presidency would have been a good idea, but Szold undoubtedly captures that moment when a pill-popping and potty-mouthed pornographer became the hero American free speech needed.

Larry Flynt for President

Austin premiere

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