TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Slated for release last year just prior to COVID, and while its titular subject was still alive, Larry Flynt for President is a treasure trove of unearthed behind-the-scenes footage from the fiery publisher’s failed presidential bid in 1983. Filmmaker Nadia Szold has not only reassembled the forgotten footage for an engaging tale but augments it with updated interviews from those in Flynt’s orbit at the time, bringing a fresh perspective of his First Amendment advocacy and how those very same rights are in peril with a newly conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
In the Reagan-led 80s, the United States was in the throes of a conservative tsunami, frequently focusing on how many of the country’s woes (high unemployment, nuclear armament, drug proliferation) stemmed from its lack of “morality” and “family values.” As the outspoken publisher of Hustler magazine (which depicted more graphic images of women than the airbrushed photos in Playboy or Penthouse), Flynt often became the target of the pious indignation of the evangelical wing of the Conservative movement. Always up for a good fight, Flynt decided to throw his hat in the ring for the nomination during Regan’s bid for a second term. “Every ounce of energy that I can muster will be devoted toward moving the massive repressive hand of government from the crotch of the American people,” Flynt stated at the start of his run.
Flynt was no stranger to challenges: growing up destitute in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky, dropping out of school in the eighth grade, and building a multi-million dollar pornography empire through the 1970s and 80s. With Hustler bringing him untold amounts of cash, Flynt announced his candidacy for the Republican Party as equal parts satire and a flip of the finger to current critics. While Szold includes a snippet of Regan speechifying to “make America great again,” the similarities between Flynt and a particular former president are eerily similar. From the unbridled narcissism and the multiple wives to the focus on women’s physical appearance and the craven desire for media attention, they sometimes seem like opposite sides to the same coin (though Flynt created and did not inherit his wealth).
“…unearthed behind-the-scenes footage from the fiery publisher’s failed presidential bid…”
Larry Flynt for President captures Flynt’s policy ideas, which focused on reinstating social and medical programs for the destitute and disenfranchised. He also promised a cabinet that would contain every minority from the melting pot. He chose Native American Russell Means as his vice president, with a vow to return lands back to the indigenous peoples. Though it may have been a lark, many of Flynt’s ideas represented the best aspects of American ideals.
That said, the film does not lionize its subject. He’s seen as conniving, controlling, and vindictive. And even though his speech is stunted by many medications (after being shot in the spine by a white supremacist), he’s never obtuse and always clear when discussing his political vision. The film also highlights the role Flynt’s fourth wife, Althea, played after his near-fatal shooting in 1978. A self-described feminist and punk rocker, she took charge of the magazine and often greenlit some of its most controversial pictorials.
Larry Flynt for President contains all the lurid and lascivious details one would expect from the boisterous publisher of Hustler, but Szold crafts the older footage into a broader scope, reflecting on the passage of time and political landscape since his run. At times as gaudy as Flynt’s gold-plated wheelchair, it also depicts the dream of a country that refuses to sit down and remain silent.
Larry Flynt for President screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
"…depicts the dream of a country that refuses to sit down and remain silent."