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Flynt Documentary Premieres

LARRY FLYNT: THE RIGHT TO BE LEFT ALONE. Thursday at 9, IFC

Larry Flynt isn’t the first person to observe that everyone believes in free speech when we agree with what we’re hearing. It isn’t until we hear something we detest that we’re forced to decide whether offensive speech has an equal right to exist.

To Flynt, that’s kind of what America is all about.

Thursday’s U.S. premiere of Joan Brooker- Marks’ documentary on Flynt, the controversial publisher of Hustler magazine, positions him just where he wants to position himself: as the embodiment of the First Amendment, in all its ragged glory, and therefore a shining symbol of what makes America great.

Others, of course, think he’s just a sleazy pornographer, a man who has published the crudest sexual material and the most offensive cartoons and graphics.

Once when Flynt decided he was tired of hearing feminists say his magazine exploits women, he created a cover that showed a naked woman being fed through a meat grinder.

Asked about that cover in this documentary, he essentially says he was happy with it because it made his point, and that if it further enraged some of his critics, that was a nice bonus.

“The Right to Be Left Alone” takes a chronological walk through Flynt’s eventful life, focusing on highlights like his obscenity conviction in Cincinnati and the assassination attempt that left him a paraplegic.

The man who shot him was nobody’s hero. He was a racist inflamed by an interracial couple pictured in Hustler. A Cincinnati prosecutor sounds just silly when he explains in a vintage interview clip that Hustler is “attacking every institution in this country” and then cites a cartoon sexually satirizing Santa Claus.

By comparison, Flynt sounds quite reasonable. But the film leaves that part of his life sooner than one might expect and moves forward to recent years.

While Flynt and Hustler have made fewer headlines, he has been no less aggressive in challenging those he feels would chisel away at the First Amendment, including the Bush administration, fundamentalist preachers and Flynt’s personal favorite, hypocrites who preach “family values” without practicing them.

Louisiana Rep. Robert Livingston was about to become Speaker of the House of Representatives a decade ago when Flynt announced he had evidence of Livingston’s marital infidelity. Livingston sort of mumbled a confirmation and resigned, depriving him of the chance to castigate then-President Clinton over the same sin.

A good number of Americans doubtless feel that if the First Amendment has best friends like Larry Flynt, it doesn’t need enemies. But if you really believe in that First Amendment, he would argue, he’s part of the package.

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