Even if you don’t know the name of the man, you’re may have some familiarity with the content that he produces. Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler, the controversial adult hardcore porn magazine, is an individual that many prospective JDs are aware of today. His battles for his first amendment right to publish controversial and even obscene material is studied by law students to this day.
These battles are the subject of a new documentary that explores the founding of Flynt’s magazine and its history of controversy and defiance of authority.
Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story weaves a charming narrative from Hustler‘s nightclub inception all the way through the ever-changing landscape of adult entertainment in the 21st century. Director Michael Lee Nirenberg, the son of one of the magazine’s original art directors, takes a mostly unbiased look at the personalities and features that made Hustler the most offensive, and infamous magazine of all time.
For those that may not be aware, Hustler was founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1974. Originally a newsletter, Hustler was at first distributed by Flynt’s strip clubs as a form of free advertising. A simple five page pamphlet would soon grow into one of the largest companies in the adult hardcore porn industry. The magazine’s sales would not only compete with and even outpace Playboy and Penthouse, but also generated a reputation for its controversial stories, cartoons and pornographic pictures.
Considered to be the “blue collar” magazine of porn, Hustler garnered a following not only because of the naked women on its covers, but the humor and controversy it so enjoyed promoting. The film takes a look back at Hustler’s most controversial periods through numerous pieces of archive footage.
Probably the best examples of controversy can be seen in news footage of porn stars, hired by Flynt, to deliver a $10,000 court fine for him in pennies. Even the film’s ample use of recordings of taped conversations provide the movie with enough humor and shocking bluntness. Possibly the most famous of Flynt’s acts of defiance recorded on tape was when Flynt angrily cussed out the United States Supreme Court Justices who were hearing one of his many cases.
The film even addresses the rise of the internet and how the World Wide Web has seriously affected the porn industry. Flynt, ever the savvy businessman, embraced the internet in the early 2000s, and started incorporating digital media into his business years ahead of his competitors.
Even though the documentary spends most of its time making you laugh, it doesn’t shy away from the drama. The movie spends a substantial amount of time on the assassination attempt on Flynt’s life that left him paralyzed from the waist down. In a disturbing, nausea-inducing interview, Nirenberg sits down with convicted serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, who admitted to trying to kill Flynt in 1978. Franklin, who was later executed, was enraged after seeing pornographic images of an interracial couple in Hustler. He remarked that he was mildly surprised that Flynt survived.
While Nirenberg gives screen time to dissenting voices, an attorney that prosecuted Flynt and a feminist critic being the most critical of those voices, Back Issues spends most of its time defending Hustler’s right to express itself freely. However, the film does criticize Hustler through Flynt himself. Using past recorded phone conversations of Flynt, audiences are given the chance to see just how unstable Flynt was during the magazine’s most controversial periods of its publication.
Flynt, a man afflicted with bipolar disorder, manic depression and drug addiction, was shown to be extremely obnoxious and psychologically abusive to his employees. The audio clips from past meetings are probably more critical of Flynt than any disgusted politician or activist.
Despite the film’s intentionally nostalgic look at the magazine’s history, Back Issues provides a mostly unflinching view of the most controversial magazine in the United States, and the people that brought it to store shelves for a quarter of a century. While the magazine was in the end about nude women, it didn’t back down from covering stories that were purposely critical of government officials, corporations and hypocrisy in American society in general. No matter what you may feel about Flynt and his magazine, Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Stories is one hell of an entertaining watch with enough humor and first hand-accounts to keep the story constantly engaging for viewers.
Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story hits premium VOD on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, PlayStation, Vudu and more July 14.