Co-writer/director Nadia Szold’s documentary Larry Flynt for President revisits exactly what the title states, Flynt’s 1983 campaign for becoming U.S. president along with additional outrageous events in Flynt’s life. His notoriety began with his 1974 launch of Hustler magazine, his opposition to the far right and the moral majority, his 1976 conviction and sentence of seven to twenty-five years in prison for pandering and selling obscenity, and his subsequent release on appeal. In addition to his presidential run, the film also covers Flynt’s being shot in 1978, resulting in his partial paralysis and confinement to a wheelchair, and Flynt’s numerous battles over first-amendment rights.
There’s more. Highlights include Flynt’s recurring legal and theoretical skirmishes in multiple court cases right up to U.S. Supreme Court where he shouted obscenities at the judges. He went several rounds with Jerry Falwell, once appearing to testify in an American flag diaper. He falsely claimed he had a humiliating (and extremely out-of-focus) sex tape of President Ronald Reagan. In short, Flynt catapulted from one antagonistic, controversial incident to another. As encounter after encounter occurs, it becomes apparent that the most apt comment comes from Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw magazine, who says, “Flynt only knows he’s alive when he sees himself reflected in the media.”
Important people in Flynt’s life also weigh in: wife Althea, Flynt’s Vice Presidential candidate Russell Means, Frank Zappa, Hustler editors and art directors, plus investigative journalists, among several others. Along the way we learn, notably and perhaps surprisingly, that Flynt critiques a wide range of politicians, especially those promoting the moral majority, for distracting attention from what he calls the real ills of our society, including wealth inequity, bad schools, and polluted water. On another occasion, Flynt says he’d like to convert every church to a day care center, a health food store, or a health clinic. These progressive ideas take a back seat to his rude, crude language, magazine, and t-shirts, all on full display here. Flynt was never known for restraint or polite banter, and so, appropriately, neither is this profile in terms of his outspoken, combative nature.
Revisiting many of the events dramatized in director Milos Forman’s 1996 film “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Larry Flynt for President” relies heavily on 1980s archival footage along with a handful of contemporary interviews. The documentary’s visual appeal suffers because of the blurry quality of most images. And though it does directly address the crude, explicit sex that was Hustler’s reason for being, the documentary’s absence of insightful, historically grounded analysis minimizes its value in interrogating Flynt, his presidential run, his confrontations, and his opinions. Since Flynt died in February 2021, it would have changed the film but given a more complete, satisfying overview had his final chapter been added. This qualifies as only one limited chapter in illuminating Flynt’s aggressive public persona.