At my initial meeting with Larry Flynt I knew I was being sized up, so when he ended the session with the words, "you have carte blanche", I was thrilled. I had passed the test. I believe that was because I was less interested in his porn activities and more engaged with his legal and political battles and skirmishes over the past three decades. To me it presented the opportunity to create a counter narrative to the Bush Administration's successful attacks on the Bill of Rights; starting with the Patriot Act, and subsequently, in the middle of our film shoot, the passage of the horrifying Military Commissions Act of 2006. This was a chance to make a political film that was contextualized through the actions and the history of one man's life.
I interviewed Larry fifteen times over the course of 9 months, in two hours sessions. What I got from him was a little biography, a bit of outrageousness, and lots of politics. During our conversations I became even more convinced that the First Amendment is unequivocal, and as unpleasant as that can sometimes be, I think it is absolutely vital for a healthy democracy. It also became clear to me that Larry has contributed as much or more to the preservation of free speech than any single individual in the last three decades. I know that many people devalue his contributions because of his activities as a pornographer. But none of us is any one thing, and that includes Larry Flynt. He has led a layered and complex life, perhaps outside the margins that many people consider "normal", but I don't feel that his chosen profession minimizes what he's done for his country, nor does it make him any less a patriot. I was particularly impressed with his suit again Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon, suing for press access to the battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq. The outcome of that was the embedding of reporters, which is now the media's standard for war coverage.
Obviously, Larry has his detractors and I knew there would be a flurry of negative reaction to the film. There are people who so despise Larry Flynt, the pornographer, they dismiss his contributions to free speech as meaningless and irrelevant, and contend it's just an exercise in self-promotion. The truth is that while he's certainly not camera shy, he'd rather play poker than sit for yet another interview or magazine article.
I was particularly shocked by the vitriol that came from the old-guard feminists, still entrenched in the identity politics of the 60's and 70's. I have no problem with women, or men for that matter, who dislike pornography, and Hustler is particularly "raw", and as Larry notes "really mean and biting". But when I heard one feminist state that she was truly sorry "the bullet missed" in the spine-shattering attempt on his life, I found myself re-thinking the feminist dialogue and what feminism really means in today's culture. Currently there would seem to be different kinds of feminisms and no one ideology that speaks for all women. That is particularly evident in the younger women I met while screening the film, who adore Larry and truly see him as iconic.
From the beginning I knew that I didn't want to make a biography of Larry Flynt. There have been plenty of those. I envisioned an underlying architecture that contained the seminal events in Larry's life; some, like the Falwell decision or the Livingston outing, well known, and others not well known at all. I wanted that architecture to create a foundation for Larry's thoughts and musings about our current political culture. I also thought the Hustler cartoons would be effective in emphasizing Larry's point of view, as well as bring a bit of whimsy to the piece. Making the film was a daunting task, particularly since we used so much archival material. It was very difficult to assemble what was basically a non-linear narrative and keep it engaging and fast paced. It was something of a self-created jig saw puzzle, or perhaps more elegantly put, a mosaic of lived life.
It has been gratifying to make a film that achieved some success and that has also been seen across the world. But more important was the relationship I was able to develop with Larry, who so generously gave me his time and friendship. I suppose that's what makes the documentary field so satisfying -- venturing into the unknown and emerging re-informed and richer for the experience.
LARRY FLYNT: THE RIGHT TO BE LEFT ALONE premieres on IFC on
August 7, 2008 at 9 PM ET/10 PM PT.
Encores: Thursday August 7 at 01:45AM and Sunday August 31 at 09:45PM and 03:00AM
Watch the trailer at: WWW. IFC.COM
JOAN BROOKER-MARKS (Director)
Brooker-Marks has worked as a television writer in Los Angeles, and her credits include: Designing Women, McGuyver, and Full House. She moved to New York in 1991, where she attended graduate school at Columbia University, earning two masters degrees. She currently teaches film at the School of Visual Arts and is part of a four-person Thesis Committee, which supervises senior thesis work. She is the director of two award-winning short documentaries, "We Got Us" and "The Loud Ladies of South Fork." Brooker-Marks has been a member of SAG, WGA, AEA, CineWomen and New York Women in Film. She is currently in production on a new documentary, Annie Wells From An Arm's Length.