Tuesday, 20 May 2014

DVD Review: Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story (2014)

A gloriously well-informed look at the rise (and continual success, in a fashion) of the American 'top-shelf' magazine, Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story is naturally not one for prudes, but is a fascinating and eye-opening insight into a business often dismissed as just seedy and immoral.
Director  Michael Lee Nirenberg, whose father Bill was the art and creative director for the magazine, has managed to interview dozens of people involved in the production of the magazine as well as his father; models, photographers, editors and of course original publisher Larry Flynt. Spawned from what was essentially a small newsletter advertising Flynt's strip bars it was expanded as the antithesis to the 'lifestyle' style and airbrushed, glossy spreads of Playboy and Penthouse, Hustler took the rawness of Al Goldstein's newspaper format Screw, but in colour. Goldstein himself is interviewed, clearly very ill (he would later die on December 19th, 2013) and unrecognisable from the famous boisterous cigar-smoking image we are used to, and it's quite sad to see but at least he still possessed his famous sass.
Perhaps most surprising for UK viewers who may not have come across (!) the magazine other than by name is the strong political stance it had, often handled with biting satire. No mainstream companies would advertise with them, so they ran their own parody ads, often highlighting the hypocrisy of the multinationals. These included anti-tobacco and pro-police ads, which showed the power of Flynt's convictions. Purposely tasteless, the publication's story is full of ups and downs; from a being born again Christian to atheist, via presidential campaigns.
As is usually the case, the truth is often stranger than fiction. Having seen the 1996 drama, The People vs. Larry Flynt you may think you know about the man, but hearing what his colleagues have to say, and the tapes of some of his rants, Flynt really does come across as an unsettled person. But he is also an amazing advocate for free speech and despite his mostly acerbic nature, it's profoundly touching hearing him talk about not being able to save his late wife, Althea from drug addiction which eventually led to here contracting AIDS. This is more than just the Flynt story, despite the magazine being his baby. Past contributors and editors are just as important, and people such as Ron Jeremy, Kitten Natividad, Nina Hartley as well as Chris Gore, founder of Film Threat magazine, who later edited the humour section of Hustler and photographer Suze Randall.

Joseph Franklin, the man who famously shot and paralysed Flynt, is also interviewed in prison. Blaming an inter-racial photo-spread for his motivation for the attempted murder, he certainly seems unhinged. Chillingly, he says, "Flynt is the only person to be shot by a .44 Magnum and live". Close-up photos of his wounds are graphic and disturbing, but show the reality of the incident. It wasn't the Flynt shooting which he was convicted of, as Franklin was sentenced as a serial killer in 1980 for at least seven murders. He was executed by lethal injection on November 17th, 2013.
Matched to the visuals is a cracking soundtrack of underground punk music, which suits the outsider and subversive nature of the material. As you would expect, there is plenty of raunchy imagery, but the more explicit parts (ironically, the 'pink' which made the mag famous) are obscured, but it's never meant to be titillating (so to speak) nor exploitative. Instead, it's an engrossing and entertaining history lesson on a subject so often swept under the carpet, but one which is important, nonetheless. Highly recommended. 
Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine- Official Trailer November 2013 from Michael Lee Nirenberg on Vimeo.
9 out of 10

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