J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Back Issues: Milos Forman’s Favorite Publisher Does His Thing

Unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries, Larry Flynt is still making money from naughty pictures. His were always the naughtiest, as prosecutors sometimes noticed. Michael Lee Nirenberg, the son of longtime Hustler art director William Nirenberg, tells his publishing success story in Back Issues: the Hustler Magazine Story (trailer here), which is now available on VOD.

Thanks to Miloš Forman, we already know the general trajectory of Flynt’s story. He started with a club that produced a tacky newsletter that eventually evolved into the granddaddy of tacky magazines. He showed more than his competitors and was prosecuted as a result. However, he won his cases on First Amendment grounds.

Look, we might well be sympathetic to Flynt’s 1st Amendment arguments and completely believe his readers have a right to buy his magazines. However, neither Forman nor Nirenberg ever make a persuasive case Flynt’s victories prevented the storm-troopers from shuttering any other sort of press that was not in the dirty picture business. It is therefore difficult to enthusiastically celebrate him as a free press champion or fret that we were spared a tumble down the slippery slope.

On the other hand, both Nirenbergs will convince viewers Flynt is quite a challenging boss to work for. While the senior Nirenberg has undeniably found memories of the overall zaniness, some incidents clearly still rankle him. Evidently, working at a permissive, zeitgeisty magazine is still work. In fact, the elder Nirenberg seems to be one of the few who could actually get things done.

The junior Nirenberg’s interviews with his father are pleasantly chatty and occasionally revealing. Perhaps even more candid are the sit-downs with Flynt’s brother Jimmy. In contrast, the notorious Flynt always seems to be consciously playing a scripted part. There are also plenty of reminiscences with the talent that appeared within his pages, whose names would surely mean nothing to any of us, right?

There is maybe a thimble full of revisionism in Back Issues and a whole lot of gawking. Ironically though, Nirenberg is reluctant to show many of the images that caused such consternation, which is an indirect commentary in itself. Breezily distracting, but mostly rather shallow, Back Issues is best left to those who are fascinated by Flynt’s world. It is now available on VOD from Filmbuff.

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