Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story, is an energetic,  occasionally humorous look at the history of Larry Flynt's, groundbreaking and often controversial magazine.  Director Michael Lee Nirenberg, whose father was one of the magazine's original art directors during the 1970's and 80's, tracks down a variety of models, photographers, cartoonists, and editors who worked at the publication during its high-flying heyday. They look back with a sense of disbelief and bemusement at what went on. To hear them talk about it, you'll almost come away thinking Hustler was not just a porn mag, but a kind of pop art collective.

Of course, Flynt is always the star of any project about Hustler. Here, he is significantly mellow with age, not to mention medication. But as Nirenberg digs out the old footage and tape recordings of Flynt at his manic worst, one wonders how anyone could get anything done with him yelling and cursing and waxing paranoid.

While much of this will be familiar to those who have followed Flynt's story, there are some interesting detours through the history of porn publishing. It's fun to hear Flynt talk about his rivals, and vice versa.  All in all, this documentary is a nice companion piece for Milos Forman's excellent 1996 feature film, The People Vs Larry Flynt.

John Wojtowicz once attempted to rob a bank in New York in order to pay for his lover's sex change. The event inspired the film Dog Day Afternoon, with Al Pacino playing the part based on Wojtowicz. Now, Wojtowicz is the subject of The Dog, a good documentary directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren. Wotjowicz was also the subject of two other documentaries made during the 2000s. At this point, I'd say enough is enough.  He's not that interesting.

Wotjowicz comes off as a repugnant little man, utterly self-absorbed and arrogant. He was much different than the character in Dog Day Afternoon, much more hostile, and while he became an iconic figure in the gay community, going so far as to call himself "the gay Babe Ruth," I'd suggest he wasn't so much a homosexual as he was a full-on sex addict who'd screw anything that wasn't dead. His supporters say he was ahead of his time; I think he was just nuts.

By the end of the documentary Wojtowicz is dying from cancer, but still struggling to tell his story as it happened. The Dog is fairly entertaining, and the directing duo of Berg and Keraudren do a good job of capturing the era and its people, but Wojtowicz was too much of a pig to earn much sympathy. Listen to how he boasts about raping one of his partners in crime the night before the robbery, and you'll probably agree. He comes off as ignorant, and slightly delusional, yelling at one point that knows more about love than anyone. Pacino was smart to leave the character's megalomania out and play him as a confused neurotic. The only people who come off well in The Dog are the two transsexuals who married Wotjowicz. They must've been nearly angelic to put up with this pushy little guy.

Tod Douglas Miller's Dinosaur 13 isn't a feel good movie, and there won't be any MacDonald's happy meals to tie in with it.

It's to do with the true story about paleontologist Peter Larson and his team from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. They hit upon a fossil hunter's ultimate fantasy two decades ago when they happened to find the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever. The thrill of the find is palpable, even in the grainy home movie footage used in the documentary. As they carefully excavate each delicate, ancient fragment, you hold your breath hoping to see the complete beast. When the massive skull turned up, I couldn't help but smile. Dinosaurs have a way of doing that to me.

The group's plan was to display the Rex (named Sue, after the woman who first found it) in their own humble little museum, but after an ugly incident with the FBI, and enough red tape and bureaucracy to make you lose a lot of faith in our little society, the jovial crew  can only watch in sadness and frustration as their beloved dinosaur skeleton is repossessed like a car they couldn't afford. The biggest shame of all is that Larson ended up serving two years in prison for a failure to fill out some forms. Watching this movie is enough to make you think something is dreadfully wrong in our country. 

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