Life of Larry turns to gold as Church claims sacrilege

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The Independent Online
A film about the life of Larry Flynt, the notorious US publisher, won the Berlin Film Festival's top award - the Golden Bear - yesterday, edging aside The English Patient. The two are expected to be competing for the top honours in the Oscars.

The People v Larry Flynt, made by Milos Forman, the Oscar-winning director of Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, depicts the tumultuous career of Flynt, a school drop-out who ran strip clubs before launching his porn magazine, Hustler, in 1973.

With a cameo appearance by Flynt (ironically playing a judge), and also starring Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love, widow of the rock star Kurt Cobain, the film has sparked massive controversy in the US and elsewhere, notably over the promotional posters. These show Harrelson, who plays Flynt, wearing a stars-and-stripes loincloth, with his arms outstretched as if crucified, superimposed on the groin of a bikini-clad woman.

Yesterday Forman ordered the removal of the posters in France, where they had prompted the Catholic Church to bring a lawsuit. Magali Thorne, a lawyer for Columbia Pictures, told the French court of appeals that the posters would be removed "in the spirit of appeasement and to cut short" any efforts by opponents to profit from the controversy.

The president of the Conference of Bishops of France, Monsignor Louis- Marie Bille, said it was unacceptable to compare Christ's crucifixion with the ordeal of "a pornographer", referring to Flynt. The poster had already been rejected by the Motion Picture Association of America, and in Australia and Switzerland the Catholic Church branded it offensive and sacrilegious.

However, despite missing out on the top honour at Berlin, The English Patient did not go unrewarded. Juliet Binoche was named best actress for her role in the film, which won 12 Oscar nominations. Best actor went to Leonardo di Caprio, for his leading role in Romeo and Juliet and the Silver Bear was awarded to the Taiwanese film He Liu, which means the river.

The 12 Oscar nominations for The English Patient have boosted US sales of Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel on which it is based by 400 per cent. The American edition has now sold 600,000 copies and the British opening of the film on 14 March will coincide with a concerted campaign to market tie-in editions of the book by Macmillan, the parent company of Ondaatje's publisher, Picador.

Canny publishers have always profited from tie-in editions of books adapted for film and TV. The recent spate of Jane Austen dramatisations spawned new paperback versions of the novels with costumed stars on their covers. Penguin, with its vast backlist, usually does best with "classic" adaptations. Jane Campion's new film of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady has inspired a Penguin reprint complete with 8 pages of colour photos of its stars, including Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich and Richard E Grant. And Oxford recently persuaded Kenneth Branagh to approve the use of a still from his film on its paperback edition of Hamlet. He requested no fee, but he did ask for a complete set of Oxford's World's Classics. Boyd Tonkin