The Look of Love – Michael Winterbottom’s missed opportunities. (SFF Film Review)

It must have been a terrible blow to misogynistic mythology to find that the greatest sexual revolution that transformed the world forever came not from men being “free” to do what comes “naturally”, but rather the assurance that a woman does not have to have a baby.  It wasn’t until women were promised, unequivocally that they would not fall pregnant, that women started to enjoy sex on mass and in such a way that it changed the world forever. This poses serious questions to any theory that posits ‘women want babies and men want lots of women’. Seen in this light, its miraculous that the pill ever got made. What is less surprising is that male misogynistic mythology, seeing as the “sexual revolution” implied women wanted it as much as the virile male, responded aggressively with pornography.  And yet it still seems odd – as soon as wives and girlfriends and even random girls in bars wanted to have sex, men turned on mass to the magazine, the film and the computer.

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I have always said the problem with pornography is there are not enough women behind the camera.  If the amount of pornography that is now freely available has taught us one thing, it is that men make terrible porn.  It’s boring and repetitive, and absolutely no surprise that the decline of the porn industry is not likely to come from legislation or feminism, but rather from amateur females, their fears and inhibitions removed by the safety of their bedroom acting out in front of a camera simply because they are sexual. This is despite the labels of ‘skank’ or ‘whore’ and despite websites that seen to vilify amateurs who want to engage in this.  Apparently when women want to play sexually, as long as they feel they are not going to get beaten, raped or pregnant, there’s no stopping them.

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That’s why it’s a little surprising Michael Winterbottom has come up with such a familiarly dull story when given the chance to talk about one of the great characters of porn, Paul Raymond. Even the most interesting aspect of Raymond’s life has been ignored – that of him becoming a recluse after his daughter’s death. Winterbottom never leaves the familiar and safe territory of “Men, I know you want this, but look at the cost.” We’re left with a screen filled with bare breasts and the sort of soft porn that Raymond was initially famous for, which is such a waste of a great opportunity.

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Let me be clear here, I have no problem with naked breasts. I fed from my mother just like everyone else, so they hold the same fascination for me that they do for everyone. It’s just that The Look of Love becomes quite “preachy” in it’s  conservative approach to the subject matter.

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The most interesting line in The Look of Love is at the very beginning when Raymond (nicely played by Steve Coogan whose given very little to work with) explains his father was absent from his upbringing and he was raised surrounded by women. That the man spent the rest of his life struggling to connect with women and was one of the founders of an aggressively anti-female industry is a wonderful opportunity to look at something fresh and interesting here, but Winterbottom skips it. He also side-swipes one of the most interesting aspects of main stream porn – the public persona. I find it fascinating that porn needs the Paul Raymond’s, the Larry Flint’s and the Hugh Heffner’s to be face of the “dream” lifestyle.  It’s almost like, men don’t naturally want this, so we need a permanent advertisement of how cool and fun it is to remind them they need it. Who ever imagined that men needed to be persuaded to engage in pornography? Surely The Look of Love was one of the best opportunities to examine how essential that persona is to the projection of a certain mythology.  But no – this is also skipped.

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Another issue I have with the film is that fifty percent of it is missing. Winterbottom gives us insights into all the men around Paul Raymond, but the women are relegated to a jealous wife or, in an absolute travesty in the case of Fiona Richmond, woman who wants to settle down and can’t take the lifestyle. It never seemed to occur to writer Matt Greenhalgh that the women were bored stiff by Paul Raymond because the man was stuck on repeat for sixty years, and considering their story has been pressed down to stereotypes, it seems he never thought to communicate with them while writing the film either. What we’ve got is the boring repetitious mythology of women wanting to ‘settle down’ – something that can only be accurate if women appear at their thinnest veneer. Fiona Richmond never settled down.  She just got sick of Paul Raymond.

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As if all of this isn’t frustrating enough, Winterbottom and Greenhalgh virtually ignore the historical context also.  At least The People Versus Larry Flint dealt with the very interesting and important issue of censorship. The 1970’s was such an interesting decade for pornography, its weird that we can’t make a good film about it, particularly given how large a part pornography plays in our life now and that porn is mostly on film. How fascinating it would have been to understand what constituted loyalty in Paul and Jean Raymond’s open marriage?  How interesting it would have been to see something of the potent intimacy between Paul Raymond and Fiona Richmond, rather than the constant painting of her as financially opportunistic until she wanted to ‘settle down’. But instead of a film that treats alternate relationship experimentation with respect, we have a glaringly old-fashioned film that makes the mistake of thinking porn is only for and about men and comes at a great price. (You can almost hear the “tutt-tutt” and see the wagging finger)

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Its disappointing from Winterbottom who is  so keen on Thomas Hardy to be this disinterested in the full scope of Paul Raymond’s psyche. In the end a director I had such great hopes for makes a feel good film for misogynistic males. What a yawn.

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