Lovelace – Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman tell half a tale that’s true. (film review)

Probably the best popular film we have to date, regarding the issue of pornography, is The People V’s Larry Flint. I’m no Larry Flint fan, but the film was primarily about freedom of speech and the right to open or close Hustler magazine being left to the individual. I’ve said on this blog many times that I think the public conversation regarding pornography is strangely limited, given how large a role it plays in our lives in the new millennium.  There have been a spate of films “about” pornography over the years, but for the most part they remain as puritanical as pornography itself, refusing to get into any real conversation about porn or our relationship to it.

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The latest film to “tackle” pornography is Lovelace, and I’ll say it again, this is a well made film that skirts around the main issues and doesn’t attempt to enter into any sort of debate about pornography. To be fair, the story of the abuse of Linda Boreman for the few years she portrayed herself as Linda Lovelace are a story of domestic abuse, but the bulk of Boreman’s entire life is dedicated to an anti-pornography campaign. It seems a bit of a slap in the face to focus the entire film on that small part of her life, and in a way that addresses none of the issues she raised about pornography when she came out about what really happened to her. Linda Boreman has claimed time and time again – including under a successful polygraph test – that when you watch the film Deep Throat you are watching her being raped, because she was under duress, and had her life threatened.

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The most interesting question about Linda Boreman, or at least one of the most interesting, is why so many people were quick to trash her statements. Linda never changed her story about her time as a porn star, through her entire life, and yet the attacks against her doubting her credibility are still given equal weight to her claim, even though they are entirely made up by people whose livelihood depends on the longevity of the porn industry. Even today, if you look up the Wikipedia entry on Linda Boreman, there is a quote: Porn industry people have tried to find out why so many former porn actresses feel such strong rejection to their past lives and to the pornography industry as a whole. Pornographer and writer Hart Williams coined the term “Linda Syndrome” to refer to women who leave pornography and repudiate their past career by condemning the industry.  Rather than assume the countless women claiming exploitation are telling the truth, a syndrome is developed and these women are looked at as some sort of oddity. Is it REALLY that difficult to understand why a woman of mature age, confident in her own abilities to take care of herself, independent for the first time might want to tell the truth about what happened to her when she was young and vulnerable or stupid.  Surely that’s a no brainer?

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However, all of this is ignored, in Lovelace and instead we have a bio-pic that tip-toes around any sort of deep and interesting questions regarding Linda Boreman. Lovelace does give us an “us v’s them” look at celebrity lifestyle, first relaying the story of her life in porn as a glamorous experience and secondly showing it as it “really” was once she had the inner strength, independence and financial security to get away and tell the truth. This is a nice sort of exhortation on the dangers of believing the public persona and refusing to remember there will be more behind the glamor, but the point isn’t emphasized and therefore occurs as an accidental one. The central message of the film becomes unclear in the tremendous efforts the film makers go to in order to remain respectful to the protagonist, but in the end it all seems a little watered down.

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Linda Boreman came from a strict religious family. Her mother (an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone) was a harsh domineering disciplinarian who ruled the Catholic household with the threat of the wrath of God.  It would have been nice to see some connection there with the self loathing that would send a young Catholic girl into the arms of a vicious sadist, but while this is alluded to, again, Lovelace doesn’t flesh this aspect of the story out. One gets the feeling Andy Bellin just didn’t want to make waves when he wrote the script, preferring to gently carry the much maligned woman and tell her story respectfully and gently.

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Lovelace has many things to recommend it, and while it may not be a great film because of what it didn’t do, it is a very good film with what it does do. Amanda Seyfried is fine, and I suspect true to the original. Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as the enigmatic violent woman hater, Chuck Traynor, as I mentioned above, Sharon Stone is almost unrecognizable as the piercing mother (she can’t hide that voice though, you recognize it instantly) and it’s a relief to see Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale and Chris North as the film makers behind Deep Throat because of the quality they automatically bring and the compassion they (appear) to have for Boreman. There are some cute cameos – James Franco as Hugh Heffner and Chloe Sevigny as Rebecca, a feminist reporter that lighten the mood as you move through the film, but nothing saves it from being a dark, sad story of abuse that resulted in a product that gave so much dubious pleasure. If sex is the “natural” act we all say it is, why do women still lose so much credibility when they try to talk about it honestly? It seems the more a woman aligns herself with sexual freedom the more she has to comply with societies standards of what is expected. And this film shows, nothing has changed since the 1970’s because we still feel too afraid to confront that issue directly.

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