Wednesday, August 21, 2013

'Lovelace' (2013) directed by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

In Lovelace we see a person transformed into commodity.  This is a movie of a thousand little deaths, a heroine manipulated, exploited, sold, beaten, raped and discarded.  This is the story of Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), the star of the most famous porn film of all time: Deep Throat.  

Set primarily in the early 70s, we follow Lovelace's progression from faintly rebellious 'girl next door' to internationally famous porn star.  The catalyst for this change is Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a seedy sleazebag who spots her go-go dancing at a rollerdisco and charms his way into her life, quickly marrying her.  Sarsgaard's Chuck Traynor is one of the slimiest characters I've seen on screen this year and through a combination of threats of violence and mental pressure soon gains total influence over Linda.  Soon he's more pimp than husband, selling her off to bored businessmen to raise a few dollars.

His debts mount up, so Traynor convinces Linda to audition for a porn film, using their home movies as a showreel.  The subsequent product, Deep Throat, becomes an instant sensation, grossing a reported $600 million (although this figure is suspiciously high). Propelled into stardom by the movie's popularity Linda becomes "the face of the sexual revolution" finding herself hobnobbing with the cream of Hollywood (in the most literal sense).  It seems glamorous, but it's here that the movie peels back the skin, revealing that what may have seemed sexy and daring was actually a litany of abuse, regret and torment.

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace
The obvious point of comparison is Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights.  The two films share a queasy early 70s brown sheen, the same fashions and hairstyles and many of the same personality types.  Both films explore how the porn industry exploit and corrupt those that work within it. Linda Lovelace and Boogie Nights' Dirk Diggler initially share a similar dramatic arc - beginning as fresh-faced innocents and quickly picking up scars both physical and mental.  Boogie Nights is the better movie, but Lovelace, in showing us this world from a female perspective and with the weight of reality behind has the stronger message.

What Lovelace does fantastically is show us Linda's increasing status as product rather than person. The woman behind the glitz, Linda Boreman, is quietly sidelined, replaced by the shiny, sexually free, expert cock sucker Linda Lovelace.  She's passed around by the men in her life like a piece of valuable real estate, her body strip-mined, invasively photographed, her name plastered on the sides of dildos and across billboards.  

The apotheosis is the Linda Lovelace Inflatable Doll, the perfect symbol of how Traynor visualises his wife: staring eyes, freckles, stringy hair, a pair of tits, a plastic pussy and a gaping, ready set of crimson lips.  Linda immediately recognises this as an accurate reflection, and is horrified. Notably absent from the doll is Linda's a large c-section scar a constant reminder to both us in the audience and the characters in the film that she's not just a sex kitten, she's a mother and a very flesh and blood person.

Lovelace shows us the porn industry as a black hole of degradation, sucking in the morals of everyone involved in it.  The director of Lovelace Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria) is obviously artistically frustrated by the constraints of porn, it makes Chuck Traynor (already despicable) into a destructive monster.  Even the king of classy, socially acceptable pornography, Hugh Hefner (James Franco) is portrayed as directly complicit in Linda's abuse.  The film has a little fun with this, most notably when, immediately after Linda has swallowed her co-stars semen, we cut to the cast downing raw, salty oysters in celebration.

Interestingly, Linda's commodification doesn't end with her liberation from the porn industry, when she gains autonomy she continues selling herself, but on her own terms.  Linda's tell-all, Ordeal is her taking her awful experiences and turning them into a wildly popular product, thus giving the book a symbolic link to Deep Throat itself.  Both are pornography, Deep Throat obviously so, Ordeal a kind of misery-porn, a litany of the horrors visited on a naive woman by a cruel misogynist.  And eventually, we find Lovelace itself within this continuum.  Linda Lovelace has been dead for 11 years now, and still she is being sold as product to us.

On this level the film succeeds, successfully defining itself as both a critique of the porn industry and a broadly feminist outline of the exploitative misogyny that millions of women labour under.  But as a factual exploration of the life of Linda Lovelace it's a touch simplistic.  At just over 90 minutes long and with a structure that folds back on itself, the narrative is suspiciously streamlined for a biopic. Though this is not a direct criticism of the film, I read Linda Lovelace's Wikipedia entry after the screening and was disappointed to find that one of the most powerful lines of dialogue "I was only in the porn industry for 17 days" is totally inaccurate, a factor that in retrospect robs the film of some of its power.

That aside, Lovelace is well worth seeing.  The supporting cast of Sharon Stone, James Franco, Hank Azaria, Juno Temple and Adam Brody are all great in small roles, with a special mention going to Robert Patrick as Linda's father.  He doesn't get many scenes, but is amazing in all of them.  Sarsgaard is brilliant as Chuck Traynor, emanating a sleazy, low-life air so repellent you find yourself instinctively wishing the very worst for him.  It's Seyfried as Linda that carries the film though, every injury to her wounded body and soul right up there on screen for our horror and also, disquietingly, our entertainment.  Linda Lovelace ad infinitum.


Lovelace is on general release from August 23rd

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