New Film "Lovelace" Leaves a Lot to Be Desired

A dude with  a gross mustache leans over Amanda Seyfried in Lovelace

The name, the legend, the fantasy, the pariah, the political lightening rod: Linda Lovelace stood for a sexual revolution that she could not enjoy for herself. She made porn mainstream as the star of infamous movie Deep Throat, yet porn was something she was forced to do by her abusive husband. New biopic Lovelace is not a celebration of sex, porn, or the infamy of Deep Throat— it's a look at the unhappy life she lived off-camera. 

Born Linda Boreman, the real-life star escaped her strict Florida home with her future husband, Chuck Traynor. He forced her into prostitution and short skin flicks. She was renamed Linda Lovelace and given a role in the wildly profitable Deep Throat. But behind the scenes, she continued to suffer Traynor's tyranny. poster for Deep Throat

The first half of the movie establishes Boreman's life prior to her relationship and continues through a major Playboy-sponsored screening. Then the picture rewinds itself and elaborates on the abuse Boreman survived during her tumultuous marriage and short porn career. It's graphic, depicting beatings, threats, and a gang rape. Mercifully, the directors are tactful when it comes to cutting and framing their shots so as never push the boundaries too far, but the movie is emotionally manipulative in staging the title character's brief triumphs next to devastating lows. Events happen out of order for dramatic effect, as biopics are tend to do, but the film becomes an uncomfortable cycle: for every good moment Boreman enjoys, the film then cuts to a scene of violence.

Not many movies could pull off the same plot twice (you didn't actually watch The Hangover 2, right?), and unfortunately, "Lovelace" cannot justify visiting the same scenes twice only to add a layer of brutality. Why not play chronologically? For one, it's tedious watching the same story twice in a 90-minute span. But for those who are affected by violence on-screen, it's akin to sitting through the same triggers twice. Apparently the two halves are based on the two memoirs Boreman published once she left Traynor, but the questionable craftsmanship leaves the audiences to feel déjà vu of an uncomfortable kind.

Interestingly, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman and writer Andy Bellin (hi dudes!) do not delve into the messy topic of her involvement with the feminist anti-pornography movement. Back in the early 80s, feminists like Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, and Catharine MacKinnon spoke out against the exploitation of women in the porn industry. Boreman was a textbook example, having been coerced to the industry by her abusive husband. She spoke at rallies, colleges, and talk shows, but would later regret her involvement. As she explained it in the book, The Other Hollywood, "Between Andrea Dworkin and Kitty MacKinnon, they've written so many books, and they mention my name and all that, but financially they've never helped me out. When I showed up with them for speaking engagements, I'd always get five hundred dollars or so. But I know they made a few bucks off me, just like everybody else."

The debate around the career and life of Linda Lovelace is much more dynamic and important than what the movie ultimately depicts. The omission of her anti-porn action and a mere title card mentioning her domestic abuse activism leaves the audience with little more than a portrait of a victim.

Contrast that to 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat, which features interviews with surviving stars and crew who knew Linda and spoke about their experience with her, including her about-face on their industry. This documentary painted a much-needed portrait of her complicated story, discussing her career's impact on changing sexual norms and issues of consent, domestic abuse, the male gaze, and how the adult entertainment industry still marginalizes women and minorities.

Lovelace isn't a catalyst; it's just another unchallenging fantasy. 

Read more feminist movie reviews and film coverage


Want the best of Bitch in your inbox? Sign up for our free weekly reader!

Read and buy Bitch magazine's current print issue!

Guess what? Subscriptions to Bitch—our award-winning, 80+ page print quarterly—are 20% off to help us reach our $25,000 funding goal by September 30. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

6 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Exactly what are you trying

Exactly what are you trying to accomplish by pointing out that the directors happen to be men? Are you familiar with Rob Epstein's work?

Men engaging in

Men engaging in brutalization/exploitation of women's pain and stories especially in the context of gendered violence should not be treated as something totally happening in a vacuum, are you new here?

Gratuitous Violence in Film

I haven't seen this film (and don't plan to) but I have to agree in principle. Hollywood finds it so easy to splatter the screen and our consciousness with violence just "for fun." I'm fond of the perspective of the late Father Ellwood Kaiser, founder of the Insight film series, who said that he had no problem with violence in film, as long as it wasn't violence for violence sake, but was depicted in its full context, showing the conditions leading to it and the impacts on people in its aftermath.

I'm familiar with his work,

I'm familiar with his work, including the wonderful documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" and "The Celluloid Closet," but it does not mean he and the other filmmakers get a pass.

A few quick stats: -Only 17% of narrative features are directed by women -About 30% of filmmakers (directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors) are female -There are 15.24 male directors for each 1 female director. Take that into consideration with the systemic roadblocks facing women in the industry: unequal pay and male-dominated networking, keep women from the director's chair of bigger projects. Source: The Sundance Institute.

So industry as a whole is pretty male dominated. This summer saw one of the worst droughts in female leading roles. "Lovelace" is one of the rare entries to defy that. But historically, the film industry has been terrible for female directors and writers. So, here's a woman's story/biopic, but men are hired to tell her story. Why is that?

Pointing out that he's a man places the film in larger context of the industry.

Will see this

Looking forward to seeing this as I remember so well when both Deep Throat was released and Ordeal, Linda Lovelace's expose. Also the porn wars of the 80s. I don't see how Dworkin or MacKinnon made very much money (if any) for their antiporn crusades, so that part of what Linda says does't ring true, although I can imagine her feeling this way, used by people. She made paltry money for starring in Deep Throat which of course has grossed millions
The porn industry calls it the "Linda" syndrome when porn stars turn their back on the industry bc of Lovelace criticizing them in later years when they say she seemed perfectly fine at the time.
I've read Sasha Grey is now being given the cold shoulder by her former colleagues and is persona non grata in the industry-- as she is trying to move on and distance herself from porn.
Interesting.

I actually really liked

I actually really liked Lovelace. I thought the acting was brilliant and the juxtaposition of Linda's life on the surface with the dark underbelly of her reality was really affecting (though I can definitely acknowledge the triggers) and not tedious at all.
But I will agree that the film needed MUCH more of Linda's post-porn life; why did they cut Sarah Jessica Parker as Gloria Steinem?! I was dying to see that! At only 90 minutes I'm sure they could have squeezed some of that into the script. Maybe they're thinking about a sequel...?