Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany
Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Friday, January 31, 2014

Now on Netflix Instant: Lovelace Movie Review

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace with James Franco as Hugh Hefner

     Naturally, when a movie called Lovelace came out it caught my attention, even if I didn’t feel the need to rush out and see it. First of all, it suffered middling to bored reviews, and secondly, this chick has already had her pound of flesh from me. If the film did well, it seemed to me,  I could be facing a future much like my past: blow job jokes from here to eternity. For this deep-throated interloper, born Linda Boreman, stole my name when I was but 5 years old!
Sharon Stone as Linda Lovelace's repressive mother

       Thankfully, the flick sunk like a (sharon?) stone and I got my chance to see it for free-ish on TV not long after it came out. My Netflix Instant reviews usually involve a certain amount of Monday morning quarter-backing, and this one will be no exception. But before I get into all the things that rendered Lovelace a predictable commercial failure, I'll confess that I found it unexpectedly moving at times. But then again, I’m a Lovelace, always have been, always will be. "Linda Lovelace," on the other hand, died in a car crash in 2002 as Linda Marciano.
    In a time when we have all agreed to find the excesses of the Seventies delightfully daft, not to mention prettily promiscuous, Lovelace dares to be drab. In spite of the inevitable tacky bright prints worn by the actors, this is a  film largely drained of color, with a brownish wash over the whole thing. This is not Boogie Nights,  nor is it the Academy Award nominated American Hustle.       
Amy Adams in  American Hustle
Amanda Seyfried does show her breasts, but briefly, and in dispiriting circumstances. There is nothing remotely like the kick of Heather Graham  skating topless as Roller Girl. And in place of the radiant Amy Adams, Seyfried is shrouded in dyed dark hair, dark contact lenses and prominent freckles (Lovelace was no looker).  In the latter portions of the film, she’s shrouded in feminist shrouds.


Linda Lovelace in the second half of her career, as an anti-porn activist
The music in Lovelace, while prominent, is not joyful or nostalgic, as in the other, more successful throw-back films, but is used mainly as ironic counterpoint to the action on screen (that is, we might get a groovy song like Ring My Bell while Lovelace is getting gang raped). Actually, I made that up; I mean the actual song, not the ironic counterpoint or the gang rape. While American Hustle has Elton John songs, used to soaring, almost operatic effect, Lovelace doesn’t feature instantly recognizable period hits. “Spirit of the Sky,” played while she gets her first lesson in fellatio, is the most recognizable by far and the only one I remember.
    Where American Hustle celebrates the scrappy art of the small time hustler (very 70s!), the real life hustler of Lovelace, her husband and sometimes pimp, Chuck Traynor, is far from sympathetic. He’s much closer, in fact, to the real life Paul Snider, the subject of Star 80. As played by Eric Roberts Snider was an unattractive fellow, dangerous when cornered, culminating in the ugly rape/murder scene of Playmate Dorothy Stratten. Lovelace, while not nearly as accomplished Star 80, is close in spirit to Fosse’s film, and  is similarly concerned with the dark side of the sexual revolution industry. There is deliberate overlap between the two films, as Eric Roberts makes an appearance here administering the polygraph Lovelace must pass for her publishers. Hugh Hefner, a pivotal presence in Star 80, appears in Lovelace as well (played by James Franco), reinforcing that film’s disturbing notion that even that most air-brushed, lucrative branches of the porn industry, such as Playboy, demand a de facto farm team of small-time hustlers, pimps and prostitutes to draw from.  Or Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, if you want to get Cher about it.

Eric Roberts in Lovelace
The only thing experimental about this earnest film lies in its unusual structure: the first half treating Lovelace’s rise to celebrity, the second half deconstructing that rise from her later perspective, as expressed in Ordeal. As I recall, this structure was widely criticized, with critics asking which version we were supposed to believe. I disagree, however;  I don't find the two versions all that hard to reconcile, and the shift in tone seems true to my lived experience of her story. The first I heard about her was as a child, with adults giggling naughtily at the name Lovelace (mine). This Linda Lovelace seemed fun if slightly threatening. By the time Ordeal came out I was 13; this time around her name seemed to signify something grim and possibly fraudulent. It was strange to be reminded of the widespread resistance to Lovelace’s memoir when it came out. What I find astonishing at this point is that people found her story hard to believe. Her story in fact seems familiar to the point of inanity:  that she had come from an unhappy family, met a charming man who made her promises about a new life and stardom but instead fed her drugs and got her involved in prostitution, leading, eventually, to Deep Throat. Jeez, what bombshell will she drop on us next, that her clitoris isn't really in her neck?
    Deep Throat marked the moment when porn entered mainstream American culture. The story Lovelace tells about that moment is not one we particularly want to hear in 2014, when images that would previously have been considered X-rated now hover over public thoroughfares, selling everything from vodka to the plastic surgery you'll evidently need in order to participate. (I'm talking about old-fashioned billboards, but of course our electronic byways are largely porn-powered.)  As I navigate my own daughters along Pacific Coast Highway, I feel moments of sadness about where we're going. And the sadness doesn’t lift, not even as the bouncy, disco-infused “Blurred Lines” comes on the radio.

--Grace Lovelace


  1. During the brief (not brief enough) flurry of Linda Lovelace 70's notoriety, I shared a name , Lynne Lovelace, close enough to be inconvenienced, embarrassed and mostly annoyed at the attention my previously innocuous name brought me. The only mention Lovelace ever evoked prior to the porno film excitement was to Richard Lovelace, the poet. Wow, what a change!
    After the dust settled and my shared namesake wrote about her pathetic and dreary stardust experience, I felt sad for her and hoped we were both done with the Deep Throat Era, Her resurrection in the movie Lovelace simply brought a poignant reminder of how close sexual exploitation still is for many women in this best of all possible worlds- sad to say.

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  3. Great review, especially the portion at the end, which indubitably, sadly, is true. Love the "Star 80s" comparison: I remember watching that film sitting outside on a deck chair in a neighbors yard, where she had a perfect view of a big, drive-in screen. Of course I didn't have access to sound but only could see the (pretty disturbing) images. Only a few years later did I watch it with sound and saw the film proper and understood why I was so disturbed by it.

  4. Star 80 is a difficult film, much hated when it was released. It pretty much ended Bob Fosse's film career. Well, that and the massive heart attack. It was maybe too raw and close to the actual Stratten murder--Fosse actually broke into the Westwood house where the killing took place and had his set designer take photos of the blood-stained walls and carpet. It was also a story, like Lovelace, no one particularly wanted told in much detail.
    I'm writing about Fosse right now, so naturally Star 80 came to mind.