dir: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
I think everyone deserves a biopic made about their lives. Maybe not everyone deserves to have Amanda Seyfried play them in their movie, in both senses of the word "deserves", but surely this will one day come to pass.
As for who should play me in the inevitable biopic of My Life, which should be called Drowning in Awesomeness, I'll leave that to the learned reader to decide. Perhaps bloviating windbag Kevin Smith? Or Comic-Book Guy from The Simpsons? Mark Ruffalo after a serious car accident? Philip Seymour Hoffman? Ron Perlman? Tom Waits lesser known cousin Guido?
So many choices. During Linda Lovelace's life, she being the subject of this startling and depressing biopic, if you'd shown her a picture of Amanda Seyfried, and told her that one day she would be playing Linda in the story of her life, she probably would have been flattered. Flattered and confused, as I am, a little bit.
Confused, not flattered. Seyfried is not an actor who I enjoy, in that, her presence in any flick generally makes me like the flick a little less if her role is important. When it's not central to a flick, it's something I can tolerate, if not endure. Those seasons in which she appeared in the television series Big Love constitute one long unbroken and unvarying performance of sobbing and screeching in a voice that would make nails-on-a-blackboard itself cringe. Many of her other performances in fairly mediocre movies have done little to change my mind.
I am unfair to her, as I am unfair to most actors. She puts in a good performance here, with a character that is complicated in a story that is simple. Simple but still disturbing.
She plays the role as if Linda Lovelace is an Oscarbait role, which doesn't detract from the performance at all, though it makes the flick seem a bit flimsy. Her Linda is almost an innocent, a girl naive to the wickedness of the world, especially the wickedness of men, who is nonetheless a person, a woman, a thinking being who finds herself in a situation from which there are no easy outs. This quick summary is pat, I admit, and it sounds like I'm being unfair to the flick, and I don't think I am. I really didn't feel that the characterisation encompassed the truth about the person or the potency of the symbolism she came to represent about a woman's place in society and the many ways men found to exploit them.
Her story is far more complicated than how her biography is outlined here. Maybe it didn't need to be. Maybe it was enough to honour the woman, to set out the many horrible ways she was controlled and pimped out by her horrible husband Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaad), and to represent at least the watershed event in the mainstreaming of filth that was the flick Deep Throat.
It's meant to be a cultural watershed, but it's reduced to a pop cultural reference. As the flick would have it, she became the most desired and reviled woman in America, simultaneously the most lusted-after sex object and the most worthless untouchable in all of Christendom.
I know, that sounds like an interesting dichotomy, but the most we learn about this is that Chuck, a loathsome monster with barely any shadings to his character, forced her into this role, after training her into being able to deepthroat on command, like a pet trained to perform a particularly staggering trick.
I'm not going to talk about that kind of stuff in my review, because... because it's kind of irrelevant. At least the flick makes 'that', whatever it is she does, kind of irrelevant. The film makes the point, very heavy-handedly, that none of this would have happened if Chuck Traynor wasn't such a monstrous prick, and that whatever we've seen or think we know about Linda from the past is a story solely of sexual abuse and exploitation, and that eventually she was able to transcend these horrors to live a mostly normal life.
And good on her for doing so. If only this was actually true.
I confess to never having watched the actual film in question (this film I watched, don't be like that, I mean her endeavours in adult entertainment), but I have read Ordeal, and I watched the documentary about the film called Inside Deep Throat, which is a very good documentary, at that. I read Ordeal at a very early and impressionable age, so at no stage during my youth or early twenties did I ever think of the 'golden' era of the industry as represented in Boogie Nights as being anything but a horrible and grim charnel house of an industry predicated upon the misery of women.
Some of the stuff from Ordeal is shown here, some of it is referred to, but there's even more horrific stuff that Linda wrote about that doesn't come into the light, and that's probably a good thing. It's far more horrifying than anything we see or hear. Her relationship with Chuck at no stage seems like a happy or pleasant one: right from the start, even knowing nothing about what's to come, it has the grim queasiness of watching someone groom a young person for their own sick needs, or in this case, money.
Chuck is domineering and controlling, but he's also the embodiment of the particular kind of man that the industry relied upon in the past. I'm only going to speak in generalities and such, because it's not like I'm an expert on this or any other topic, but he perfectly captures this concept I'll set out here. I remember hearing or reading a phrase back in the 1990s that referred to a very particular kind of man: a suitcase pimp.
Everyone, thanks to so much praise from rappers everywhere knows what a pimp is: a man who's deemed to be supercool because he compels a number of women to prostitute themselves for his profit. A suitcase pimp like Chuck is something so much more special. In this era where any woman with a webcam can produce her own "material" and have it on the tubes of the internets before the washing machine has finished its rinse cycle, suitcase pimps are a complete anachronism. But they apparently existed, if only for a while. And I’m sure there are plenty of scumbags doing it to this day.
A suitcase pimp like Chuck is the kind of guy who would compel his actual partner, whether wife or girlfriend, into performing in these kinds of filthy, filthy movies. The suitcase pimp would never be a guy that was actually capable of performing himself in these movies himself, but he would happily carry the suitcase containing her clothing, lingerie, toys etc to the set. He would hand her the inevitable towel afterwards to wipe herself down. If anyone had gotten the 'girl' addicted to anything, it was him, because that would make her more pliable, more desperate to please him, and thus she would fund and supply his own habit. Despite being the one who forced her into this trade, he would also get horribly jealous about the guys he was making her have sex on camera with, and being an insecure and truly selfish piece of shit, would inevitably take it out on her in the form of violent physical and sexual abuse.
Everything I've outlined above might seem far-fetched, or too extreme, but this is a crystal clear account of what Chuck Traynor comes across as in this flick, and far worse in real life. The list of abuses and humiliations he dealt out to that poor woman is long, and depressing.
And why does Linda put up with all of this? Because... Catholicism?
I know it seems a bit rich, but there's a heartbreaking scene where, in trying to escape her awful husband if only for a few days, she thinks she can rely on her parents to help her out. Her mother (Sharon Stone) disabuses her of this notion in the strongest way possible. As if her mother didn't deserve a Mother of the Year trophy already, when her daughter plaintively states that Chuck is physically abusing her, the mother blames the daughter, stating that she must have done something wrong to deserve it. Then she serves up a steaming sermon of piousness by telling her daughter that her duty as wife is to do whatever her husband wants. Whatever that might be.
Mother of the year, for sure.
She might be unrecognisable, but Sharon Stone being here can't just be a coincidence. After the segment where Linda goes on Donohue, in which Seyfried is digitally inserted into the actual footage, quite well, I thought, it came to me that Sharon Stone's presence is significant and symbolic as well.
Why? Well, during Linda's appearance on the show, amongst many other points she makes, the significant one is that she was in the 'industry' for only a number of days, I think she said seventeen, and she further states that it's inaccurate and unfair for that paltry amount of time, or what she did during that time, forced at gunpoint by Chuck, in some instances, to define the rest of her life.
It's the most fundamental cry for truth women have been making for centuries, in that all of society's misogyny, so deeply entrenched, means that we place a label on a woman for the sex she's had or never had, as if it should permanently mark them in a way that we never, ever think is applicable to males. Sex is a transitory thing for males, but a perpetual scarlet letter that must follow around women to the end of their days. And who better exemplifies that than Linda Lovelace?
Well, Sharon Stone does. Talk about a woman who was defined by a single act; the simple act of uncrossing one's legs, as if she was the sole possessor of a vagina in existence, and we discovered it for the first time in Basic Instinct.
Every single thing she's done in her career since then has been defined by those few seconds of screen time, branding her for life. Who better to play the stern, disapproving mother of the most famous pornstar of all time?
All the performances are strong, but not all of them are enjoyable to watch. Peter Sarsgaard does the singular trick of showing how Chuck Traynor got into a position of power over Linda, but never makes the mistake of making him into a charming or seductive sociopath. He looks and acts like a narcissitic and scuzzy monster throughout. And they don’t even go into the hypnotism bullshit he apparently was into either, and they leave out many of his worst abuses of Linda, as if too much truth would be too much to bear.
There’s meant to be this way that the film is split in two, with a ‘happy’ version of Linda’s rise to power, and the ‘true’ version, but in truth I couldn’t really see the distinction. The second half adds details to the scenes we see at first, but they were depressing enough as it was. The additional scenes, showing Chuck’s worse excesses, and even a scene showing that Linda wasn’t even safe from an alleged ‘gentleman’ like Hugh Hefner, just make a sad story even more bitter.
For all that, I still ‘enjoyed’ the flick. We need reminders of how terribly women get treated even today, and the rest of society either sits back or applauds it because they make a buck out of it. Even if the flick isn’t entirely accurate or honest (they leave out Linda’s struggles with drug addiction, they leave out her return to that kind of ‘work’ even after her declarations and public speaking out against the industry, they also leave out the worst ‘stuff’ that was done to her on screen and off screen, perhaps because they feared it would make her less sympathetic), it’s still a story that needs to be seen.
Still, I can’t argue that it’s any more illuminating than the doco I referred to earlier. Even if it tries to recast Amanda Seyfried as a ‘serious’ actress, and doesn’t build a serious enough story around her, it’s still a noble attempt that achieves what it set out to do: give a voice to someone most people didn’t want to hear from.
7 times this world sometimes seems like a place too horrible to have brought a daughter into out of 10
“Fifty, maybe a hundred thousand.”
- “To do another fuck film? “
“No, Linda, it's Shakespeare. I told them you do a great English accent, particularly with a cock down your throat.” – always a class act, aren’t you, you piece of shit Chuck – Lovelace.