David Stratton is impressed by Lovelace
ON the evening of October 21, 1972, I went to the North Beach cinema in San Francisco to see Deep Throat, a 62-minute porn film directed by ‘‘ Jerry Gerard’’, whose real name was Gerard Damiano, and starring Linda Lovelace.
I wasn’t very interested in porn films but Deep Throat was something rather different; hailed by one critic as ‘‘ the Ben-Hur of hard-core’’, the film even was reviewed (favourably) in the august trade journal Variety, whose critic Addison Verrill found it ‘‘ a superior piece ... above par. Performances are spirited, especially that of the femme lead . . . put together with some style.’’
What was unusual about the evening was that the cinema was filled with couples; Deep Throat was one of a handful of porn films that aimed for audiences beyond male-only enclaves; they were dubbed ‘‘ porn chic’’.
Lovelace seemed to be enjoying her eyepopping activities in the film, and her sense of humour elevated what was, of course, extremely modest material.
Years later, when she told her side of the story, a different picture emerged, not least that she was paid a reported $1250 for her role in a film that grossed an estimated $600 million.
For their first dramatic feature, Lovelace, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (who made The Times of Harvey Milk, among other high-quality documentaries) have attempted, with considerable success, to tell the disturbing story of Linda, extremely well played by Amanda Seyfried, who we first meet living with her parents, played by Robert Patrick and an almost unrecognisable Sharon Stone, in suburban Miami. By beginning the film at this point, the directors and screenwriter Andy Bellin gloss over her early life, which consisted of an unhappy childhood in New York, involvement in a couple of traffic accidents and an early pregnancy (the child was adopted).
The film cuts to the chase, picking up Linda’s story when she meets Chuck Traynor (played by Peter Sarsgaard, an actor who seems to be making a career of playing sleazy characters), who in short order seduces her and, when her parents throw her out, marries her. Traynor teaches her to expand her sexual horizons and encourages her to have sex with other men, sometimes for money. He also arranges for her to play the role of the heroine in Deep Throat, a comedy in which the sexually active heroine has never experienced an orgasm until — well, I’ll leave it to your imagination.
The scenes of the film’s production are as intimately detailed as it’s possible to be in a mainstream production, with Hank Azaria’s Damiano suitably impressed by his young star’s prowess and Adam Brody effortlessly charming as Linda’s legendarily well-endowed co-star while the shady money men (Bobby Cannavale, Chris Noth) can hardly contain themselves at the prospect of all that revenue.
At the time of its release, many people saw Deep Throat as a natural part of the sexual revolution, but the film cleverly undercuts that perception. Epstein and Friedman divide Linda’s story into two parts, the first part, up to and including the hugely successful release of the film — with Linda being feted by celebrities such as Sammy Davis Jr and Hugh Hefner, played by James Franco — plays like a traditional success story in which a talented youngster becomes a star. But then the dark side of Linda’s story is depicted and scenes are repeated, but from a different, more sinister perspective. Suddenly the whole thing appears unbearably squalid and demeaning, Linda’s exploitation by Traynor takes on a new dimension, and the poster girl for the new morality becomes a victim. The film doesn’t explore Linda’s late-in-life conversion to Christianity or her addiction to drugs but it does