The first way to approach ‘Lovelace‘, the newest biopic about famous ‘Deep Throat’ star Linda Lovelace, is in sympathizing with its main character. Written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeff Friedman (‘Howl’), ‘Lovelace’ stars Amanda Seyfried as the eponymous porn star ill fatedly married to Chuck Traynor, played hauntingly by Peter Sarsgaard, a highly abusive husband looking to exploit his wife’s oral talents. Spanning her entire career, the film captures Linda’s rise and fall within the celebrity of ‘Deep Throat’ and the hidden life she suffered through domestically up to her decision to publish “Ordeal,” an autobiography about her painful publicly closeted exploits.
The second and arguably less partial way to approach ‘Lovelace’ is in understanding the culture and upbringing of the film’s more marginal but no less important characters through the lens of the 1970s. On the cusp of the sexual revolution, the pornography industry became a platform for young women to claim their sexuality and sense of independence.
But these developing new sets of values were hardly received warmly by the older generation of hardworking, conservative women, embodied in this film by Linda’s mother, played powerfully by Sharon Stone. At a recent press conference, actors from the film, aside from answering questions about their preparation and research, engaged in dialogue about these characters and their participation/withdrawal in the evolving and liberating decade.
“I grew up in that era and there were a lot of those ladies where I grew up in deep Pennsylvania,” says Stone. “It wasn’t that unusual to see working women in the 70s…so it was a wonderful opportunity for me to play what this country is based on: real hard-working mothers who are often single mothers trying to raise their kids and coming from tough backgrounds.”
The relationship between Linda and her sharp-edged mother Dorothy emerges as a microcosm of the two competing feminine ideologies and becomes one of the film’s most potent relationships. Ostensibly raised with strict family values and a domestic hierarchy that pit the father as the breadwinner and mother as the dutiful subordinate, Dorothy faces the hard realities in seeing her daughter stray from the structured path. In the film, sunbathing topless and breaking curfew become severely punishable offenses for Linda, warranting slaps across the face from Dorothy. It’s the beginning of their mother-daughter dissonance.
“You really get the sense that she’s trying to be what she thinks is a good mother,” says Friedman. “The way she goes about it is horrifying at times, but is trying to do the right thing. Partly it’s a result of the times, and of her own upbringing, but you never feel it’s coming from a place of evil.”
The evil might be left for Chuck Traynor, a man who creates a façade of warmth and innocence that quickly turns a seemingly stable marriage into one of lustful greed and violence. But a lot of what strains and lacks in Linda and Dorothy’s relationship is a vocabulary to discuss domestic violence within their generational gap.
“One of the reasons I took this part is that the mother is the key element in all our lives,” says Stone. “You see a mother in a time when women’s rights were not yet really clear and when information for women was not yet clear, and you can see how desperately she needed that information, how much it could’ve helped her.”
“Neither of them have the language with which to talk about it, so it’s all the unspoken, and we’re fortunately at a different place in terms of what we know,” adds Epstein.
Maybe the most emblematic scene of this inability to communicate effectively comes when Linda asks her mother for temporary refuge. Even after explaining through sobs that she can’t be with her husband for a few nights, Dorothy rejects her daughter’s plea to escape abuse. “You made a vow,” she tells Linda bluntly.
The revelation within the cult hysteria of Deep Throat was that Linda’s career in pornography lasted just 17 days. Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale, and Chris Noth play the three-man movie enterprise that film Linda’s special ability and James Franco makes an absurd presence as Hugh Hefner transfixed by her on screen talent. They present the glitz of the industry and the extremely bankable mythology Linda promotes. The revenue from the film is up for debate, making anywhere from $100-600 million, but what’s not is that Linda never received a cent from it.
It was that kind of false-reality dichotomy that probably dictated the film’s narrative structure. Many of ‘Lovelace’’s scenes are viewed the first time through an omniscient perspective, but get retraced and re-enacted a second time exposing the darker truths of Linda’s experiences. In certain ways, it was a microcosm for the sexual revolution, seen by men in one light, experienced by women in another.
“In the context of this film, pornography stands in for the sexual revolution,” says Friedman. “It’s something that’s been mythologized…and it was a lot more complex than it seemed.”
He adds, “In my view, it was mostly beneficial for heterosexual men, although a lot of women probably had a good time too. But I think it was a gradual process for women to claim their bodies.”
The film’s dissection of the sexual revolution’s outside perception and its inside reality mimics the misconceptions people outside of the pornography industry had.
“I think there was a little bit of an illusion at that time about sexual freedom, in the same way they [the directors] talked about not having language for domestic violence. People jumped into it without knowing the dangers,” says Noth. “We celebrated one side of it saying it was freedom, not knowing the damage it could cause when you take it too far. “
The damage to Linda is clearly evident in Epstein and Friedman’s interpretation. But, besides her fans, the ripple effect of her notoriety reached others, notably her parents. In a telling scene, Johnny Carson makes Linda Lovelace the butt of a joke during his monologue one night, forcing Dorothy and her husband, sitting rigid in their flowered wallpaper and carpeted living room, to instantly shut the TV off.
“It’s important to know everybody has three dimensions to them,” says Seyfried. “You can’t just project your own feelings or opinions about things on to other people because everyone’s a human being.”
She’s talking about her character Linda, but might as well be describing her character’s mother Dorothy. In her time advocating against pornography after leaving the industry, Linda Boreman (her birth name) knew the dangers and scars, both mental and physical, that preyed upon the naiveté of women like her.
“At that time, there was almost an innocence about it [pornography]. There wasn’t the knowledge of what could come from that,” adds Noth.
“Nothing’s changed but everything’s changed.”
– Jake Kring-Schriefels
Read Jake’s Excellent Film and Sports Blog ‘Peanuts & Popcorn’ – HERE