from www.nytimes.com – “Lovelace,” a movie about the chasm between public perception and private experience, pulls off a sly bait and switch.
It’s inspired by the autobiography of one Linda Boreman, who when she was young, permed and under the spell of a violent pimp earned her place in hard-core history by suppressing her gag reflex in the 1972 film “Deep Throat.”
With its “Boogie Nights” typeface and mustachioed dudes as slick and artificial as their Qiana threads, “Lovelace” promises the down-and-dirty best (or worst) with a snigger and pulsating beats. It delivers just as promised only to do a 180 in order to tell another, uglier story, this one involving beatings, rape and 24/7 terror.
In the contemporary pornotopia, when explicit sexual entertainments are a mouse click away, it can be difficult to appreciate the impact that “Deep Throat” had in the United States on its release.
Released in June 1972 in a Times Square theater, this hourlong dirty movie became a sensation, a touchstone, a disgrace, providing ample fodder for snickering late-night talk shows and bloviating editorial writers alike.
Norman Mailer weighed in as did Bob Hope, who’s seen briefly in “Lovelace” joking that he thought it was about a giraffe. In The New York Review of Books, the feminist Ellen Willis said it best, finding the movie “witless, exploitative and about as erotic as a tonsillectomy.” Then as now, though, few seemed interested in the actual woman on screen.
The directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman first pull the curtain back when Boreman (Amanda Seyfried, poignantly melancholic) was at the height of her porn career and known as Linda Lovelace, the It (or Ick) Girl for the sexual revolution. She’s sitting and smoking in a bubble bath and, if you don’t look at her too closely — and, at the time, apparently few did — you might miss the cuts and bruises.
This is the Linda that the world didn’t see and who, even as her body became a public spectacle, nursed her wounds in private. She was the queen of the dirty movies, but here, as this symbolic purification suggests, her life would soon receive a cleansing.
It does, in a way, though without the sanctimony other filmmakers might have brought to the story. Instead, Mr. Epstein and Mr. Friedman, whose credits, together and separately, include the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” and the fact-informed fiction “Howl” (about the times of Allen Ginsberg), have directed a movie that embraces the idea that history belongs both to those who live and those who write it, and that all histories, no matter how they cling to the facts, are necessarily incomplete, contingent, interpreted and shaped into stories.
The philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who in his book “Memory, History, Forgetting,” put it beautifully:
Under history, memory and forgetting.
Under memory and forgetting, life.
But writing a life is another story.
After that ritual bath, “Lovelace” gets its mojo going with a flashback to 1970, opening on a scene of Linda and her close and apparently only friend, Patsy (Juno Temple), sunbathing in the Boreman family’s Florida backyard.
When Patsy innocently unties Linda’s bikini top, Linda demurs. Don’t be such a prude, Patsy teases. In most other stories, this line as well as Linda’s resistance might register as insignificant, but here it initiates a counter-narrative that runs quietly through the first half and rises to a roar in the second.
Adding foreboding piquancy, as well as psychological clues, is a looming, oversize statue of the Virgin Mary and the weirdly twinned figure of Linda’s rampaging, hectoring mother, Dorothy Boreman (Sharon Stone, simmering with dark hair and scowl).
Working from their own script, Mr. Epstein and Mr. Friedman bring on the putative good times and vibes with narrative economy and period flair.
(The real Boreman wrote several memoirs, including “Ordeal.”)
Structurally, the story they tell resembles an 18th-century tale of sexual liberation (like the Marquis de Sade’s novel, “Juliette”) that becomes a tale of exploitation (like Sade’s “Justine”), with Boreman’s later marriage to Larry Marchiano, her children and anti-pornography activism little more than a coda.
Mostly, it’s girl meets pimp-husband (an excellent Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Traynor), who ushers her into the world of sexual pleasure and pornography that becomes a hell. It’s a story that, as the porn director Candida Royalle once said of “Ordeal,” has more to do with domestic abuse than pornography.
Boreman later characterized her appearance in “Deep Throat” as rape, yet she also wrote that it was “at once a low point and a salvation.” That’s a difficult, complex idea, and there’s a lot in this story about victimization and agency that Mr. Epstein and Mr. Friedman never satisfactorily address.
It’s perhaps inevitable that they seem happier when nothing yet feels at stake, including during the production of “Deep Throat.”
(The excellent troika of Hank Azaria, Chris Noth and Bobby Cannavale enliven the proceedings.)
Once the movie flips to present Linda’s take on the same events, it grows grim and then grimmer, which may do justice to her story even as it fails to illuminate the woman who was Linda Boreman — a k a Linda Traynor a k a Linda Marchiano — a k a Linda Lovelace.