Cinema Review: Lovelace

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DIR: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman • WRI: Andy Bellin • PRO: Heidi Jo Markel, Laura Rister, Jason Weinberg, Jim Young • DOP: Eric Alan Edwards • ED: Robert Dalva, Matt Landon • DES: William Arnold • CAST: Amanda Seyfried, James Franco, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple

Lovelace tells the life story of the star of porn’s most successful theatrical release, Deep Throat. That film reportedly earned more than $600 million, while its lead, Linda Lovelace, earned a paltry $1,250.  Lovelace focuses on her relationship with tyrannical husband/manager Chuck Traynor, exposing the sinister side of the sex film industry.

Lovelace traces Linda’s development from naive, almost priggish young girl, through her brief stint as the porn industry’s megastar, to her decision to confess what it was really like. “Ordeal” was the name of her book, and her experiences are unpleasant. The film progresses first as a success story, hinting at something sinister, before going back and revealing unhappy going-ons behind the scenes.

The film notes that Lovelace’s appearance contrasts with the image expected in porn. She’s not the big-breasted blonde with a small waist. Her freckles receive much attention. Amanda Seyfried conveys Linda’s naivety and initial discomfort with her body. The film’s highlight perhaps comes in her scenes with Wes Bentley. Bentley plays a photographer, taking snapshots for the movie’s publicity posters. He encourages Linda to talk, and Seyfried shines in an emotional moment when she realises her own beauty.  (One notes that Wes Bentley played the character in American Beauty who found so much beauty in the world that he couldn’t take it, an incidental intertextual pleasure.)

Seyfried also excels in her scenes with Peter Sarsgaard, excellent as Chuck Traynor. In the film’s early scenes, he imbues Chuck with an unnerving carnality as he glares and flirts with Linda. His presence is overbearing from that start, so that Chuck’s later anger and violence are not all that surprising.

Supporting cast includes enjoyable, if slight, turns by Hank Azaria as Gerry Damiano, Deep Throat‘s director, and Chris Noth (Mr Big in Sex and the City), as Anthony Romano, the film’s financier. Sharon Stone is effective as Linda’s mother.  Chloë Sevigny (The Brown Bunny, more intertextuality) appears as feminist journalist, questioning Lovelace about how it feels to be “the poster girl for the sexual revolution”

Lovelace’s story has become a touchstone in debates concerning pornography. The narrative in Deep Throat addresses the problem that critics identify pornography as attempting to resolve: how to render visually female sexual pleasure. Linda’s character in that massively successful film, nowadays little seen, presents an independent woman seeking to satisfy her own sexual needs.  Her search takes her outside the confines of patriarchal marriage. It locates female sexual pleasure in the clitoris, which, for Linda in Deep Throat, is at the base of her throat. So, Deep Throat became celebrated because it was a “porno with a story”, and the story presented the sexual freedom of a woman in the era of sexual revolution.

The behind-the-scenes story reveals the coercion involved in the industry. It exposes whatever pleasure is to be derived from pornography as purely male. In one scene, Harry Reems (Adam Brody) climaxes too quickly when filming Linda’s first sex scene. The crew watching the scene being performed are entirely male and clearly enjoy watching Linda fellate Harry. The same scene later becomes more chilling with the tyrannical presence of Chuck, watching and making sure that Linda takes part and does what she’s told.

Andy Bellin’s script also characterises the traditional family as coercive and problematic for women.  When Linda turns to her mother for respite from Chuck’s beatings, her mother insists that she should “be a good wife, listen to him and obey him”. Linda endures further threats, violence and misery as a result of doing what’s expected of her.  It’s ironic then that Linda finds happiness as a mother and a wife, ultimately presenting a conservative message:  women should stick to their traditional roles. Of course, Chuck is not a role model husband, pimping his wife and expecting her to perform in porn films.

James Franco appears on the film’s fringes, playing Hugh Hefner. He recently worked with Travis Mathews on Interior. Leather Bar, a film that challenges the workings and apparent realism of pornography in a more cinematically sophisticated manner. Lovelace is itself in some ways pornographic. In a home movie clip, Seyfried’s Lovelace drops her denim shorts, to reveal her bottom in a teasing, sexual manner, whereas, in a similar clip, Sarsgaard’s Chuck “moons” playfully.  Male nudity is a joke; female nudity is charged with desire. In another scene, feeling uncomfortable with her appearance, Linda’s hair hides her breasts and she covers her midriff with her arms, while the men in her life, workers in the sex industry, encourage her to reveal. The film then exposes Seyfried’s breasts in a pornographic fashion, indulging in some of the pleasures that pornography promises.

Critics believe pornography is not art because it intends to arouse; it’s affective pleasures are sensations.  An appeal to rational or critical thinking makes something artistic. The appeal of Lovelace to the emotions, in its simplistic characterisation of Chuck Traynor as Svengali, becomes pornographic, in this sense, when Anthony Romano oversees Chuck’s beating, at which stage viewers will probably take delight in seeing this exploitative man getting what he deserves.

The production design, given its modest $10 million budget, is excellent, with groovy ’70s costumes.  Gladys Knight sings “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” over the opening sequence, in which we cut from the light in a theatrical projection room to a shot of the sun shining through Linda’s car window. The use of classics ’70s tracks, such as Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” and George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby”, give the film an uplifting feel that begins to seem out of place, as the horror of Linda’s story becomes apparent.

Epstein and Friedman, the film’s directors, have made excellent documentaries, including The Celluloid Closet, about homosexuality in the movies, and the Oscar-winning Common Threads Stories from the Quilt, the subject of which is the AIDS memorial quilt. Epstein also won an Oscar for The Times of Harvey MilkParagraph 175 told the story of persecution of gay men in Nazi Germany. Epstein and Friedman recently moved into fictional treatments of real people. Howl (2010) starred James Franco as Allen Ginsberg.

Inside Deep Throat was a well-received documentary that features interviews with the real Linda Lovelace, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 2002. It perhaps explains why Epstein and Friedman resort to a fictional telling of an important story, but the complexity of the debates that Deep Throat and Lovelace’s story provoke is lost in their simplistic film that’s made enjoyable by good performances and incidental pleasures.

John Moran

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details) 

92 mins
Lovelace is released on 23rd August 2013

Lovelace – Official Website

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An Education

An Education

DIR: Lone Scherfig • WRI: Nick Hornby • PRO: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey • DOP: John de Borman • ED: Barney Pilling • DES: Andrew McAlpine • CAST: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike

An Education, funnily enough, presents the story of young schoolgirl Jennie (Carey Mulligan) and chronicles the events her whirlwind education on bridging the gap between childhood and adult life. The film is short, quaint, charming and, most importantly, affecting.

First off, director Lone Scherfig does an excellent job of setting the stage of early 1960s London. I think. Although I have no firsthand experience of this, the atmosphere is set by Jennie’s perpetual boredom with young life, and her eagerness for college, travel and other such worldly experiences. This aptly mirrors the blossoming of the sixties, and the slow transformation from ‘boring’ post war England. Or so I’d imagine. However, the additional references to emerging French Existentialism, social awkwardness regarding Jews (and the French, naturally), and C.S. Lewis help to set the scene delicately. Additionally, the almost militant drive of the female teachers in Jennie’s school to mould their pupils into successful independent women echoes the snowballing feminist thrust of this era nicely.

Perhaps the most significant culture shock of the whole film however, is the interest in and subsequent courtship of Jennie by the charming, businesslike, and altogether very VERY British, David (played by the American Peter Sarsgaard). It is obvious the man could easily be more than twice the sixteen-year-old’s age, and a modern mind instinctively suspects him to be a pervert. However, as this is the early 1960s, I forcibly remind myself that relationships like this were not uncommon. Never the less, for the entire film it is hard to shake the feeling that the man is depraved. Curiously, I admire this trait, as the uneasiness challenges some values of both the sixties and the current decade.

Regarding the pacing, it is not the most exciting film in the world, though it never claims to be. The tempo is steady, with no major peaks or troughs, but with a general acceleration of intrigue, chronicling Jennie’s background, her encounters, her choices, her mistakes and eventually her attempts to rectify them.

As this is not the most sensually arresting film, one would expect the dialogue and character interactions to impress. As expected, they are the film’s strong suit. Each character, despite being VERY British, is distinct and unique, and the fluidity of dialogue between individuals is very realistic. For example, Jennie initially struck dumb on her first few outings with David, is conversely impeccably quick and snappy with her father, which is believable, considering she has sixteen years experience at it.

An Education is such an insulated story that it is difficult to review without giving too much away. However, by the film’s conclusion, there are satisfactory answers to the questions asked therein. With a title like An Education, it doesn’t take a genius to guess the film may occasionally ponder on the merits of having an education. The film comprehensively confirms that although a school is not the only place to receive it, an education is necessary for the transition from childhood in to adult life. A difficult point to fault.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)
An Education
is released on 30th Oct 2009
An Education – Official Website

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Orphan

Orphan

DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: David Johnson • PRO: Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Downey, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Joel Silver • DOP: Jeff Cutter • ED: Timothy Alverson • DES: Tom Meyer • CAST: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder.

Orphan is a remarkable thriller, one of the most sadistic to hit the cinemas in a long time. There have been so many evil children movies that it’s hard for one to set itself apart. This bizarre mix of ridiculous schlock and intense family drama is difficult to swallow but never fails to entertain.

The Coleman family are introduced as a picture-perfect American family. A beautiful house in Connecticut, beautiful parents Kate and John and beautiful children Daniel and Maxine. Kate had recently suffered a stillbirth and in order to soothe that pain, they decide to adopt a child. They find a perfect addition to their family in a local orphanage in the form of beautiful, creative, charming Esther, a 9-year-old Russian girl. However, soon after they bring her home they start to notice some strange things about Esther.

What happens next is a series of nasty events that divide the family. The sense of ‘other’ surrounding Esther allows the audience to believe that John could keep excusing suspicious events and slowly but surely start to believe that Kate has gone mad. Esther wears strange clothes, speaks with a foreign accent and has different mannerisms to her American counterparts. This sense of ‘otherness’ is most evident with respect to the Coleman’s eldest child Daniel. He is disgusted with Esther and refuses to tolerate her quirks. Immediately a division is caused in the family.

The remarkable thing about this film is the sense of unease created by domestic dramas. The veneer of perfection at the beginning quickly starts to peel away. The resultant family drama acts as a wonderful way to build tension, as if a murderous child isn’t enough.

The third act is where things start to get really weird! Esther’s true intentions are revealed to the shock of the audience and there’s a killer twist, which in some ways explains the outrageousness of the events of the film.

This film is genuinely creepy with some delightful gore and an ice-cold colour palette that suits the tone of the film really well. The filmmakers clearly went to great pains to create a clinical and very polished world within the film. The design of the Coleman family home brings to mind 1980s David Cronenberg with its grave austerity and chilling lack of comfort. Apart from visually, the film also delivers at a stern, smooth pace. It moves slowly, but never at the expense of entertainment or drama. At almost two and a half hours, this is a slow-burner, but one that ultimately pays off as it reaches its climax.

From the stunning opening sequence to its very bizarre conclusion, this is a striking film, but be sure to check your disbelief in at the door as this is one preposterous story! Ultimately, it is enjoyable and boasts some fantastic performances from its leads particularly a 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman who, I must say, must have very obliging parents to allow her to play this extremely risky role. If you want a good slow-burning thriller, there’s a lot to like about Orphan. However, be warned: it gets very, very strange.

Charlene Lydon
(See biog here)


Rated 16 (See IFCO website for details)
Orphan is released on 7th August 2009

Orphan – Official Website

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