Appellate Judge Tom Becker's loose lips once sunk a rubber ducky.
The last interview.
Unless DVD Verdict starts reviewing old stag movies, this is likely the last time I will be writing up anything starring (Linda Lovelace for President) or concerning (Lovelace) '70s porn tragedy Linda Lovelace. Not to be cruel, but I'm OK with that.
I am, of course, aware that LL had a miserable life. I've seen her films, read her books, and read other people's take on her story. It's a depressing story, and no one came out of it looking good—not the pornographers who exploited her; not the mainstream celebrities who hustled to see her "forbidden" film, posed for pictures with her, made appearances with her on talk shows and such, and ultimately exploited her; not the feminists, who turned her into a symbol for abused women and an argument against pornography, without ever caring a damn about her as a human being, just exploiting her; not her co-workers in the porn industry; in fact, with all the Lovelace-abilia out there, even her parents, boyfriends, and husbands come off as pretty much opportunistic fiends.
But one of the biggest, saddest problems in the whole story is that Linda Lovelace herself never made for a particularly sympathetic character. As miserable as she might have been as "Linda Lovelace," she never completely divorced herself from the name that had given her so much infamy. Her attempts at a Second Act—mainly, trying to work legitimate theater films—fell flat because she capitalized on the Lovelace name without performing the kinds of things that made Lovelace famous. After her porn days—which basically ended with Deep Throat, which was made after Linda had starred in a few stag films—she became markedly difficult to work with.
And she seemed to never take any responsibility for her decisions or their consequences. Some people—like her mother and first husband Chuck Traynor—were blamed directly; others, like her fans, were blamed by implication—declaring that anyone who saw Deep Throat was watching Lovelace being raped doesn't say much for her fanbase, does it?
Writer and pop culture historian Legs McNeil interviewed the 50-something Lovelace shortly before her death in 2002. At this point, Lovelace was again embracing (rather than rejecting) her porn-star persona, showing up at conventions to sign DVDs and VHS tapes of her films; plus, she'd posed in lingerie for a men's magazine, proving that women of any age can look sexy, especially if they've been airbrushed to the point that they resemble water-color drawings.
For the final interview, Lovelace is decidedly not airbrushed. Looking far older than her actual age, it's post-Deep Throat business as usual, with Lovelace repeating oft-told horror stories. The interview itself clocks in at around 20 or so minutes, hardly enough time to make it a feature.
So, the smarmily titled Linda Lovelace's Loose Lips is a bit deceptive from the get-go; Lovelace doesn't offer up any ship-sinking revelations, instead regurgitating stories she'd been telling since Ordeal was published in 1980. So, to fatten the run-time and make this something more than just a middle-aged woman looking back in muted anger at the terrible things she said happened to her and made her an adult-household name, McNeil offers up more interviews, largely with people who knew and/or worked with Lovelace. McNeil spends a good amount of time recounting the story behind Deep Throat, ground covered much more thoroughly in Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey's Inside Deep Throat. Working on an obviously barely existent budget, McNeil clearly didn't have the resources that Barbato and Bailey did, and it shows.
Much of McNeil's footage consists of talking heads—Lovelace, of course, and others who either knew her, were involved in the porn industry, or people who wrote about the film or the "golden age" of porn. While McNeil documents who's speaking with a text crawl, he doesn't tell us when these people were interviewed or if they have any connection to this actual project; for instance, golden-age porn star Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door), who married Traynor after his divorce from Lovelace, contributes some thoughts, and she looks great—particularly for someone who died in 2009. Ditto Al Goldstein, who passed away in December 2013 (as I was writing this), and whose last years were marked by illness and poverty. I feel it would have made the project stronger and less haphazardish if he'd noted when these people were interviewed and under what circumstances, as I found it distracting to note the number of people who were involved in porn in the '70s who, in this 2013 documentary, looked like they were in their 40s. McNeil also includes archival interviews with Traynor and Lovelace's Deep Throat co-star Harry Reems, feminist Andrea Dworkin, as well as Bill Kelly, a retired FBI agent who was also interviewed for the special edition Blu-ray of Snuff; the interview here seems to come from the same taping.
Another odd choice—and one that drives home the fact that this is something of a poverty production—is McNeil's unnecessary use of public domain footage. For instance, when he talks about a car crash Lovelace was involved in as a young woman, he gives us a black and white shot of a car skidding off the road; the story of Lovelace's childhood is augmented with (again, black-and-white) footage of a teen-age girl and her mother. There are several scenes like this; I really don't see the point of this, other than to give us something (anything) to look at during voice-overs, and it comes off as distracting.
But McNeil's filmmaking techniques are crude, his thesis is more intellectually interesting than, say, the more polished Hollywood version of the story, Lovelace. After presenting "Just the Facts"—which addresses the history of the film, Linda's background, and her version of history, McNeil offers the alternate viewpoint: "Linda is a Liar." Here, McNeil counters the Lovelace version with insights from historians, people involved in the industry at the time, and some well-reasoned points of logic.
McNeil is hardly the first person to call Lovelace a liar; many from the '70s adult industry have said the same. And it seems a bit sleazy and opportunistic for McNeil to be picking apart an interview Lovelace did with him more than a decade after her death when she can't respond. Also, some of the assertions made here come off as a bit silly—former FBI agent Kelly claims that the people in the porn industry were free-loving hippies, though I don't know that I've heard that term used to describe golden age stalwarts like Sharon Mitchell (who appears here), Tina Russell, John Leslie, or producers and directors like the Mitchell Brothers or Chuck Vincent.
But the fact is, the Linda Lovelace horror story version of her life is easier to accept because it fits the narrative that the sex industry is horrible, amoral, and degrading to women. Operating off this premise, it was easy to venerate Lovelace, who'd become a symbol of the joys of on-camera sex, as a victim whose earlier aura of La Dolce Vita had been a sham—a sham propagated at gunpoint, no less. Her embrace by and of feminists is an interesting continuation of the Lovelace story that further elevated her to hero status by "taking on" the industry that made her famous; their ultimate, mutual rejection, and Linda's complaint that the feminists were no less zealous in exploiting her than the pornographers (and that many of them cashed in on her story without ever compensating her) is fascinating, and often left out of the tale, though it's addressed here.
I find the Golden Age of porn to be culturally fascinating. I find the Linda Lovelace saga to be culturally fascinating. I can't say unequivocally that Linda Lovelace's Loose Lips is fascinating—it's just a little too raw, transparent, opportunistic, and amateurishly done to qualify—but I'm glad I saw it. I appreciate McNeil for putting out there what is certainly going to be an unpopular opinion in the eyes of some, not to mention wildly politically incorrect.
The disc looks home-made. Since it's mainly interviews shot at various times and with various cameras, the image quality varies a bit; it's never terrible, though. Audio is a reasonable-sounding Stereo track. There are no supplements.
Linda Lovelace's Loose Lips might not be the last word on the Lovelace legend, but it's an interesting one. Artless but thorough, those interested in pornography as a cultural touchstone and the making and demystifying of myths will find it interesting. Recommended.
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