Film, Reviews

What are we watching here?: Pleasure and pain in Lovelace

by S.A. Jones , November 6, 20134 Comments

Lovelace is about two alternative narratives of the same event: the production and aftermath of Deep Throat. Deep Throat is such a pop culture staple it needs little introduction. However, if you have been marooned on an island and would miss the joke if I described the film as ‘seminal’, here’s a primer: Deep Throat was the first porn film to go mainstream. Released in 1972, it became wildly popular in the United States and abroad. Its central conceit was that the star, Linda Lovelace, had a clitoris in her throat making fellatio wildly pleasurable for her and her partners. With this and other gags, Deep Throat simultaneously celebrated and poked fun at male sexual fantasies. It had a breeziness and high production values not previously seen in porn.

It also had ‘Linda Lovelace’, then Linda Traynor, later Linda Marchiano, as its star. Linda was, as the film describes it, ‘the poster girl for the sexual revolution’. Freckle-faced and with a wholesomeness that belied the porn stereotype, Lovelace became a major celebrity. In her interviews and first two autobiographies she celebrated uninhibited sexuality, representing herself as a free spirit who’d thrown off the shackles of her small-town, Catholic upbringing. This is one of the stories the film Lovelace tells.

The other story, the one occurring off-camera, is much darker. Eight years after Deep Throat was released Linda Marchiano (sensitively played by Amanda Seyfried) released Ordeal, followed some time later by Out of Bondage. She alleged that Chuck Traynor, her husband at the time Deep Throat was produced, coerced her into making the film through constant threat of violence. Traynor, played by Peter Sarsgaard, forcibly prostitutes, repeatedly beats and routinely degrades Linda. According to Marchiano, she made several attempts to flee her husband and abuser, finally succeeding on her fourth attempt.  When I first encountered Marchiano while researching my PhD into obscenity law and power, I came across a detail that has never left me: Marchiano had to wear surgical stockings every day  for the rest of her life as a result of the physical and sexual abuse she’d endured.

Later, when she became an anti-pornography campaigner, Marchiano stated that ‘every time someone watches that film [Deep Throat], they are watching me being raped’. It was a statement that echoed the feminist catchcry that ‘porn is the theory, rape is the practice’.

This alternative, harrowing narrative is at the heart of Lovelace. What is the viewer really watching when they view Deep Throat? Light-hearted, pleasurable fun or visual evidence of terrible abuse? How should we, as viewers, respond?

The film, by documentary makers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, is sympathetic to Marchiano’s version of events. Traynor (who was never successfully prosecuted by Marchiano) is different only in shades of repugnance in both ‘versions’.  In the first he’s a garden variety sleaze bag and in the second a manipulative and violent man driven by the need to control and exploit. Traynor later went on to marry porn star Marilyn Chambers, who featured in another successful mainstream porn film, Behind the Green Door.

Yet Lovelace isn’t a reductive tale of ‘porn=bad’. By Marchiano’s own account, she and her male co-star Harry Reems got along well and she was not subject to threats or intimidation by anyone involved in the making of the film. In the version Lovelace tells, it is financial investor Anthony Romano (played by Chris Noth) who finally gives Linda sanctuary, and gives Traynor a long-overdue taste of his own medicine. The fact that her on-set experiences were largely positive was blithely over-looked by the anti-porn feminist movement which gave Marchiano her second outing as a poster girl. As Petra Boynton told The Guardian, this strand of feminism packaged Marchiano’s story as being about porn, which ‘conveniently overlooked the fact that Linda’s testimony was one of a battered wife, not a critique of the sex industry. Linda was encouraged to campaign against porn, but most of her problems were to do with an abusive partner’.

Generation X feminists who came of age in the cross-fire between the pro-sex feminists (Carol Vance, Lynne Segal, Nadine Strossen, Catherine Lumby) and the anti-porn feminists (Andrea Dworkin, Catherine McKinnon, Catherine Itzin, Diana E.H. Russell) will find much that resonates in this film. It is compelling, albeit disturbing, viewing.

S.A. Jones holds a PhD in History and is the author of the novel Red Dress Walking. She was recently named one of Australia’s one hundred women of influence. Her new novel, Isabelle of the Moon and Stars, is due for release in 2014.

Her essay ‘Smut Detective: Pornography, the Historian and the Law appears in Issue 11 of Kill Your Darlings.

  • Michelle Heeter

    Really enjoyed this review & its discussion of porn and feminism.

  • Annabel Smith

    A fascinating background to what sounds like a very disturbing story.

  • Dion Kagan

    Thanks for this S A Jones. I was erring toward giving this a miss due to Lovelace / sex wars teaching fatigue, but it sounds like a rather nuanced film, especially on the anti-porn v sex positive feminist front.

  • James Sherwood

    Very interesting. A clitoris in her throat? So the film demonstrates how porn distorts and subjugates the female form to suit male sexual desire and facitate male sexual preferences. I would think Feminists would want to burn it. I guess a lampooning female version might go something like: a mad female scientist develops a virus that infects males and makes them experience sexual pleasure while doing housework.


Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their September picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »


Chris Somerville

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Chris Somerville defends Heat and Light

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Author Chris Somerville spoke in praise of Ellen van Neerven’s debut work of fiction, Heat and Light. Read more »


Elizabeth Flux

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Elizabeth Flux defends In the Quiet

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Writer and Voiceworks editor Elizabeth Flux spoke in praise of Eliza Henry-Jones’ debut novel, In the Quiet. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Girl Gang: The value of female friendship

For two years I was the only girl in my class, along with four boys. Perhaps this would have been some kind of fantastic Lynx-filled utopia for a boy-crazy pre-teen girl, but for someone who was just beginning to figure out that she didn’t like boys in the same way other girls seemed to, it wasn’t what you could call ideal. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Written On the Body: Fat women and public shaming

The policing and subsequent shaming of women’s bodies is not unique to famous women. It happens to all women. Feeling entitled to denigrate fat bodies, and fat women’s bodies in particular, is one of the last bastions of socially acceptable discrimination. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Right Direction: The value of fandom

I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »


Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Straight White Men - Public Theatre - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Jane Howard

Unbearable Whiteness: Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men

Though I am delighted to see Young Jean Lee gain traction in Australia, a work by playwright who is a woman of colour should not be such a rare occurrence; nor should this only come in the form of a play that blends effortlessly into the fabric of the work that is programmed around it. Read more »


Jane Howard

Putting Words In People’s Mouths: Performing the unseen, speaking the unknown

‘Do you ever get the feeling someone is putting words in your mouth?’ A performer asks an audience member in the front row. ‘Say yes.’
‘Yes,’ comes the reply.
This theme ran through multiple shows at Edinburgh Fringe this year, where occasionally audience members, but more often performers, were asked to perform scripts sight unseen. Read more »


Jane Howard

The Impenetrable City: Getting lost at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I just saw a one-on-one performance piece that ended in my bursting into tears and the artist sitting with me and holding my hands in hers for maybe ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We had a shared piece of history, and her work was delicate and took me by surprise, and I have a cold, and I am homesick, and I don’t know why I’m in Edinburgh, and I’ve cried a lot, and now I’m in a gallery because I couldn’t face another show. Read more »