KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

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.




  • http://www.michelleheeter.com Michelle Heeter

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

  • http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/ 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.

lead_960

James Tierney

I Call The Shots: The provocation of violent women

In a Western culture increasingly stripped of its old taboos, violent acts by women – real and imagined – still possess the genuine power to shock. Cultural representations of violent women can both affirm and react against the kind of pernicious questioning that posits women as fundamentally, and fatally, reactive. Read more »

9781925106510

Oliver Mol

July First Book Club: Read an excerpt from Oliver Mol’s Lion Attack!

At the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club event in July, Oliver Mol will discuss his debut memoir, Lion Attack!. Read an extract from this funny, energetic and original coming-of-age story, which interweaves stories from Oliver’s childhood in Texas and his young adulthood in Melbourne in a narrative that is part romance, part … Read more »

9781743318539

Danielle Binks

#LoveOzYA

Lest we forget that before John Green, Australia had John Marsden, prior to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter we had Isobelle Carmody’s Elspeth Gordie, and we embraced Melina Marchetta as the voice of a generation long before Sarah Dessen. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

3ab01d05-2590-4aa4-80f4-45fab0eccec4-2060x1236

Anwen Crawford

Heart of Darkness: UnREAL‘s ruthless reality

Everlasting, the show-within-a-show at the dark centre of new American television series UnREAL, is a fantasy blend of champagne cocktails, pool parties and true love. Everlasting is a Bachelor-style game show in which a dozen immaculately groomed women compete for a handsome millionaire husband, and its relationship to real life is, like any ‘reality’ show, non-existent. Nothing goes to air on Everlasting that has not been scripted, staged, and edited for maximum controversy. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

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 »

2015GISELLE_Artists of The Australian Ballet. PhotoJeffBusby

Jane Howard

The Beautiful and the Dated: Australian Ballet’s Giselle

The weight of history sits heavily on the Australian Ballet’s Giselle. One of the most enduringly popular ballets from the romantic period, there is much to delight in its presence on stage and its lasting lineage. But 175 years after its debut, in a production that premiered 30 years ago, the sheen of Giselle has been dulled. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »