Who was Linda Lovelace? In the 1970s, she was the celebrity star of Deep Throat, themost famous X-rated film of all time. In the 1980s, she became a virulent anti-porn activist, after claiming in her autobiography, Ordeal, that she’d been forced into making adult films at gunpoint. Yet before she died, as a result of a car accident in 2002, she could be found at memorabilia conventions signing Deep Throat posters as well as copies of Ordeal. Lovelace’s puzzling life is compelling, not just for its conflict and drama, but because the questions that it raises about sexual freedom and pornography remain just as pertinent today.
Two Hollywood films are vying to tell her story. The first, Inferno, has seemingly crashed and burned, along with its star, Lindsay Lohan (replaced by Malin Akerman, whose agent tells me she, too, is no longer involved). The second, Lovelace, by the Oscar-winning documentary-makers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, starring the Mamma Mia! actress Amanda Seyfried, is out this month and attempts to confront the ambiguity of Linda’s life head on. “This is the riskiest thing that’s happening in Hollywood right now,” Seyfried has admitted. “The first thing you think about is that it could ruin my career.”
These days, it’s hard to imagine a porn film changing the world. But when Deep Throat opened in New York on June 12, 1972, it did. Springboarding from the sexual revolution of the pill-fuelled 1960s, the 1970s emerged as a new era of sexual expression. Deep Throat thrust it into the mainstream. The first porn film to play in regular cinemas, it took sex and women’s pleasure from back alleys and seedy porn theatres into people’s homes. Bob Hope even joked about it on primetime TV — “I thought Deep Throat was a movie about a giraffe.” The film cost $25,000 to make and is purported to have grossed up to $600m, making it one of the most lucrative movies ever made.
“Deep Throat was an epochal moment in the history of modern sexuality,” says the critic Camille Paglia. “It was an exciting period, when young, middle-class women raised during the stiflingly respectable 1950s were boldly forging the new frontier. Enjoying porn films alongside men was a radical gesture in the sexual revolution. I thought it was terrific.”
Lovelace starts just before the star launches her porn career, with Linda (Seyfried) falling head over heels for the swaggering Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Dressed in flares, tassels and platform shoes, and propelled by a 1970s soundtrack, the flushed young lovers romp into bed, parties, marriage and a swinging sex life. Shortly into their relationship, Chuck uses hypnosis to teach Linda how to perform oral sex. “We’re all going to get Oscars,” laughs the Deep Throat director, Gerard Damiano (played by Hank Azaria), when he sees what Linda can do at her first porn screen test.
The first half of the film is a glamorous and glittery celebration of the 1970s sexual revolution. “It was the time of ‘porno chic’,” recalls the adult-movie actress turned director, Candida Royalle, “It was cool and also risqué to go and see movies like Deep Throat”. “There were parties in people’s houses when they would get the film and show it after dinner, smoking dope,” says the author Erica Jong. She watched it at the 5th Avenue apartment of a celebrated sex therapist, Dr Helen Singer Kaplan. Jackie Onassis, Jack Nicholson and Truman Capote were among the glitterati who flocked to watch the 17 sex acts Deep Throat depicted in 61 minutes, while Frank Sinatra held viewings for Sammy Davis Jr and vice-president Spiro Agnew at his home.
Then, halfway through, Lovelace shifts gear dramatically, just as Linda’s life story did. In 1980 — eight years after Deep Throat’s explosion — Lovelace released Ordeal, an autobiography so controversial that her publisher insisted she undergo two days answering 106 questions for a lie-detector test. A horrific, impassioned, new story emerged — of Linda Boreman, a girl from the Bronx who was so prudish at school she was nicknamed Miss Holy Holy. Her father was a former policeman, her mother a domineering Catholic who beat her with a belt buckle. When Linda became pregnant aged 19, her mother forced her to have the child adopted.
Meeting Traynor — a charming, Jaguar-driving bar owner, 12 years her senior — seemed her escape. But shortly after marrying him, Lovelace claimed the relationship quickly escalated into violent abuse. Traynor brutalised and beat her; he watched her constantly, sometimes sleeping on top of her so she couldn’t escape; he spied on her through a hole in the door in the bathroom and listened in to her calls. At knife- and gunpoint, she claimed, Traynor coerced her into prostitution and pornography, then kept her earnings for himself. He forced her to make Deep Throat by beating her; the bruises, she said, are visible in the film.
Having first presented the myth of Deep Throat, now the Lovelace movie rewinds to tell the story again from Linda’s real perspective.
Linda’s son, Dominic Marchiano, was a consultant on Lovelace. “The only lacking factor is the detail in which she was used and abused,” he tells me. “They did not want people to endure all the disgusting details.”
Initially, Marchiano was worried that the film would gloss over the abuse his mother suffered. “I was scared that it was going to be a feel-good Hollywood movie in the same taste as Boogie Nights — glorifying my mom’s story as a girl who had a great time in the pornography world.” Yet he is pleased with the results and believes his mother would have been proud of the movie. “The next step will be to continue telling her story and getting the word out that some women are still in similar circumstances today. That would be what she really wanted,” he says.
Lovelace’s story is a timely one. With the proliferation of online pornography, a new generation is struggling with the industry’s treatment and depiction of women. But Linda’s legacy isn’t a straight-forward one.
I discovered that Lovelace’s daughter, Lindsay Marchiano, was also asked to take part in a blue movie. Undertaking a non sexual screen test for it, although she eventually refused the part…
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