Following this week’s release of Lovelace, The Rialto Report is pleased to present a review by Gerard Damiano Jr, the son of the director of Deep Throat – the landmark film that broke box records, launched porno chic, and made a star of Linda Lovelace.
It has been said that “fact is stranger than fiction”, and in the case of Millennium Entertainment’s “Lovelace”, fact, is also infinitely more interesting. When I was asked to write this review, I confessed that it would be hard for me to look at the film strictly as cinema, without comparing it to the true events that it’s based on. As the son of director Gerard (Jerry) Damiano, the man who not only wrote and directed “Deep Throat”, but who coined the term, and who gave Linda and co-star, Harry Reems their screen names, I am very familiar with the story. I have been surrounded by it for most of my life. My sister and I were on the set of “Deep Throat” in Miami in 1972. We knew most of the people involved, some of whom we remained in contact with for years. More importantly, I know my father’s version of the story. It is a story that troubled him until to the day he died. But “Lovelace” is Linda’s story, not his.
Linda was in an abusive relationship with Chuck Traynor.
She had a particular talent for sucking cock.
As the star of the adult film “Deep Throat”, she experienced a level of unprecedented fame and celebrity.
These are facts.
The rest of the film “Lovelace” is fiction, ranging from the plausible to the absurd.
Amanda Seyfried, who plays the titular character, is lovely to look at, and her relationship with husband and “manager” Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) is at the core of the film. Spoiler Alert: “Lovelace” treats us to two versions of their story. First a naïve Linda looks at her life through rose-colored glasses. Then we see her story again, through the blackened eyes of a victim. This device seems appropriate, as the real Linda published no less than four autobiographies, each telling a different story.
In life, Chuck Traynor was a scumbag by all accounts. I would make no attempt to argue that, nor is it my intention to defend him. Their complicated dominant/submissive relationship mystified my father. When he first met Linda, she refused to be alone without Chuck. She always had to have her hands on him, touching him. It was only after a week of being treated like a movie star on the set of “Deep Throat”, that she began to assert herself independently. The full truth of what really occurred between Linda and Chuck will never be known. In their own twisted way, they may have actually loved each other. An exploration of this complex and flawed relationship would have made for a far more compelling drama. Instead, the filmmakers paint a portrait of the couple in broad strokes of black and white. Surely, the truth is rendered in shades of gray.
What we are left with is the formulaic “battered woman escapes her abuser and turns her life around” melodrama, that plays routinely on Lifetime TV. We never see the empowered Linda, who, from her rise to stardom, until the release of her third book “Ordeal” in 1980, was an eloquent and outspoken advocate for sexual freedom. Nor do we get the sense of the positive impact that she and the film had on the culture of the time. Instead we see a helpless victim, who in the final scene of “Lovelace”, is reinvented as a Feminist Anti-Porn Crusader. We are spared her character’s evolution, which would have really given Ms. Seyfried something to work with. Mr. Sarsgaard is convincing as the manipulative Chuck, but the one-dimensional script confines him.
The real star turn is by Sharon Stone, who is unrecognizable as Linda’s dowdy, disapproving mother. It is novel when a Hollywood beauty dresses down and “uglies up” to rely on pure acting for a performance, and the critics are sure to eat this up. Adam Brody’s cursory white-bread rendition of “Throat” co-star Harry Reems is without his charm or borscht-belt shtick. James Franco, completely miscast as Hugh Hefner, misses his target completely. And the “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” appearances by Sarah Jessica Parker and Chloë Sevigny are added simply to pad the movie poster.
The opening title sequence of the original “Deep Throat” features Linda driving through North Miami Beach in Jerry’s Blue Cadillac Eldorado, a car that itself would become iconic. For years, collectors had offered to buy the infamous “Deep Throat Car” to tour auto shows, where it might be displayed next to the Batmobile. The filming of this scene is recreated in “Lovelace”, but co-directors Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein choose to arbitrarily use a red car instead. Is this artistic license, or merely a lack of research? Epstein admitted to never actually seeing the film. “We watched snippets” he told Variety. A minor detail perhaps, but it leaves one wondering, how many other “Red Cadillacs” are in this film.
Before his death in 2008, my father and I were working together on what was to be his autobiography. All artistic license aside, there are a few aspects of “Lovelace” that would have him spinning in his grave. Out of respect for him, I feel obligated to set the record straight.
First off, Jerry (played by the talented and versatile Hank Azaria) is thrown in with a chorus of sniggering “wise guys”, as if they are all cut from the same cloth. In reality he was at odds with his unscrupulous backers from the very start. He was looking to finance a feature length hardcore film, something unheard of at the time. The Perainos, (who he later learned were aligned with the Colombo crime family), were in the business of making XXX “loops”, one reel silent 16mm films, intended for peepshows and stag parties. Jerry agreed to shoot some of these as a kind of audition, while the Perainos considered backing his project. Chuck brought in Linda to be featured in one of these loops. When Jerry met Linda, he found his muse. He was struck by her innocent “girl next door” sweetness and looks, and amazed by her technique. That night, on the drive home, he conceived of “Deep Throat”. Over the weekend he wrote the script around her, renaming her “Linda Lovelace.”
On Monday morning he brought Linda in to see the Perainos, and make his pitch. They were not impressed. “She’s too skinny,” “She’s got no tits” they protested. She was not their idea of a busty blonde sex symbol. But Jerry persisted. When the Perainos experienced Linda’s hidden talent first hand, they began to change their position, although still unconvinced of the title “Deep Throat”. They wanted to call the film “The Sword Swallower”. Jerry pleaded that “one day Deep Throat will be a household term”. (His delusions of grandeur turned out to be prophetic when the term “Deep Throat” made it into the dictionary). In the end, they let him make his movie, his way, while they would stick to finance and distribution.
One of the most ludicrous scenes in “Lovelace” imagines a pool party at the Voyager Inn motel, which in reality, served not only as a location for “Deep Throat”, but as a barracks for everyone involved in the production. In this unlikely scenario, cast and crew mingle with mobsters and “party girls” while being served hors d’oeuvres off of silver trays. It is well known that “Deep Throat” was filmed for less than $23,000. Jerry would be quick to add that most of the money was spent to purchase and process the 35mm color film. The goons (with rare exception) did not visit the set. And there was no budget for champagne.
The makers of “Lovelace” would have us believe that “Deep Throat” was created by a committee of the worst Italian stereotypes, who were convinced throughout the whole process, that they were going to make a fortune. The truth is that no one could have predicted the overwhelming success of “Deep Throat”. “The Industry” that they speak of in “Lovelace”, was non-existent in 1972.
In one final piece of pure fantasy, the fictional Anthony Romano (played by Chris Noth), beats Chuck with his belt, and it would seem that these mafia caricatures have set Linda free from her tormentor. Hoods cast as the heroes of Linda’s story? This is one more “Red Cadillac” that I can only be glad my father didn’t live to see.
Friedman and Epstein’s morality play is cut conveniently short.
We are told by title card, just before the end credits roll, that Linda spent the next 20 years fighting against porn and domestic abuse. What we are NOT told, is that Linda later denounced the Feminist movement, claiming that they had used her much in the same way that the porn industry had. She then posed for a centerfold spread in “Leg Show” magazine, having now come full circle.
Where “Deep Throat” was sold in 1972 with the premise of a woman’s quest for sexual fulfillment, audiences are lured to see “Lovelace” with the promise of seeing Hollywood A-lister Amanda Seyfried abused and degraded on film.
Once again, someone else is turning a profit, while Linda gets fucked.