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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Saturday Night at the Movies

Sex, lies & innuendo: Lovelace & The Hunt

By Dennis Hartley

'burns 'n' perms: Sarsgaard and Seyfried in Lovelace

In their engrossing 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat, co-directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato examined (with the benefit of 30+ years of hindsight) the surprisingly profound socio-political impact of the first (and arguably only) "adult film” to become a true mainstream cultural phenomenon. For me, the most compelling element of the documentary was the personal journey of Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace, who was paid a whopping $1250 for her starring role in the no-budget 1972 porno (said to have been made for about $50,000) that has since raked in an estimated $600 million in profit.

In 1980, Lovelace wrote an autobiography called Ordeal, in which she alleged that she had essentially been bullied into her career as a porno actress by her then-husband Chuck Traynor (who later married Marilyn Chambers). She claimed that Traynor not only physically and sexually abused her throughout their marriage, but pimped her out; even forcing her to perform some of her movie scenes at gunpoint. After publishing the book and settling down in suburbia to start a family with her new husband, Lovelace became an anti-porn activist for a spell, finding herself feted by the likes of Gloria Steinem (she famously stated on the Phil Donahue show that “Whenever someone sees that film, they’re watching me being raped.”). However, in the years just prior to her 2002 death in a car accident, she had begun to cash in once again on her porn legacy (including a spread in Playboy), causing some to question her credibility. According to one interviewee in Baily and Barbato’s film, she was a person who “always needed someone to tell her what to do.” So was she a real-life Citizen Ruth, willing to be used as anyone’s cause celebre?

Now that might have been an interesting angle for a filmmaker to expand upon…but unfortunately, it is but one of many missed opportunities in the disappointingly rote biopic Lovelace, the latest effort by another directing tag team, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Epstein and Friedman pick up Linda’s story just before Chuck Traynor enters her life. Linda (Amanda Seyfried) is living with her parents (Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick) in Florida. At first, Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) manages to exude charm (although Linda’s parents find his job as manager of a restaurant/exotic dance club a bit dubious) but he soon sweeps her off her feet, giving her a ring and whisking her off to New York.

It doesn’t take Chuck long to introduce Linda to some of his mobbed-up pals (Chris Noth and Bobby Cannavale) who are always on the lookout for some new “talent”. Chuck offers them a home movie that showcases a unique skill that he has “taught” Linda to perform. The obviously impressed hoods get Linda an audition with an adult film director named Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria in the film’s most spirited performance), and the rest, as they say, is History (as tame reenactments of the making of Deep Throat ensue).

This takes up approximately half of the running time. Then, the filmmakers take a sudden 180. Jumping ahead 6 years, we see Linda taking (and passing) a lie detector test regarding the claims of abuse that she had recounted in the 1980 autobiography. The story then abruptly jumps back to just after Chuck and Linda get married and move to New York, flashing forward over key events we have already seen…except this time, they insert the scenes of abuse that were purposely omitted for the first half of the film. While I understand the intention of this faux-Rashomon conceit, it’s clumsily executed and stalls the film out (making it feel much longer than its relatively short 92 minutes).

This is a surprisingly limp entry from a talented duo whose combined credits include the outstanding documentaries The Times of Harvey Milk (Epstein solo), Where Are We? Our Trip Through America and The Celluloid Closet (co-directors). Perhaps the problem is that by limiting their narrative to Lovelace’s version of events, the filmmakers box themselves in, leaving little room for fresh insights or perspectives. Or perhaps since this is only their second non-documentary effort, they’re still unsure what to do with newfound creative license. So I recommend you skip the melodrama and opt for the documentary...which may have been the best counsel for Messrs. Epstein and Friedman.
Hints and allegations: Mikkelsen in The Hunt

Did you ever play "telephone" when you were a kid? Assuming that some readers were raised on texting, it is a party game/psychology 101 exercise in which one person whispers a message to another, moving on down the line until it reaches the last player, who then repeats it loud enough for all to hear. More often than not, the original context gets lost in translation once it runs through the inevitable gauntlet of misinterpretations, preconceptions and assumptions that generally fall under the umbrella of "human nature".

The Hunt is a shattering drama from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (co-written by Tobias Lindholm) that vividly demonstrates the singularly destructive power of "assumption". When we first meet bespectacled, mild-mannered kindergarten teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), he is just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel following a difficult and emotionally draining divorce. Well-liked by his students and fellow teachers and bolstered by the support of long-time friends like Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) Lucas is picking up the pieces and embarking on a fresh start. He lives and works in a small, tightly-knit community, where few residents would be considered "strangers"

One day at school, some of Lucas' students decide to "dog pile" their teacher. Watching from the wings is Theo's daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), a withdrawn but sweet little girl who knows Lucas not only as a teacher, but as a family friend. She joins the giggly pile of kids and kisses Lucas, full on the lips. He immediately takes Klara aside and gently admonishes her, explaining that it is inappropriate for her to kiss any adult on the lips (other than Mom and Dad). But 5 year old Klara is only puzzled and hurt by what she simply perceives as rejection. A while later, the school principal (Susse Wold) spots a tearful Klara. She asks her what is wrong. Klara's answer is a sulking child's innocent lie, but it ignites a real life game of "telephone" that is about to turn a man's life upside down.

Mikkelsen's performance as a man struggling to keep his head above water whilst being inexorably pulled into a maelstrom of Kafkaesque travails is nothing short of astonishing. The film is a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of mob mentality, at times recalling Fritz Lang's Fury. There are also flashes of Akira Kurosawa's Scandal, particularly in the protagonist's dogged refusal to dignify the accusations by neither denying guilt nor going out of his way to profess his innocence. Interestingly, the film dredges up memories of the real life day-care sex abuse hysteria (perhaps best personified by the high-profile McMartin preschool trial) that seemed to dominate the media throughout the 1990s (remember all the ballyhoo over "Satanic rituals" and the "false memories" phenomenon? Good times). The Hunt is powerful, intense and unsettling, yet essential. And that's no lie.