Let’s consider the following: the most famous porn movie of all time, Deep Throat; two ‘ghost-written’ biographies Inside Linda Lovelace (1973) and The Intimate Diary of Linda Lovelace (1974); Linda’s autobiography Ordeal (1980); the documentary Inside Deep Throat (2005) and the motion picture Lovelace (2013). These contradictory items constitute the major entries into the public domain and created the public’s picture of who Linda Susan Boreman Marchiano was: Linda Lovelace. The picture is riddled with inconsistencies and plagued by layers of lies and exploitation. Still, for all its elusiveness, the ‘truth’ about who Linda really was and what happened to her is in amongst it all. To the public she was an icon of women’s sexual repression and revolution; for feminists she both defended and spoke out against pornography.
Let’s start with the film that started it all. Deep Throat made more money than any other pornographic film ever with total box office figures that rival many Hollywood blockbusters. Reports vary but estimates come in anywhere between 100 and 600 million dollars. The film was banned in many US states and numerous foreign territories. Its theatrical run was also cut short due to public decency issues, so potentially it could have made even more money.
The film received praise and attention for a number of reasons. The major factor setting this porno apart from its peers was that it had a story – albeit one that was ludicrous and paper thin – and with a run time of sixty-one minutes, it approached the realm of a narrative feature. Deep Throat also contributed to mainstream conversation about sex and pornography at a key moment in American history when an anti-establishment ‘revolution’ was still on the agenda. Although most of the academic discourse suggests the film could neither advocate feminist sexual revolution nor parody dominant modes of male sexual fantasy through its depiction of fellatio (no matter how comical), some still made a case for the value of the film under the guise of progressive sexual politics.
Further complicating the debate was the publicity surrounding the film. ‘Lovelace’, as Linda was known at the time, gave a number of interviews and claimed in public appearances that the film was part of a so-called female ‘sexual revolution’, giving voice to women’s sexual desires by showing female sexuality in a new light: fluid, adventurous and not necessarily confined to matrimony. Linda quickly became the poster girl for progressive female sexuality.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be built on lies. Not long after the film and the first two ‘official biographies’ that weren’t written by or in consultation with Linda, that intangible thing called ‘the truth’ began to make its appearance.
The reason the truth emerged years later is because that’s how long it took Linda to escape prostitution and her so-called ‘career’ in pornography, both of which were actually the result of systematic imprisonment and abuse administered by her first husband and ‘manager’ Charles ‘Chuck’ Traynor. The most difficult aspect for Linda, and also for the feminist movement, was convincing the public that ‘Linda Lovelace’ was the name given to a slave who represented the exact opposite of everything the world believed her to be.
With her own autobiographical book, Linda became a spokesperson for the anti-pornography movement. But even this wasn’t enough to convince the media and the public. She would find herself grilled by Donahue and mistrusted by some in the feminist movement. Shedding the stigma of prostitution and porn proved no easy feat.
Linda demonstrated great courage and persistence. Revealing her abuse to a public who wanted the airbrushed version of the victim and who wouldn’t believe the bruises beneath the silver screen’s sheen was itself an ordeal. But after the trauma, Linda chronicles in her book, surely nothing could ever be as hard as when she found the strength to leave Chuck Traynor.
One of the major obstructions to the perception of Linda’s sincerity is the lack of corroboration from significant third-party witnesses about her claims that Chuck Traynor held her against her will and forced her at gunpoint to participate in prostitution and pornography. Many members of cast and crew on Deep Throat claimed she was happy and willing, even enjoying the acts in the film. Most damning was their statements that they had never seen Chuck Traynor or anyone else point a gun at Linda, as she claimed.
But Linda’s answer was plain:
There was always a gun pointed at my head. I can understand why some people have such trouble accepting this as the truth. When I was younger, when I heard about a woman being raped, my secret feeling was that that could never happen to me. I would never permit it to happen. Now I realize that can be about as meaningful as saying I won’t allow an earthquake or I won’t permit an avalanche.
It’s one of the simplest and most powerful passages in the book. It’s easy for others to judge something that they have been fortunate enough to avoid. The gun wasn’t always literal but it sure was always loaded.
Ordeal chronicles Linda’s experiences from the moment she met Chuck Traynor to the moment she was free of him. It’s written plainly, which makes it, in some senses, an easy read. On the other, its content is, for many readers, extremely unpleasant and even shocking. Perhaps this is the reason the book has been out of print and difficult to find for so long. Or maybe the reason is because the world would rather just forget Linda Boreman Marchiano, the woman once known as Linda Lovelace, who let the public judge her and then took it all back and asked them to understand. Given that Deep Throat has been more easily available over the years both for purchase and illegal viewing online, I know which reason I find the more persuasive.
David Grazer and Ron Howard later optioned the book, and both went on to produce the documentary Inside Deep Throat. The documentary renewed interest in Linda ‘Lovelace’, and led to the rediscovery of her story. Republished in the US in 2006, Ordeal was once again available, but it still addressed a niche market.
This is where the grey area gets really murky. Responses to the film have been varied, to say the least. Much like Deep Throat, the film has also divided feminists. On one side, there are women writers who are disappointed and angry that the greatest opportunity to tell Linda’s story was wasted. Monika Bartyzel from The Week writes:
It’s a maddening missed opportunity. By whittling this story to such narrow and problematic parameters, Lovelace ignores the compelling life that actually makes her story worth telling, and captures her in the same constrictive box she fought against.
On the other side are those who found the experience emotionally astute, precisely because of its refusal to engage with the most confronting material in the book. Gabriella Apicella from Bitch Flicks argues:
The film intelligently portrays a great deal of what Linda Boreman Marchiano experienced and yet does not subject the audience to the horror. Not only does this make it a safer viewing experience, it also puts the audience’s emotional identification with the protagonist first. Linda remains a whole character throughout rather than becoming a body upon which hideous acts are carried out. We do not shift into passive voyeur or spectator, as traumatising scenes in The Accused, Monster, Straw Dogs, Irreversible, or any number of other films depicting domestic and sexual violence force the audience to do.
And there are a number of articles that fence-sit, acknowledging that the movie’s hardly representative of Linda’s experience but also that it shows at least something of her side to the story, a side that just wouldn’t be heard if the film weren’t at least entertaining and, more significantly, palatable for the mainstream.
Gloria Steinem, a great supporter of Linda and someone who joined her in Women Against Pornography, admits the film shies away from the most violent acts and even takes poetic license with the timeline of key events. Still, she doesn’t dismiss it. Neither does Catharine McKinnon, who represented Linda legally and was her friend until Linda died in 2002. McKinnon writes:
Lovelace is based in part on our life story rights. It shows Linda as human and credible, as she was not seen as being in life. All she ever wanted was to be believed and respected, to have people face what really happened and take steps to stop it. We see this film as a major step forward in that process. Apparently, when you make fact into fiction, people begin to believe it is true. We participated in the making of the picture, are proud of it and the people who made it, and feel strongly that Linda would be proud of it.
If only the actress who portrayed her onscreen felt the same way about the role she agreed to play! In an interview with The Sunday Times, actress Amanda Seyfried revealed that her greatest concern had nothing to do with the way in which Linda was portrayed but was rather whether the role would ruin her career. That was something I’m sure Amanda Seyfried was able to weigh up before she agreed to appear in the film, deciding for herself what she would and would not do – a luxury Linda was never allowed.
Like most people, I will only ever know the real Linda through her films, her books and her legacy. After reading Ordeal, watching Deep Throat, Inside Deep Throat and Lovelace I feel as though I do know something about who Linda ‘Lovelace’ Boreman Marchiano was and the person her legacy will now permit her to be. The inconsistencies and supposed exaggerations of some of her stories are understandable when you consider that what she describes in Ordeal is consistent with the suffering of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Furthermore, the persona she adopted whilst under the control of Chuck Traynor was not necessarily anything like the person she truly was. Her legacy has always been stigmatised; the aftereffects of any break from oppression will be felt long after the victim breaks free. Finally, and most importantly, her contribution to the feminist movement has still been significant, even if it is a complicated one.
Lovelace is structurally sound, telling the popular Hollywood version of events before re-tracing some of its steps and revealing a glimpse of the violence that went on behind the scenes. The double narrative of what will no doubt become the most widely understood story of who Linda ‘Lovelace’ really was does at least inherently ask its audience to question what they see and think about what else is being left out.
It took the release of a major motion picture to get Linda’s story back onto the public agenda. Even so, what she ultimately wanted was to escape Linda Lovelace, the younger, more trusting, naive and innocent woman that Linda Boreman Marchiano very briefly became. The title of the movie would surely haunt her. Nonetheless, even if ‘Lovelace’ can never rest in peace, maybe her story will start to be believed.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
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