Soft-focus lens on seedy side of 70s

ORIGINAL: Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace in 1974.
ORIGINAL: Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace in 1974.

'Last year it was vampires; this year it's '70s porn. Why?'' asked one weary Berlinale journalist as we waited in one of the Berlin film festival's innumerable interview venues. The directors and stars of Lovelace, a dramedy based on the life of Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace, were fielding questions behind various doors around us.

The next day, we were due to interview British director Michael Winterbottom about The Look of Love, another true-life story about the Soho strip-bar king Paul Raymond.

Some time in between, I talk to a Portuguese film historian who is planning a serious retrospective film festival devoted to the classics - Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and the rest - in the grand old trading city of Oporto.

MOVIE STAR: Amanda Seyfried stars as Linda Lovelace in the film Lovelace.
MOVIE STAR: Amanda Seyfried stars as Linda Lovelace in the film Lovelace.

Why? ''Because when I started to become interested in cinema, these films were better than 90 per cent of the other films I was seeing,'' he shrugs. For him, a boy growing up under a fascist dictatorship where most things anyone wanted to see were banned, these clunky porn stories were part of his cultural education.

As everyone knows, the internet has rewritten the book on the way and extent to which people can buy and consume pornography. Recent estimates put the value of the US pornographic film industry at about $13 billion, which doesn't include the plethora of home-made efforts uploaded to the net by non-professionals with an urge to overshare. Of the million most-popular websites, according to a detailed study quoted by Forbes business magazine, about 13 per cent consist of ''erotic content''.

In this brave new cyber-world, the idea of people shooting cheesy scripts in hotel rooms on 16-millimetre film conjures an image of a cosy age of amateurism, given greater glamour by the idea that those early pornographic films were flying the flag for sexual liberation. Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights showed Jack's (Burt Reynolds) erotic empire as one big rough-housing family, even if matriarch Amber (Julianne Moore) had lost her children to social services and was way too attached to the old marching powder.

Imogen Poots, who plays Paul Raymond's daughter Debbie in The Look of Love, agrees that their film is essentially nostalgic. ''I hope so. I can now walk down the streets of Soho and think about how it was. It captures for me a decade I've certainly listened to a lot and is familiar from so many angles, even though I never lived it.''

But Debbie Raymond was a bundle of jitters; a cokehead who died of a heroin overdose. Her father, portrayed in the film by comedian Steve Coogan, went into a solitary decline from which he never sought to recover.

After all, this is not a world or a man you want the audience to admire, says Michael Winterbottom. The difficulty for him was keeping a balance between a burgeoning distaste for Raymond's way of life, which mostly seems to involve champagne and a couple of girls every night, while retaining a fun enthusiasm for his home decorations: the GT-striped carpet that travels up the walls, the home bar, the retractable roof that allowed him to open up his orgies to the night-time stars.

Raymond saw his clubs, too, as oases of sophistication. ''There is something inherently fake about that world,'' says Winterbottom. ''There's the thing of surface glamour, but you put the lights up and you go ohhhh, that's rough; you go backstage and it's crap; there's the way it smells in the morning. At one point Steve said you'd think this world would be everything you love: nightclubs, bars, girls, alcohol, drugs. But then you realised after two months it's just really horrible.''

Linda Lovelace's life went beyond seediness into real suffering, according to her own testimony, at the hands of a bullying and delusional man. But directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman maintain an upbeat tone in Lovelace.

Amanda Seyfried plays the porn queen with the sort of wide-eyed innocence she brought to Mamma Mia!. She is convinced, partly by her directors' visit to an all-women porn production house, that women are now taking charge of their own destiny in a way not available to them in the '70s, despite the fond reminiscences of that era.

Sydney Morning Herald