Friday, August 9, 2013

LOVELACE (2013), Plus Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie.

Morton Downey Jr had charisma, as we’re constantly reminded in Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie. One person who worked with Downey describes him being “as manipulative as a serial killer,” while  an animated clip turns him into a Hitler-like demagogue, presiding over something like the Nuremberg rally.

But even more important to Downey’s crazy television success in the late 1980s was his canny understanding of America’s blue collar population; he became their fire-breathing spokesman, and there wasn’t a “pablum puking liberal” who could stand up to him.

.Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, is loaded with great clips of Downey’s glory days, and excellent commentary from several of his friends and producers. The documentary, directed by Jeremy Newberger,  burns with the same over-caffeinated intensity of The Morton Downey Jr Show,  and creates a picture of a man so tortured by demons that fame  only exacerbates his problems.

His shows were the broadest kind of theater, filmed in Secaucus NJ in front of an audience that more than one TV pundit described as a “hockey crowd.” The crowd wasn't there to see political discourse. The crowd was there to see Mort blow down the house.  There were some laughs, too.  Downey took the format of the old Joe Pyne show and injected it with buffoonery.  Still, Downey knew his bread and butter was in violent confrontations with unsuspecting liberal guests.   If Downey was at a loss for words, which was rare, he’d have a mullet-haired goon known as “The Secaucus Slammer,” throw the guest out physically.

Downey didn’t start out as a right wing rabble rouser.  The son of a famous singer – Morton Downey Sr., a tenor of the 1930s  known for singing Irish ballads – Downey Jr tried to carve out a singing career and also wrote poetry, some of which is used in the movie to show that he had a better than average understanding of his own psyche. In short, he hated his father’s guts and wanted to be a big shot.

The 1960s saw Downey as a liberal working for Ted Kennedy, and the 1970s saw him as a struggling folk singer.  The documentary never quite connects the threads that lead to his rebirth as a conservative, but suggests at least some of Downey’s right wing posturing was an act.  There’s some great footage of Downey, still in his folk  phase with long hair and a cowboy jacket, speaking through a megaphone at an anti-abortion rally. It’s early in his transformation, but the power he wields is plain to see.

There were fewer brawls on Downey’s show than in some of the other trash TV programs we’ve grown used to, but there was always the sense that something ugly was about to happen. When things did veer out of control, such as the night Roy Innis decked Al Sharpton at the Apollo Theater, the Downey show dwarfed all imitations to come.

He seemed to be having fun during the early days of his show, but the clips from  the end of his run  two years later show him looking exhausted. He wasn’t a drug addict, but fame was his drug and it wore him down.  After a bogus stunt where he pretended to be attacked by neo-Nazis in an airport bathroom, his popularity evaporated over night.  The next thing we knew, Downey had lung cancer. He even turned that into a media event, going on Larry King’s show the night before he was to have a lung removed. Downey died in 2001.

Who knows if he ever beat his demons.  But look at the people in  Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie. When they remember the man, they can’t help but smile.

Since the popularity of Boogie Nights, which borrowed a bit from the life of '70s porn king John Holmes, there have been rumors that a screen bio of Linda Lovelace was in the works.  Lovelace, with Amanda Seyfried as the well-meaning but abused title character, is the end result of who knows how many screenplay drafts. The story has been whittled down to a quick 90 minutes, but rather than feeling bright and lively, it feels like a sloppily assembled Showtime original.  
We first see Linda as a young woman in 1970, the product of uptight suburban parents.  Linda is a bit of a prude until she meets Chuck Traynor ( Peter Sarsgaard), the cocky owner of a topless bar.  This part of the film is full of period music, and roller discos, and lots of 1970s frizzy hair, but it feels more like a high school pageant with a "Celebrating the Seventies" theme.  Not everyone who lived in the 1970s had a perm and wore lime colored bell bottoms, but it sure seems that way in movies.

She marries Traynor but he treats her badly; he soon introduces her to a pair of porn producers. To please her hubby, Linda ends up starring in Deep Throat, a film that would become a huge hit and afford Lovelace  a kind of notorious fame - Johnny Carson even told a crude joke on the Tonight Show about how the Mississippi River was the only thing in America with as big a mouth as Linda Lovelace. She eventually tires of Traynor's abuse, writes a tell-all book, and marries a nice man who doesn't force her to be in porn films. 
Seyfried works hard to make something of this role but she's strapped by a hackneyed script. It's one of those movies where you know she's going to cry in a bathtub. She is a trooper during the porn scenes, but is at her best in the scenes when dealing with her parents. A tearful phone conversation with her father (Robert Patrick) after he's seen Deep Throat is the most moving scene in Lovelace.  
What are we supposed to think of Linda Lovelace?  Are we supposed to see her as an abused but inspirational character breaking away from her oppressors, like Tina Turner running away from Ike?   Is the film even a fair representation of what happened? Who can say? The makers of this movie don't appear to have a clear idea of what they wanted. The first half is all 1970s' silliness, the second half feels like a dreary courtroom drama. Then again, something tells me this whole project was merely an excuse to put a young actress in a series of degrading scenes.


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