"Not a Love Story," the X-rated documentary oddity from the National Film Board of Canada now at the K-B Janus, would probably make an ideal fund-raiser for a pressure group like Women Against Pornography. However, it's an obvious swindle as a theatrical release, aimed with coy, deceptive vagueness at the conventional paying audience for X-rated movies.
It was my misimpression that "Not a Love Story" would follow the experiences of a young woman named Linda Lee Tracey, a stripper supposedly attracted to employment as a porn film actress. Although the movie eventually suggests an unconscious love letter to Tracey, it's organized as a superficial survey of the porn racket. Filmmaker Bonnie Sherr Klein herself functions as the inquiring reporter and omnipresent voice-over conscience, moved by the shocking sight of "a woman's contortions -- a woman who could be me" to a "need to understand what goes on behind these doors."
Tracey is first encountered doing a semi-facetious strip act on a bar counter. "When I first met Linda," the filmmaker informs us, "I admired her comfortableness with her sexuality." Interviewed in her dressing room after the performance, Tracey explains, "I use comedy as my vehicle of communicating" and defends her public -- "They gave me an immediate love . . . It's a very honest arena; people act on a very animal level."
Klein seems bizarrely impressed, perhaps because her filmmaking and analytical skills are as amateurish as Tracey's notion of satirical striptease. At any rate, Klein insists on describing the act as "terrific." While the film isn't focused on Tracey, she begins to emerge as the filmmaker's pet reclamation project. Later she turns up to conduct the tour through an arcade showing porn loops and remarks "that hurts" after subjecting herself to some heavy bondage footage, conspicuously overrepresented in Klein's survey.
The problem is that Klein herself appears incapable of differentiating pornographic from erotic imagery. From her perspective it's all the same -- a prelude to brutal male dominance. In addition, she can't seem to recognize when one of her interview subjects says something sensible on the subject. A woman identified as a poet-illustrator specializing in erotic greeting cards reflects, "Why do people need pornography? I suppose because they never had enough . . . We got porno when what we needed was eroticism and maybe it's creating a whole new set of negative attitudes toward sex." Klein is much more drawn to the kind of sweeping generalizations that encourage attitudes of irreparable sexual suspicion and hostility. like the statement of a feminist author that, "All of us remain potential, if not real, victims." And when you contemplate Bonnie Sherr Klein's melancholy presence and obsessive, self-deluding attraction to a subject that supposedly appalls her, what emerges is almost a caricature of the modern feminist mind set that seems destined to remain in bondage to the fear of potential and even theoretical victimization.