porn problem probed

Not a lot of honesty or nuance here

Published: Apr 14 2014, 01:01:am

Tuesday, October 27, 1981.
NOT A LOVE STORY: A FILM ABOUT PORNOGRAPHY. Co-written by Andree Klein, Irene Lilienheim Angelico, Rose-Aimee Todd. Music by Ginette Bellavance, Sylvia Moscovitz. Co-written and directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein. Running time: 69 minutes.
BILL LOCKHART SAW THE problem at once.
     Under United States Public Law 90-100, Lockhart, dean of the University of Minnesota Law School, was one of 18 persons appointed to a [1969] presidential commission formed to study "a matter of national concern," the traffic in obscenity and pornography.
    Elected chairman of the commission, Lockhart realized that "discussions of obscenity and pornography in the past have been devoid of fact."
    "Popular rhetoric," he says in his introduction to The Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (Random House; 1970), "has often contained a variety of estimates on the size  of the 'smut' industry and assertions regarding the consequences of the existence of these materials and exposure to them. Many of these statements, however, have had little anchoring in objective evidence.
    "Within the limits of its time and resources, the Commission has sought, through staff and contract research, to broaden the factual basis for future continued discussion."
    Bonnie Sherr Klein has a problem.
     The director and driving force behind Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography, she falls into many of the traps that Lockhart so carefully charted. To promote what she considers a good cause, she has produced an embarrassingly bad film.
        Klein dislikes pornography. In a decade, she tells us, the porn industry has grown from annual sales of $5 million to $5 billion. Organized crime controls most of it. Porn outlets outnumber McDonald's franchises four to one.
    Not a Love Story is a film calculated to induce outrage. "Facts," such as the above, are sprinkled through its narrative. Their impact is muted by the fact that Klein fails to provide a context within which these little gems can be understood. Incredible as it may seem, she never once offers the filmgoer a solid, working definition of pornography.
    Lockhart, a trained lawyer, knew that his commission had to be clear and precise in its terminology. Pornography was defined straightaway as "explicit sexual depictions in pictorial and textual media."
    The international film industry has, of course, its own working definition of porn. If you can see an erection or a penetration, that's porn.
    Klein, by contrast, offers filmgoers an attitude rather than a definition. We're told that "pornography is violence against women." With admirable catholicism, she includes everything from Playboy Magazine gatefolds and beer parlour strip-tease  to child abuse and sadomasochistic movies within her pornographic universe.
    But wait. There is a great, glaring flaw in her logic. A statistically significant portion of the trade in sexually explicit material depicts, and caters to, male homosexuals. Unless Klein considers the complete exclusion of women to be a form of psychic violence, the homophile's sexuality appears to be non-pornographic.
        Documentary has a duty to play fair with its audience, and with its subject matter. In producing a film that "is clearly a voice against pornography," Klein clearly chose to make not a documentary, but what cinema historian Rachael Low would call "a film of comment and persuasion." In other words, propaganda.
    Although Not a Love Story was made under the aegis of Canada's National Film Board, it was shot largely in the United States. To make her point in the strongest possible terms, Klein shows us a live sex show,  interviews porno film performers and their producer, visits a hardcore peep-show parlour and records a Hustler Magazine photography session.
    Since none of these treats are available in Canada — a point not made in the movie — Klein and crew flew down to New York. Like author Margaret Atwood (who appears briefly in the film), Klein would probably argue that pornography is a "women's issue" and, as such, knows no border.
    An NFB pamphlet promoting the picture offers Klein's list of "Recommended Reading," a bibliography that includes such woman-authored works as Female Sexual Slavery, Pornography: Men Possessing Women and Sexual Politics. It appears that Klein's mind was made up on the subject before she exposed a single foot of film.
    Among the official recommendations of the Lockhart commission was "continued open discussion, based on factual information, on the issues regarding obscenity and pornography." Although his report, a 700-page tome, is somewhat less dynamic reading than Kate Millett, I recommend it to Klein.
    The issue deserves discussion, not diatribes. Bonnie Sherr Klein's taxpayer-funded feature contributes to the problem, rather than to its solution.
    Not a Love Story is available in l6mm and video cassette form from the National Film Board's Vancower film library. A 69-minute-long feature, it contains some hardcore footage.
     There's a waiting list.

Tuesday, July 13, 1982
BEHIND HER BACK, they call her "The Shadow," because, in her feature Not a Love Story:  A Film About Pornography, director Bonnie Sherr Klein claims to know what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
    They agree that her film is embarrassingly bad. When the National Film Board set up Montreal's Studio D as a playpen for its feminist filmmakers, it hardly expected things to get so out of hand.
    Less a documentary than a single issue propaganda blat, Not a Love Story purports to be an examination of a social problem.
    What it is, sadly, is 69 minutes of self-righteous invective denouncing sexually-oriented advertising, magazines, movies and live performances as "violence against women."
    To be fair, they also give her credit. Though inept as a documentarist, Klein is one hell of a saleswoman. Not only have people heard about her film, they actually want to see it.
     Though reluctant to promote it too heavily in Canada, the NFB has allowed it to open commercially in New York City.
    Klein knows how to draw a crowd. Despite its strident anti-porn position, Not a Love Story contains enough sexually explicit (read hardcore pornographic) material to get it banned outright in Ontario,
    Klein also knows how to generate controversy. She interprets any criticism of her film or film-making talents as a direct assault on her goodness and virtue. Since most of the critics that have found fault with her work are male, she raises the spectre of a vast pro-porn, anti-female conspiracy.
    Vancouver filmgoers get an opportunity to make up 
their own minds about her picture next week, when Not a Love Story opens for a three-day, six-performance run at the Robson Square Cinema. The screenings — Friday through Sunday, July 23-25 — are sponsored by the Pacific Cinematheque and the Vancouver Status of Women, who will share the admission proceeds.
    "To place the film within its proper educational context," says a Cinematheque information release, "our screenings will be introduced by guest speakers, who will lead public discussions after each screening." Advance tickets are available from the Vancouver Ticket Centre.

The above are restored versions of two Province reviews by Michael Walsh originally published in 1981 and 1982. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Robin Bougie is among the small army of guests who will be appearing at the 2014 FanExpo Vancouver, April 18-20. He's part of the event's comics component, and will probably have issues of the latest Cinema Sewer (featuring his take on Not a Love Story) available for sale.
    There are two important things that I have learned since my first encounter with Not a Love Story. Lindalee Tracey, the Canadian stripper "Fonda Peters" who is shown to have been "redeemed" for feminism by her encounter with pornography during the making of the documentary, was "betrayed and sickened" by the film. A complex, multifaceted talent, Tracey described her experience with the production in the 10th and final chapter of her 1997 autobiography, Growing Up Naked: My Years in Bump-and-Grind (Douglas & McIntyre). She went on to become an accomplished writer and documentary filmmaker in her own right, a champion of difficult and nuanced issues such as poverty and immigration. Together with her husband, Peter Raymond, she was the creator of the three-season CBC-TV drama The Border (2008-10), among the best shows to appear on Canadian television. Her death in 2006, from cancer at the age of 49, was a tragic loss.
     The second important thing that time has taught me is that I have to respect Bonnie Sherr Klein for two outstanding contributions to Canada and the world: her children. Klein's son Seth is the B.C. director of the progressive research institute, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and a tireless advocate for positive social change. Her daughter Naomi is an author, filmmaker and all-around national treasure whose books (including 2000's No Logo and 2007's Shock Doctrine) offer eye-opening analyses of how the modern world works.