Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Traci Lords: Underneath It All

There's quite a bit of fun associated with reading a memoir penned by an porn star: you get all the salacious pleasure by immersing yourself in sleaze but you can always talk yourself into considering it to be an intellectual exercise.

Traci Lords was a bit of a sensation in the porn industry because she made all but one of her 20-odd films before she turned 18 (she lied about her age). That meant all the movies except for one that she shot the day after her 18th birthday in Paris were illegal. Even more disturbingly, as she alludes to in her book Underneath It All, the FBI knew about it and consciously waited for her to turn 18 so they could mount a sting on numerous producers and directors.

The book covers a fair bit of ground: Lords talks about her life as a tween, how she was sucked into the world of adult movies, her experiences as a porn star, her involvement in the pedophilia lawsuits filed by the FBI, her decision to leave the porn industry behind and her difficult but determined entry into "legitimate films" - mainstream celluloid that would not involve any hard or soft-core exploitation.

Its a compelling story and one that from all indications seems to have been written by Lords without a ghost writer. And that's unfortunate, because Lords' writing is terribly uneven. Its not unusual for her to skimp over her stint on Melrose Place - her most widely watched mainstream gig - and then burn a page detailing a mundane shopping spree.

The Lotus in the mud is in the way Lords describes the lack of guidance - even coherence - in her early days. She often wakes up from naps looking at her step dad sexually abusing her, but then isn't sure if that actually occurred. Once she thinks she even sees her Mom colluding with her step-dad, but again isn't sure it actually happens. There are more instances of Lords going through this type of PTSD related amnesia.

If it is tough to read the reckless downwards spiral she undergoes, its even tougher to read about how she continues with her repetition compulsion. When she makes the decision to extricate herself from an exploitative industry, she continues her loveless relationship with the man who directed her in several of her adult films.

There are plenty of instances where Lords pulls punches, a phenomenon I've come to expect in memoirs written by people who want to continue working in the industry. She skims over any dirt she may have encountered in the casting process. She barely subjects herself to conjecture that Hollywood might be casting her in exploitation flicks as a once-was porn punchline. Later, she has a rousing extra-relationship affair which she proceeds to justify in a rudimentary way.

There are very few insights into the mechanics of how the industry works, hardly an analysis of how her moderate mainstream success came about. Despite its intriguing source material, it makes Underneath It All a rather frustrating book to read.

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