Osocio NL

Canada’s long-lost, government-funded, NSFW anti-pornography film

Posted by Tom Megginson | 17-01-2013 03:09 | Academy | Category: Reviews

Via filmposter.net

I started subscribing to Netflix a few months ago, and one of the best things about it is the many obscure documentaries featured. One is the 2010 doc, After Porn Ends, which follows the retirement lives of several well-known sex performers in the United States. It was pretty interesting, and after I watched it with my wife I asked her if she had ever seen the classic ‘80s expose, Not A Love Story. Surprisingly to me, despite bookshelves full of second-wave feminist books acquired in her late ‘80s - early ‘90s university career, she had not.

Lindalee Tracey and Bonnie Sherr Klein, via NFB

Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography was released in 1982. It was directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein (mother of Naomi Klein) and funded by Canada’s National Film Board (NFB) a government-funded film producer and distributor. It was one of many women-centred films to come out of NFB’s Studio D project.

The movie follows Bonnie Sherr Klein and Lindalee Tracey (introduced working as a stripper at Montreal’s still-legendary Club Supersexe) as they explore the underbelly of pornographic movies and magazines, strip clubs, peep shows and adult cinemas in Canada and the United States.

via NFB

In the words of a reviewer at Internet Movie Database, “This documentary is an examination of the pornography industry such as in strip shows, sex shows, film and magazines. Furthermore, the film explorers how a large portion of it takes a denigrating view of women, leading up to depictions of sexual violence for titillation.”

via NFB

Immediately after its release, the movie was controversial for several reasons. It was banned in Ontario (Canada’s most populous province) because of the explicit sex scenes and nudity it used to illustrate the legal sex trade. And although she comes across as a very sympathetic and intelligent character in the film, Lindalee Tracey complained about the way she and her fellow sex workers had been portrayed. (Tracey went on to become a highly-respected filmmaker in her own right and, after her early death from breast cancer, a Canadian film award was created in her name.)

In the ‘80s, when I was a teen, the movie was infamous both for its hardline message and its explicitness. Feminist groups around my university hometown regularly held screenings, and everyone knew about the scene where a photographer glued a woman’s labia open.

But today, in a time when almost everything is shared online, Not a Love Story is conspicuously elusive. The National Film Board has discontinued its release, except for a $70 educational DVD edition. (Many of their older films are available for streaming or download.) At a time when you can watch almost anyone doing anything to anyone or anything, this early attempt to explore the position of women in porn has been silenced. I wonder why.

via NFB

“It’s basically the Reefer Madness of porn” explained one friend, when I took the matter to social media. The implication being that it is an outdated and overwrought scandal film. I can see where his point of view comes from. He’s a strong advocate against misogyny who has worked as a strip club DJ. That’s an insight I can’t ignore.

The film is certainly dated, with its references to magazines and video tapes, and no internet anonymity. (Not to mention the natural naked bodies complete with pubic hair.) And it certainly is opinionated — arriving right at the beginning of the “feminist sex wars” that brought us a confusing range of new sex-positive women role models from Madonna to Cindy Gallop.

It’s also become a whipping boy (girl?) for critics of old-school feminism.

From ecritic:

Documentarian Bonnie Sherr Klein (who later suffered a catastrophic stroke and wrote a book about it; her daughter Naomi is the author of the well-regarded leftist-anthem book No Logo) doesn’t exactly craft a seething hate letter to porn; she just gives a lot of time to the seethers (like Robin Morgan, a self-described “man hater”) and no screen time to any sensible, non-sleazy defenses of porn. It’s about as unbiased a film as a Michael Moore sucker-punch, only not nearly as funny (indeed, it’s pretty grim) or as biting. Even some of the more eloquent speakers here, like Susan Griffin or Kate Millett, seem to miss the point: The true sin of most garden-variety porn is not so much that it objectifies women as that it commodifies a sacred, intimate act. And let’s not pretend that male porn actors, chosen for their penis size and their ability to screw on command and ejaculate on cue, are any less objectified by the pitiless gaze of the camera.

(I totally disagree with the “men are objectified too” argument here, by the way. Has he even seen any porn? The power imbalance is like the United States invading Grenada.)


A crusading attack on pornography by concerned mother Klein, seconded by a Montreal stripper (Tracey) with a cute comedy act and increasing doubts about her profession. Klein’s pretty depressing view that porn is not culturally determined, but born of some ‘inherently male’ drive to hurt and defile, seems almost oblivious to basic and much-debated questions such as how to find the thin blue line between hardcore and misogyny in ‘respectable’ representations of women, or the potentially enlightening effect of porn’s explicitness about female sexuality (both points raised by Kate Millett in an all-too-brief sequence). Most disturbing of all is that Klein’s own camera is itself often compulsively and rather unpleasantly voyeuristic.

(Okay, that’s pretty accurate.)


For many women, NOT A LOVE STORY undoubtedly provides new insights. Although the material presented in the film is no more revealing than material available in various slide shows used in the women’s movement, the film has succeeded in reaching a wider audience. To what extent, however, does the films perspective serve to confuse as well as to clarify? While NOT A LOVE STORY presents valuable information, it also reduces the issue of pornography to its lowest common denominator and eliminates areas of justifiable dispute. The film has a one-dimensional analysis, one which only discusses pornography within the confines of sexual politics and fails to consider the question within a social/historical context. While there is educational value in showing the violent imagery in contemporary pornography, the net effect of NOT A LOVE STORY is to present a view of women as essentially victims of male, heterosexual culture.

(Read this one in full. It’s very detailed.)

As for myself, I think it’s well-worth watching as a document of its time. Seen within its historical context, it gets you thinking about where a once-monolithic women’s movement thought porn was going then, compared to where both feminism and porn have ended up now.

The movie’s most timeless message speaks of how the depictions of humiliation and violence get more and more extreme as audiences get bored with ordinary kinks. If only they knew. The online world gives us all instant — and sometimes accidental — access to a dizzying variety of erotica and pornography that the makers of Not A Love Story couldn’t have imagined. People are free to express all sorts of sexual ideas and desires. Some are positive and affirming. Some are really obscure, but harmless. Some are extremely hurtful to others. The challenge is for us to try to celebrate sexuality in a way that lets everyone involved feel good when they fall asleep at night.

via NFB

After some searching, I found an online version of the film. It’s a bootlegged, low-resolution YouTube copy made from an old VHS tape. If you can stand the quality, and while it’s still there, step back in time and see what all the fuss was about. (Also, look for a cameo by poet Margaret Atwood, and a pro-erotica rant by Kate Millett that I just love.)

National Film Board of Canada

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