By Greg Carlson
Filmmaker Ryan White’s documentary “Pamela: A Love Story” (stylized onscreen as “Pamela, a Love Story”) serves as a companion piece to the contemporaneously published memoir “Love, Pamela.” Both artifacts allow model and actor Pamela Anderson the opportunity to reshape many aspects of the media-derived narrative of her once chaotic life.
The performer rocketed to international superstardom in the 1990s on the sandy and sun-soaked beaches of the television series “Baywatch,” but it was her tumultuous and ill-fated marriage to Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee – which reached an apex, or nadir, via the public release of a stolen sex tape – that some would argue ushered in the era of the internet-driven celebrity scandal.
Before the movie walks us through Anderson’s shock and frustration at the theft of her private and intimate property – as well as the absolute circus-on-a-rollercoaster that came with an unpredictable and eventually abusive rock star – White presents some background information about the intense relationship between Anderson’s parents and the personality traits of her father that embraces some armchair psychology to suggest the origins of the subject’s penchant for bad boys with wild streaks.
Anderson invites White into her home, narrating the film in a combination of conversational on-camera interviews and audio recordings of excerpts from her many journals, diaries, and personal correspondence.
The specter of the sex tape at first hovers over the story, but White’s curated inclusion of a huge supply of home video – accompanied by Anderson’s explanation that she captured, recorded, and documented her life as a matter of regularity and routine – serves as a reasonable explanation of the intimate footage’s origin and existence.
White also integrates archival material that charts the course of Anderson’s success from the seemingly overnight sensation of being “discovered” at a 1989 BC Lions football game to an invitation to be photographed for “Playboy” (she would end up on more of that magazine’s covers than any other person).
The absence of those who might offer deeper critical insights and context regarding the entrenched double standards faced by women (in entertainment and in general) means that Anderson alone must explicate and deconstruct the feelings that accompanied years of limited and limiting lines of questions that inevitably zeroed in on her physical body, her plastic surgery, and her sex symbol status.
That approach works. Time has not been kind to the casual way in which talk show hosts felt entitled to diminish and objectify Anderson, but the old clips selected by White confirm what turns out to be the greatest delight of the documentary: Pamela Anderson was and is intelligent, quick-witted, candid, and always prepared to deal with the older white men in jackets and ties seated behind desks that inflate their power and authority.
The last sections of the movie follow the stunt casting of Anderson as Roxie Hart in “Chicago” on Broadway in 2022. It is no spoiler to say that she aimed to prove naysayers wrong yet again.
By this point, White has skipped over some of Anderson’s reality television and “Dancing With the Stars” work, but he does manage to squeeze in at least minimal acknowledgment of her animal rights activism, her curious relationship with Julian Assange, the cult film “Barb Wire,” and her five post-Lee marriages. Through it all, a charming Anderson handles everything like a pro.
November 27th 2023
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