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Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography

Directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein
Canada, 1981 (documentary, 69 minutes, colour, English)
Also known as "C'est surtout pas de l'amour", "C'est surtout pas de l'amour : un film sur la pornographie", "Not a Love Story"
Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography
Image: © National Film Board of Canada

Film Description:
"A thought-provoking chronicle of the odyssey of two women, Bonnie Klein, the director of the film, and Linda Lee Tracey, a stripper. Together they set out to explore the world of peep shows, strip joints and sex supermarkets. Both are motivated by the desire to know more about pornography—why it exists, the forms it takes, and how it affects relations between men and women. Not a Love Story offers insights and perspectives from men and women who earn their living in the porn trade, and from some of pornography's most outspoken critics. This film contains sexually explicit material that may be disturbing to some people."
-- National Film Board of Canada (source)

Film Credits (partial):
Written by: Irene Angelico, Andrée Klein, Bonnie Sherr Klein, Rose-Aimée Todd
Produced by: Kathleen Shannon, Dorothy Todd Hénaut, Micheline Le Guillou
Participants: Linda Lee Tracy (Fonda Peters), Suze Randall, David Wells, Kate Millet, Robin Morgan, Kathleen Barry, Susan Griffin, Margaret Atwood, Edward Donnerstein, Kenneth Pitchford, Marc Stevens, Ron Martin, Richard Snowdon, Patrice Lucas, Rick Lucas
Cinematography: Pierre Letarte
Film Editing: Anne Henderson
Music: Ginette Bellavance
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada

Notes about Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography


Quotes by the Director

"A [National] Film Board [of Canada] guy said it [Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography] was undistributable at first, then he sold the rights to a company that distributed porn movies. We saw an ad for it in Washington, D.C., with porn movies. We forced the NFB to buy it back. In the year we distributed it, there was always someone crying in the restroom afterwards. People still tell me that this film changed their life—it caused them to leave a relationship or it changed their career."
-- Bonnie Sherr Klein (source)

"In a sense, you don't have control over what people will make of your film. There was a whole anti-pornography movement, that was beginning, and the film [Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography] really catalyzed that movement more. And it wasn't necessarily a movement I would join, personally."
-- Bonnie Sherr Klein (source)

"Journal: May 24, 1989
Watching Not a Love Story after so many years, I see that it's really about voice—or lack of it. The dialogue about pornography and erotica has evolved since 1981 and become more complex, but Not a Love Story was part of breaking women's silence, opening our eyes and our mouths. Seeing it now in Israel, I realize the coherence of my life's work. It wasn't a series of unrelated films, but variations on a related theme: speech vs. silence, peace vs. violence, solidarity vs. isolation."
-- Bonnie Sherr Klein (source)

"There was a delicate line about how much pornography to show. The question was how much would create more rage than people could handle."
-- Bonnie Sherr Klein (source)

Quote by the Director [in French]

"J'avais conçu au début que la moitié du film serait une affirmation du sexe, de la femme, de l'homme et de notre sexualité, remplie de merveilleuses images érotiques. Puis, j'ai vu cette partie rétrécir et rétrécir jusqu'à ce que je me rende compte qu'une image érotique ne peut co-exister dans cet univers pornographique."
-- Bonnie Sherr Klein (source)

Quotes about Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography

"Almost immediately after the [Festival of Festivals] showing, the Canadian press responded with an enormous number of varied, yet mostly negative reviews of [Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography]. While Studio D and the NFB had anticipated some of this response, the intense, relentless media attention proved to be a lot more than they bargained for. Despite their careful and detailed planning, nothing could have prepared the NFB workers for Jay Scott's scathing criticisms in [the Globe and Mail]. Scott had attended a private screening for the media five days prior to the official launch. His notorious review of September 7th, titled 'Not A Love Story: A Sleezy Peek at Women and Porn', set the tenor for the huge media debate that would follow [Not a Love Story] in the next two years as it travelled across Canada, the U.S., and around the world."
-- Elizabeth Susan Anderson (source)

"In conjunction with other events—attending a women's rally, reading current feminist theory, negotiating a sexual relationship with my boyfriend—my experience of viewing [Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography] helped to consolidate my emerging white, middle class, straight female identity. In 1985, a twenty-two year old college student, still in the process of claiming my own sexuality, and an initiate to feminism, I was the ideal viewer of [Not a Love Story]."
-- Elizabeth Susan Anderson (source)

"In Winnipeg, some women in the audience [for Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography] were angry and crying. Some men stood up and walked out in anger. Male film critics here have slammed the film as hard as male critics in Toronto who attended the premiere in September, calling the women in the audiences 'Amazons' and 'men-haters' for remarks made during the discussion period following the screenings. The women patrons had a different view."
-- Richard Cleroux (source)

"I remember the controversy surrounding [Bonnie Sherr] Klein's film [Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography], including Globe and Mail critic Jay Scott calling her a 'bourgeois, feminist fascist.' Klein's worldview and point-of-view are intricately intertwined, but why slur the filmmaker when the flaws of NALS rest in filmmaking devices that could have worked, but backfired?"
-- Janis Cole (source)

"[Watching Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography in 1981] you saw [Bonnie Sherr] Klein and [Lindalee] Tracey shaken by what they saw but audiences, especially women, were also sharing that experience. They came in with one idea about pornography but once they saw the violence they became understandably upset. For some, that meant rethinking their politics."
-- Susan G. Cole (source)

"While it seems to be an empirical documentary, while it seems to begin free from preconceptions about 'pornography,' while it seems to be a chronicle of a search for information, it actually begins with a definite—if not fully worked out—theory of sexuality that converts Linda Lee Tracey's apparent quest for understanding into a mythically structured moral odyssey."
-- R. Bruce Elder (source)

"Not a Love Story exhibits, in remarkable variety, the images of brutal and sadistic pornography that have become powerful elements in popular culture. It doesn't stop, as the filmmakers must have been tempted to do, with discussion of the elements of pornography—it puts the pornography right on the screen, so that the audience knows the film is not about pretty pictures in Playboy or obscenities in Margaret Laurence novels."
-- Robert Fulford (source)

"I was rocked by the vitriolic tone of the reviews, coming as they did from usually placid reviewers who manage to find civil things to say about the most suppurating Hollywood trash. [...] Far from the ideological rampage the men claimed to have seen, Not a Love Story was a remarkably polite depiction of the multi-billion-dollar porn industry in Canada and the United States."
-- Michele Landsberg (source)

"One issue that Not a Love Story raises for women's documentary is how feminist discourse can become propaganda and specifically the degree to which film can, or should, represent the mentorship that Klein takes on, pointing a young woman, and thus viewers, in the direction of her ideological, creative, and critical ethic."
-- Joan Nicks (source)

"Not a Love Story is very much a National Film Board of Canada product: concerned, engaged, up to the minute on social questions, but slick, manipulative, avoiding all the hard questions to capture the ready success of answering the easy ones."
-- B. Ruby Rich (source)

"The film [Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography], a crassly structured collage of interviews, ingenuous 'explorations' of the Times Square tenderloin area and shock footage of images 'degrading to women,' is another salvo of the strange alliance between radical feminism and the Moral Majority: it's an example of bourgeois, feminist fascism."
-- Jay Scott (source)

"The proposal for Not a Love Story, which was given the NFB nod to proceed by one solitary vote, was a hasty bid for year-end, unearmarked production funds. Although planning a leave of absence, Bonnie Klein submitted the proposal because of a gut-level feeling that women needed to break untold silences about pornography on a broad scale. She noticed how friends' eyes lit up and nostrils flared when she broached the topic, and also how long-repressed feelings and testimonials would eventually come flooding out. This was Klein's market research."
-- Chris Sherbarth (source)

"Not a Love Story, the National Film Board documentary about pornography, has generated so much controversy that it has become more of a happening than a movie. This week, more than 1,000 people lined up and half of them couldn't get in to Toronto's St. Lawrence Centre for a 'private' screening of the film that was panned by local newspaper critics and banned for commercial release by Ontario censors. Except in Quebec and British Columbia, where the movie has been approved by censors, that scene has been replayed in major cities across Canada since the film was first shown at Toronto's Festival of Festivals in September."
-- Judy Steed (source)

"It has been hailed as revolutionary, and denounced as reactionary. It is arguably the most controversial and certainly one of the most commercially successful documentaries in the history of the National Film Board. Over thirty years since its making, Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography remains a touchstone in debates about sexuality and gender, and about the politics of feminist activist filmmaking."
-- Rebecca Sullivan (source)

"Not a Love Story remains the most high-profile film associated with Studio D. One of the most popular films and most broadly circulated documentaries in NFB history, it was highly controversial and was described in a Studio D press release as 'a central work in the burgeoning movement against pornography.' It was banned by the Saskatchewan and Ontario Censor Boards but was quickly picked up by commercial distributors across North America."
-- Gail Vanstone (source)

"Not a Love Story is a sober, responsible film. It achieves a balance and restraint that seem positively saintly, considering the enemy. And yet the film has aroused a furious opposition."
-- Maurice Yacowar (source)

Quotes about Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography [in French]

"En nous montrant la pornographie dure, violente, poussée au bout de la dégradation, ce film nous a appris qu'il n'y a pas de pornographie douce. Celle qui paraît inoffensive n'est que l'embryon d'un monstre effrayant. Il suffit de le nourrir pour qu'il le devienne. Ce film nous le fait bien comprendre en révélant l'étendue de la pornographie et sa rentabilité."
-- Monique Caverni (source)

"Ce film [Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography] a été énormément critiqué et même censuré à l'époque. Son but est de condamner la violence dans la pornographie et l'exploitation sexuelle des femmes, en plus de faire réfléchir sur différentes ramifications de l'industrie. C'est un film qui ouvre beaucoup de portes pour une réflexion. D'ailleurs, au fil des entrevues, on voit une progression dans les pensées de certaines personnes qui travaillent dans l'industrie du sexe. Autant de temps sera dédié à la projection [le 8 mars 2022] qu'à la discussion [...] Même s'il date de 1981 et que les chiffres présentés sur l'industrie ne sont plus à jour, le film demeure extrêmement d'actualité, notamment par rapport à la condition des femmes et l'influence de la pornographie sur les gens. J'ai hâte de voir comment le public va le recevoir en 2022."
-- Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre (source)

Bibliography for Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography


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