What To Watch This Week: Pamela – A Love Story
It’s been exactly a year since Pam & Tommy, the Disney+ biopic, came out. Set in the Wild West early days of the internet, the eight-part series starred Lily James and Sebastian Stan as the titular characters, and claimed to be based on the larger-than-life true story of the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape. A love story, crime caper and cautionary tale rolled into one, the series explored the intersection of privacy, technology and celebrity – to surreal and occasionally moving effect. Since its release, we’ve learned that Anderson had nothing to do with the Disney production – in fact, no one even asked her permission – and worse, that it sent her into a spiral of despair as the darkest moments of her life were thrown back into the spotlight. Now, Pamela: A Love Story – a Netflix documentary – lands today, as does Love, Pamela a new autobiography, which will both finally tell her version of events.
In 1995, Anderson’s star was soaring. A Playboy centrefold regular and Saturday-night fixture on TV as CJ Parker in Baywatch, she was one of the most wanted women in the world. Yet her hopes and ambitions of becoming a serious actress were dashed with the release in 1997 of a sex tape – starring her and her new husband, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. Stolen from the couple’s home, the video went from underground bootleg-VHS curiosity to full-blown global sensation when it eventually landed on the internet. After this, Anderson’s career crashed and burned, and everyone from talk show hosts to paparazzi made her private life – and body – fair game. The release of the sex tape undeniably derailed Anderson’s life and marriage and ruined her career. Consent, sex shaming and internet porn are all issues still being tackled today, and Anderson was one of the first to have experienced all three in an extremely public way.
Filmed in 2022 at her childhood hometown of Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, where she’s returned to be with her aging parents, Anderson’s side of the story is often told through her huge collection of home videos and diary entries, allowing her to reclaim the power of VHS to show her life on her own terms. There are moving modern-day interviews with Anderson and Lee’s two 20-something sons, Brandon and Dylan, who explain what it was like growing up among peers who had all seen their mother naked. One particular section centres on the announcement that Pam & Tommy is being made, which brings up all the old feelings of shame, powerlessness and anger for Anderson and her boys.
Like many women in her position, it was men who profited from Anderson’s success – we learn that she never got a penny from Playboy and as she and Lee declined to licence the sex tape, they didn’t see any of the millions made from its circulation. She also talks about the sexual abuse she experienced as a child and the miscarriage she had on the set of Barb Wire. But it’s not all about her exploitation, as she takes the opportunity to highlight her activism for animal rights charity PETA and her fight to support Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. And she’s consistently self-deprecating and witty, especially about her many, many marriages (she even goes through a divorce during the making of the documentary).
It’s important to say this isn’t a depressing watch. Told with great humour and honesty, it’s an eye-opening film that elicits sympathy but is never self-pitying. In fact, it all leads up to a big moment in her career where – for the first time since that first Playboy cover – she’s doing something for herself. “I always thought my boobs had the career, and I was just tagging along,” she says early on in the film. If you’ve ever written Anderson off as just a sex symbol, this documentary is guaranteed to change your mind.
Pamela: A Love Story is available to watch on Netflix now.
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