PAMELA, A LOVE STORY. What’s left of CJ Parker? [Document Review]
I will admit right away, so that there are no understatements – Baywatch occupies a very important place in my heart and played an important role in my television education. When I was growing up, I hung posters of Erika Eleniak and Pamela Anderson on the walls, and while neither of them had a great acting career, the latter in particular made a name for itself in pop culture history – mainly due to its large breasts and some tape. Today, thanks to the documentary Pamela, a love story, the former sex bomb returns to tell about those events and about herself.
In the world of celebrities, the fashion for dusting faded stars will probably never pass – especially since they rarely cope well with the lack of interest. It seems that Pamela Anderson, a former sex symbol and tabloid heroine, is not bothered by being out of the spotlight – at least that’s what the Ryan White-directed Netflix documentary presents. The model and actress, known for her role as CJ Parker in Baywatch, welcomes viewers to her family home in the Canadian town of Ladysmith – no makeup, an oversized sweater, no glitz. This is the impression it is supposed to make – after years of being famous mainly for breast augmentation surgery and a sex tape that was stolen from her and her husband Tommy Lee, Pamela wants to be natural and authentic. The problem is that her narrative doesn’t quite allow for that.
After a brief introduction, Anderson quickly moves on to discuss traumatic childhood memories – the kind that can ruin a person completely, especially when they happen early in life. Meanwhile, Pamela mentions them almost in passing, as if with a smile, quickly switching to her (suspiciously fresh-looking) diaries from years ago, filled with memories of the first major event in her career – posing for “Playboy”. During the entire screening, we hear about her traumatic experiences maybe two or three times, but each time these mentions are very sparing. This can be explained by the desire to repress certain memories, but if Pamela decided to mention them, why didn’t she spend more time working through the topic? Documentaries like this one – intimate, personal – usually have room for dealing with past traumas and freeing oneself from emotions hidden for years. In Pamela, a love story, painful experiences from years ago seem like phantoms, something unexistent and unaddressed. It is impossible to suspect Anderson of confabulation, but such a superficial treatment of extremely important events from her childhood significantly deprives them of credibility.
The heroine herself also does not seem interesting enough to effectively occupy the viewer for nearly two hours of the screening. Pamela Anderson, although she has many significant and laudable achievements in the field of animal activism, in many situations still does not seem to be the mature person that she would like to see. Despite being nearly fifty-six years old, in many statements she comes off as the flyaway she was three decades ago in interviews on almost every American talk show. One could say that – like Chandler Bing from Friends – he hides his true emotions behind a facade of jokes and laughter, but unfortunately. When Pamela makes jokes, she just comes out as a not-so-brilliant girl who perhaps didn’t deserve all the bad things that happened to her, but who also prevented herself from getting the respect she hoped to gain through many disastrous life decisions. Today, we remember her mainly as a “Playboy Playmate” and a slow-motion Baywatch rescuer (less often: an animal rights activist), but if it weren’t for a few not-so-wise decisions, she might have done much more in modeling or acting. Meanwhile, we focus on the fate of a woman who for most of her life was treated as a lovely curiosity, not a self-determining, talented woman.
I cannot resist the impression that Ryan White wanted to create a kind of documentary reverse of Blonde – in both cases we are talking about women of incredible beauty, perceived precisely through her prism and entangled in industry relationships consisting in constant admiration and use of their bodily qualities. But where Andrew Dominik’s film delves into the psyche of the heroine, Pamela, a love story is limited to dismissing the most important things with laughter. We won’t learn too many new things about the divine Pamela from Ryan White’s documentary, and after the screening the only feeling will be… indifference.