When someone hears or sees the name Pamela Anderson, certain images and stories most likely come to mind: Sex symbol. Playboy. Tommy Lee. Baywatch. Kid Rock. Sex tape. It’s inevitable because the public knows her as someone who used her assets to make a career. But of course, we don’t know the whole story and Anderson knows that too – so she decided to make a documentary that allowed her to tell it in her own words.
Unlike some documentaries, which are created to set the record straight, Anderson really just wants to be heard. As someone who has clearly never had control of her own narrative, she took this opportunity to do just that – with the help of her two adult sons Brandon and Dylan (was she a 90210 fan?) who are both in their late 20s. Released yesterday on Netflix (along with a new memoir called Love, Pamela which is the third book she’s written about herself), Pamela – a love story starts with her childhood. She grew up in an abusive home (yet still seems to have a positive relationship with her parents) and was raped as a young child. It’s terrible to hear how ashamed she was about something that wasn’t her fault. After high school, she was discovered at a British Columbia football game when she appeared on the jumbotron. Next thing she knew, she had a commercial contract with Labatt’s beer to be the Blue Zone girl. Soon after, Playboy magazine tracked her down and in October 1989, she was on the cover.
Most know how it went after that with her time on Baywatch and then marrying Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee after meeting him only a few days prior. They were happy, excited about having kids together, and then the sex tape seen around the world ruined her career. But it didn’t ruin Lee’s career – and that reminded me of the Framing Britney Spears film: https://lauralieff.com/framing-britney-spears/ Archival footage shows clips of multiple nationally televised interviews with reporters asking Spears inappropriate questions about her body and blaming her for the breakup with Justin Timberlake (whose career also went unscathed). Similarly, in Pamela, we see Jay Leno, Larry King, Howard Stern, Jimmy Kimmel, and David Letterman, among others, treating her like garbage. They are awful to her and she handles each of their ridiculous inquiries about her boobs with grace.
While I get that Anderson had made herself into a bit of a caricature, and the fact that everyone in the world had seen her naked didn’t help regarding the public taking her seriously, she’s still a human being. Those interviews are disgusting and I hope that every single one of those television personalities cringe when they see that footage. Thankfully, there is no way any of them would get away with that shit now.
But back to Anderson. The most poignant aspect of the film is her relationship with her sons who we see watching old VHS tapes with their mom – laughing, rolling their eyes, and holding their mom’s hand. She needed it. Some of the footage, which shows happier times, was clearly tough for her to watch since she is long divorced from their dad. Although Brandon and Dylan are obviously aware of who their parents are (Brandon says, “my parents are probably the two most insane people to live on planet earth”), there is no question they love their mom. Because Lee only shows up in archival footage and home videos, it is not clear what the kids’ relationship is with him. Both seem very grounded but who knows – Brandon was on The Hills a few years ago.
It was interesting when Anderson admits that, when she was posing for Playboy and doing naked photoshoots, she wasn’t thinking about how those decisions would affect her future children. I wonder about that all the time with musicians and celebrities – do they think about the consequences their actions will have ten years down the line, or do they not care? Or maybe they just want to make it in the business and do what it takes to succeed.
A few more things I learned:
- Anderson kept so many journals and wrote everything down over the years. Even as a young girl she was hopeful. She still is.
- She initially didn’t want to do Baywatch, but the producers hassled her until she agreed to come to the set. And then the show made history.
- Neither Anderson nor Lee ever accepted any money for the sex tape that went global.
- Once the tape ruined her career, Anderson pivoted by using her body in ad campaigns to advocate for PETA which I thought was smart.
- It seems as though everyone in the 90s had a camcorder with them. See Kid 90: https://lauralieff.com/top-10-things-i-learned-from-kid-90/
- Anderson has been married five times which doesn’t shine the best light on her.
- Considering what she’s been through, Anderson has a good sense of humor but is visibly (and understandably) conflicted and upset when drudging up old memories.
- She’s sad that she couldn’t make things work with the father of her kids and is sad that she still hasn’t found love. Her reactions are heartbreaking.
- Don’t even get her started on the Pam & Tommy Hulu show. She has never seen it or the original sex tape.
- Anderson’s sons offer a great deal of perspective – especially since there is no way that being Pam and Tommy’s offspring has been easy.
Anderson did all the current interviews makeup-free which was a good choice since she has spent her life not being taken seriously. Most recently, she played Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway – a brave and bold move that earned her positive reviews. Good for her. She says, “It’s ok to start something new in your 50s.” Amen. Although she makes it clear that she’s not a victim and takes responsibility for the decisions she’s made and the situations she put herself in, I would call her a survivor. It appears she’s been taking things people say and what they think about her in stride for 20 years – she must be exhausted.
Near the end of the film, she adds, “Why can’t we be the heroes of our own life story?” which explains why she decided to make this documentary and put herself through all the scrutiny again. Now 55 years old, she has taken control of her own narrative and reminds the audience that “you’ve got to be brave to be in love.” After watching her documentary, it’s clear that you’ve got to be brave to be Pamela Anderson.
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