Documentarian Ryan White has a new film out on Netflix, an intimate portrait of a woman whom many may think they already know intimately — though not at all. “Pamela, a Love Story’ is perhaps the first time we’ve heard the life story of Pamela Anderson from Anderson herself, honest, unvarnished, raw and vulnerable.
In the wake of the critically lauded Hulu series “Pam & Tommy,” in which Lily James and Sebastian Stan starred as Anderson and ex-husband Tommy Lee, “Pamela, a Love Story” feels like an important corrective to the record. While “Pam & Tommy” managed to unpack the toxicity of the tabloid story that was the Anderson/Lee sex tape — the first viral video — and illustrate the ways in which Anderson was horrifically maligned in the public eye and in legal proceedings, the dramedy series still took some creative liberties with the story itself, and Anderson dismissed the project, unwilling to revisit that difficult and damaging time in her life.
White’s film is about Anderson’s many love stories, but the most profound love story he captures is the one she embarks on with herself. Over the course of the film, Anderson sifts through the many VHS tapes and journals with which she documented her life, and tells the audience her story, honestly, with humor, wearing no makeup, at home in British Columbia, sitting with her sons, Brandon and Dylan Lee (Brandon is a producer on the film). Ultimately, we come to know Anderson as a person, not a sex object, a far cry from what was expected for her over the course of her 30-year career.
It’s a film that falls in line with the celebrity documentaries that allow a peak behind the curtain of fame, offering these public figures a chance to be human, a chance to share their innermost secrets, on their own terms and with their own participation. On Netflix, there’s the 2020 Taylor Swift doc “Miss Americana,” directed by Lana Wilson, depicting Swift’s songwriting process and political evolution, and the 2022 doc “Halftime,” in which Amanda Micheli follows Jennifer Lopez as she prepares to perform at the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show, and navigate the ups and downs of an awards campaign for her role in “Hustlers.”
On Apple TV+, singing superstar Selena Gomez offers up a bit of her life in the doc “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me,” revealing her physical and mental health challenges and the rigors of a world tour, directed by “Madonna: Truth or Dare” director Alek Keshishian. Actor Val Kilmer found a unique way to make a film about his life and career after his battle with throat cancer, collaborating with his children on the tender memoir “Val,” streaming on Prime Video.
Perhaps the closest comparison to “Pamela, a Love Story,” at least on paper, might be the documentary about another blond celebrity who faced the maw of tabloid culture and battled the paparazzi — the two women even share the same man in their past, and reckoned with the leak of a sex tape. Paris Hilton offers a look at her life and childhood challenges in “This is Paris,” directed by Alexandra Dean, streaming for free on YouTube.
“Pamela, a Love Story,” is a striking film, not just for its subject, but for the simple beauty with which White captures this complex and complicated woman, who reveals herself in new ways in this film — intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and, ultimately, with a sense of triumph and peace. It’s a remarkable, and moving, portrait.
Discuss the news on NABUR, a place to have local conversations The Neighborhood Alliance for Better Understanding and Respect ✔ A site just for our local community ✔ Focused on facts, not misinformation ✔ Free for everyone