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Inside Deep Throat
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Ironically, this documentary doesn't say a mouthful"
3 stars

At the risk of sounding like a prude, I have never been much for pornographic films. This isn’t to say that I object to on-screen sexuality–the ever-growing DVD collection contains titles that range from the high-end likes of “The Dreamers,” “I Am Curious-Yellow” and several works from Catherine Breillat to grindhouse trash such as “Please Don’t Eat My Mother” and “The Erotic Adventures of Zorro,” not to mention numerous discs with “Cheerleaders” or “Emmanuelle” in the titles–but hard-core pornography has never really done it for me. In the few that I have seen, whatever erotic effect that they might have is quickly overwhelmed by the threadbare production values and extended sex scenes that are as clinical as the stuff shown on that cable channel that is always showing surgery footage, only not quite as arousing. And since the ones that I have seen are mostly from the 1970's heyday of the genre, I can always depress myself further by remembering that all of the people humping away on the screen are currently either dead or qualifying for membership for A.A.R.P.

That said, I must admit to having a long-standing intellectual fascination with porno films and the social, economic and cultural impacts that they have made for as long as the movies themselves have existed. Therefore, I admit to being curious about “Inside ‘Deep Throat’,” a new documentary promising to examine the history and legacy of what probably remains, to this day, the most famous pornographic film title of all time (with the possible exception of “Debbie Does Dallas”). With a story that encompasses such irresistible elements as sex, violence, show business, politics, organized crime and a genuine social/cultural revolution, someone would have to try very hard to create an uninteresting film out of such rich and compelling raw material. Unfortunately, the people behind this documentary–directors Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato and producer Brian Grazer (yes, the same guy behind “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Cat in the Hat”)–have apparently decided to try very hard to do just that and the result is a disappointingly glib and shallow look at a subject that cries out for a more in-depth treatment than the “E: True Hollywood Story” approach that it has been given here.

For those too young or too prudish to recall, “Deep Throat”was a pornographic version of the Hollywood phenomenon known as the “gimmick movie,” the kind film where everything from the production to the publicity revolve around one key gimmick. Most of the times, these gimmicks are technological in nature (which have ranged from such one-time curiosities as sound and color to more arcane tricks like 3-D and IMAX) but some of them revolve around the attributes of the stars themselves, such as Jackie Chan’s death-defying stunts. “Deep Throat” was an example of the latter–it was a project that came about because adult filmmaker Gerard Damiano was casting for performers for a new film and was introduced to a woman named Linda Lovelace who, while looking more like a Deadhead than a typical porn starlet, had a facility for performing oral sex in such a way (various theories suggested hypnosis, breath control and some kind of manipulation of the esophagus) that the male end of the deal completely disappeared into her mouth. Damiano knew a star-making performance when he saw it and, instead of wasting it as a bit in the film he had been planning, he decided to write an entire film around her ability.

The resulting film was, to put it charitably, completely idiotic–some nonsense about how Lovelace (“as herself”) learns from her doctor (Harry Reems) that her clitoris had somehow located itself in the back of her throat and uses that knowledge to finally achieve sexual satisfaction–and even most porn afficionados now regard it as lousy even by the reduced standards of the genre. Whatever its flaws, it did prove a showcase for Lovelace’s talent and when it was released in June, 1972 (the same week, in a bit of karma, that also saw the Watergate break-in), it became a sensation as audiences–not just the usual raincoat crowd but upper-class types and celebrities as well–lined up around the block to see it. Instead of being shunted aside, it became a cultural obsession; film critics and sociologists discussed its meaning, Johnny Carson made jokes about it on “The Tonight Show” and Lovelace became an overnight star, perhaps the only person who will ever appear on the covers of Women’s Wear Daily and Screw in the same month. While no one knows exactly how much money it made, some estimates have ranged as high as $600 million; while this is most likely a gross exaggeration, even one-tenth of that amount would have been an astonishing return on what was an investment of about $25,000.

Of course, there were darker aspects to the story as well. The film was financed by organized-crime figures and when it began to pull in the big bucks, the people who actually made the film found themselves entirely cut out of the bonanza as the money disappeared into shadowy pockets. Feminist groups protested the film and the message that it seemed to be sending and found an unexpected ally a few years later in Linda Lovelace herself; after her post-“Throat” career went nowhere, she made headlines with a biography that claimed that she was a victim of sexual abuse and that she was forced to appear in the film by husband/”manager” Chuck Traynor, occasionally at gunpoint. More significantly, the film found itself the target of obscenity prosecutions brought on by the increasingly conservative political climate of the times. (After one court ruled against the film, one theater posted the classic missive on its marquee “Judge Cuts Throat, World Mourns”.) They were so eager to bring the film to its knees that, having already given Damiano and Lovelace immunity, prosecutors decided to get creative and actually brought Harry Reems to trial as part of a criminal case against the producers: in essence, threatening him with jail simply for being an artist whose work they didn’t like.

See what I mean about the basic material about “Inside ‘Deep Throat’” being inherently fascinating? The problem with the film is that instead of really digging into the material in any significant, Bailey & Barbato have only given us the broad surfaces and nothing else. Many people are interviewed–including participants in both the film (including Damiano, Reems and various behind-the-scenes people) and its legal troubles (including a prosecutor who, in a recent interview, still describes the filmmakers as “prostitutes and whoremongers) as well as outsiders (including Hugh Hefner, Erica Jong, John Waters, Normal Mailer, Carl Bernstein and Gore Vidal) commenting on the social significance of the film. While some of the comments by Damiano (who still seems shocked that something so dumb could have been so controversial) and Reems are interesting, too many of them have been reduced to tiny blurbs and there is always the sense that the directors are cutting away just as the conversation is about to get interesting. As for the outside participants, none of them really contribute anything new or thoughtful to the proceedings and seem to have been added simply on the premise that their presence would add a layer of credibility that the film should have earned on its own. It says a lot when one of the talking heads, Dick Cavett, is repeatedly included even though he admits in his first appearance that he has never seen the film that he has been hired to discuss. Seeing as how that seems to have worked out for him just fine here, I plan on using that exact same tactic when my editors ask me to review “Son of the Mask”.

While Bailey & Barbato are going for the easy crowd-pleasing bits like the interviews, the wacky bits of vintage footage–including news reports, a fascinating glimpse of a debate between Reems and the self-righteous Roy Cohn and just enough footage of Lovelace at work to earn the film the NC-17 rating–and spot-on music cues (including many, such as “Brand-New Key,” that were previously utilized to brilliant effect in the vastly superior “Boogie Nights”), they overlook a lot of other interesting topics, possibly because to do so might have required actual research and thought. I would have loved to have seen even a cursory examination of exactly where the vast majority of the profits made from the film, so enormous that one person claims that the stacks of bills were weighed instead of counted, actually went. You won’t learn here, for example, that the production entity that the crime figures organized to create “Deep Throat” went on to release the likes of “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” before deciding that there were easier ways of laundering money. It never really examines the thoughts or motives of Lovelace, who preached the gospel of porn until it could do no more for her, only to preach just as vociferously against it when the cultural winds began to shift and then, when she had milked that for all it was worth, she went back to posing for adult magazines just before dying in a car accident in 2002–nor does it give any mention about her rumored pre-“Throat” porn past. And while I disagree with the rhetoric deployed by most porn opponents, I would have liked to have seen at least one coherent and thoughtful opposing viewpoint; the closest thing we get here is one of the original prosecutors wistfully remarking that pornography could be eradicated once and for all “if we could get these terrorists to go away.”

For those who have absolutely no knowledge about the history or significance of “Deep Throat,” I suppose that “Inside ‘Deep Throat’” might serve as a adequate way to acclimate themselves with the subject without having to sit through the film itself. For those with an actual working interest in the subject (in other words, the very people most likely to see such a film in the first place), I suspect that they will come in knowing more about “Deep Throat” than this film will provide. There are plenty of sources that provide a fuller and more engrossing view of the subject (one of the best is the chapter dedicated to the film in Joe Bob Briggs’s book “Profoundly Disturbing”); “Inside ‘Deep Throat’”, on the other hand, is like one of those puffy DVD extras that you might click on once out of idle curiosity for a few minutes and then never watch again.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11257&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/10/05 23:22:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/05/16 Charles Tatum Standard documentary 4 stars
9/17/07 Jason Merrill The reviewer didn't like it because it's not the movie he would make. It was wonderful! 4 stars
9/01/07 j.thompson great fun,a breakthrough in social adventure 4 stars
9/25/05 a. kurlovs very well made documentary - funny, informative. 4 stars
2/03/05 mott the drupal needs more money shots 3 stars
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  11-Feb-2005 (NC-17)
  DVD: 20-Sep-2005



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