Inside Deep Throat
Director : Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
Screenplay : Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
MPAA Rating : NC-17
Year of Release : 2005
Inside Deep Throat, a showy, entertaining, and informative documentary is less about Deep Throat the film than it is about Deep Throat the cultural phenomenon. Prudes beware, as the writer/director team of Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato cast a nostalgically romantic gaze on their exploration of how pornography brushed along the edge of mainstream American culture, coming tantalizingly close to making its big break before the forces of law and order forced it back underground, ironically making it bigger than ever, but with less character. As Bailey and Barbato tell it, at the behest of producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind), porn in the early ’70s wasn’t so much about sex as it was about rebellion, which is why it was so important for the cultural police to ensure it was relegated to the fringes.
Although it is hard to imagine now, there was a period in the early 1970s when hard-core pornographic features were threatening to become a regular part of the mainstream film industry. This was a time when hard-core features were shot on film and had narratives and characters and humor -- not just graphic sex. They were being reviewed in industry trade magazines, were appearing regularly on Variety’s weekly top 50 box office list, and often played in theaters right next to “legitimate” Hollywood films. As we learn at one point in Inside Deep Throat, at least one major studio even allowed its stages to be used for hard-core filmmaking.
From June 1972 to June 1973, three high-profile hard-core films, Deep Throat (1972), The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), and Behind the Green Door (1973), outearned on both a screen-by-screen basis and in terms of total revenue most films produced in Hollywood. The fascination with what became known as “porno chic” briefly infiltrated the mainstream movie industry, resulting in sexually explicit (though not hard core) art house hits like Last Tango in Paris (1972) and Emmanuelle (1974). Established filmmakers even flirted with the idea of making Hollywood-style pornography; for example, in an interview with a French magazine in 1971, Stanley Kubrick talked about how he was fascinated with the idea of making a hard-core film with movie stars and a substantial budget.
Narrated by Dennis Hopper, Inside Deep Throat focuses primarily on Deep Throat because it was the first and most prominent of the “porno chic” films. Bailey and Barbato round up an impressive group of interviews to paint a portrait of the film’s production, reception, and eventual prosecution, as well as fill in the cultural context of why Deep Throat, an incredibly silly and amateurish bit of porn fluff, became such a cultural lightning rod. Scholars like Jon Lewis, Camille Paglia, and Linda Williams give enough background to place the film in its social and industrial contexts, while celebrity flash is provided by John Waters, Wes Craven (who admits to having shot a few porn films in his day, although he declines to name names), and Hugh Hefner, among others.
First and foremost among those involved with making the film is its writer/director, Gerard Damiano, a former hairdresser turned porn auteur who now lives a quiet life and wears frighteningly high-waisted pants. Damiano is candid in discussing the film and how he came to make it over six days in Florida for $25,000; the only time he is elusive is when it comes to discussing organized crime’s involvement in the film’s initial investment and how that resulted in his being “bought out,” to put it nicely, once the film starting bringing in so much cash that they stopped counting it and starting weighing it.
Others involved in the film’s production contribute their insights, as well, but more often than not they provide unintentional comedy. Production manager Ron Wertheim, with his wild hair, bugging eyes, and jittery inability to say exactly what he wants to say (he somewhat resembles Ed Wood in the last, sad days of his life), is hilariously contrasted with the cantankerous location scout’s grumpy flat, attitude about the film’s production. Bailey and Barbato also manage to dig up some of the exhibitors who braved legal prosecution to show the film, including one elderly Florida gent whose rather high-pitched wife berates him repeatedly for mentioning the film’s mob ties and thus possibly endangering them (“I don’t even know if any of them are still alive,” is his reply).
The film also features actor Harry Reems, who was supposed to be just a production assistant but wound up playing the male lead and was prosecuted and convicted of obscenity in the mid-1970s for his efforts. Reems hit rock bottom in the late 1970s after his career tanked, but since then he has revived himself, converting to Christianity and becoming a successful real estate dealer in Park City, Utah. Of all the interviewees, Reems seems the most healthy and in control of his post-Deep Throat existence.
Linda Lovelace, the star of the film, appears only in stock footage, as she died in a car accident in 2002. Dealing with Lovelace is a somewhat tricky maneuver, as she recanted her involvement in the film in the 1980s when she receded from public life and became a mother and housewife, even going so far as to testify before the Meese Commission on Pornography in 1986 saying that watching her in Deep Throat is tantamount to watching her being raped. Some have called her hypocrite, while others believe that she had a genuine turn of consciousness, and no one denies that she was the pawn of an abusive scab of a boyfriend who originally got her into the world of stag films. Damiano probably says it best when he describes Lovelace as someone who always had to be led, whether it was by porn directors or Gloria Steinem.
Bailey and Barbato keep Inside Deep Throat moving and shaking, cutting neatly between scenes from its infamous subject of study (including an astounding close-up of Lovelace doing her thing, which is cheekily kept off-screen for the first 45 minutes), interviews with viewers in the early 1970s, and stock footage of theaters playing the film and police officers ripping down the marquees. They know they’ve got a fascinating and lurid subject on their hand, which seems to be their cinematic raison d’être, having already made films about Tammy Faye Bakker (2000’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Monica Lewinski (2002’s Monica in Black and White), and Anna Nicole Smith (2003’s Dark Roots), as well as one questioning Hitler’s sexuality (2004’s Hidden Fuhrer).
The topic of “porn chic” is one that virtually writes itself, so it’s Bailey and Barbato’s to lose. Fortunately, they don’t, although they skim the surface a bit too, glossing over the details of the legal issues and all but skirting the real elephant in the corner, which is the question of whether or not pornography exploits those who participate in it. As deep as Inside Deep Throat goes, it stops just short of dealing with the really difficult questions in favor of romanticizing a past that could have been.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 Universal Pictures