A film review by Craig J. Koban

INSIDE DEEP THROAT jjj
½ 

2005, NC-17, 90 mins.

An HBO documentary directed and written by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato

"DEEP THROAT sure opened up a can of worms, didn't it?"

- DEEP THROAT director Gerard Damiano

 

Hey, did you ever hear the one about the hair stylist that ended up leaving the profession to make a porn film that subsequently gained funding by the mob, was shot in only six days for $25,000, and became such a phenomenon that it ended up being one of the most profitable films in cinematic history - even being seen by the likes of Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr.? 

 

Well, if you have not, then the new HBO documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT details this entire tale that seems almost too mind-boggling to be true.  But then again, as documentaries often demonstrate -  truth always seems far more stranger (and more fascinating) than fiction.

INSIDE DEEP THROAT chronicles much of the story behind the most famous porn film of all time – DEEP THROAT.   The film, if anything, was the first of its kind to seriously legitimize pornography as a genre that was seen by the masses.  Notwithstanding that, but it was one of the few porn films of its day to be shot with a respectable budget and production values.  The film was made in less than a week, had a relative call sheet of no-name talent surrounding it - including its director - and by the time all was said and done, the film became an instant smash and one of the most unlikely ones to emerge at the time or arguably since. 

This is the porno film that was seen by the likes of you and I in 1972, not to mention by many a celebrity that freely admitted to have seen it publicly.  Yes, after an infamous article in the New York Times where it referred to the film as unleashing “Porno Chic”, DEEP THROAT became the film that the public had to see by virtue of enormous curiosity By the end of its run, the documentary claims that the film made $600 million at the box office.  More on that later.

So, why was this dirty little film such a hit and a piece of film folklore that is still spoke of today?  Well, maybe because it was the CITIZEN KANE of the porn industry, the first film with incredibly raunchy and sexually explicit subject matter that actually managed to take pornography from the underground and into mainstream America.  This is a relative position that the adult film industry has enjoyed to this very day.  If it was not for DEEP THROAT, then the porn industry might not have been what it is now (if you think it's not huge today, consider – in 2002 there were 467 major Hollywood films produced, whereas in the same year over 11,000 adult films were made). 

More importantly, the film was the first (and most likely last) porn film that mainstream movie audiences paid their hard earned dollars to see in typical American cinemas.  No other film of this nature can even remotely brag to have done this.  The film became such a cultural icon that it went on to provide the code name for the mysterious Watergate whistleblower; made its star – Linda Lovelace – a model of the porn actress that rose fast, achieved huge notoriety, and fell abruptly; and it launched a series of lawsuits by the religious right and ambitious politicians that wanted to clean up the cinemas (and American culture as a whole) and make DEEP THROAT the ultimate martyr.  

Obviously, the makers of DEEP THROAT used some basic Constitutional Amendments to defend their film, but the lawmakers and politicians used their overtly moral positions and did so rather effectively.  DEEP THROAT was the target of police raids in 1972 and was eventually banned from 23 states in violation of obscenity laws.  Not only that, one of the film’s male stars – Harry Reems – actually went to trail for appearing in DEEP THROAT and became the only actor in history to be convicted for…well…starring in a piece of bad pornography.

INSIDE DEEP THROAT, albeit a bit unfocused at times, is a thoroughly intoxicating and revealing documentary at how the legendary sex film was financed, made, released, and the huge windfall that it created, some of the effects which are still felt to this day.  The film also begs us to question some of our basic moral proclivities.  For example, did the politicians of the 70’s have a right to withhold certain material away from the public for consumer consumption?  Or, contrastingly, does any red-blooded American citizen have the fundamental right to see whatever they want to at their own expense?  Moreover, why in the hell was taxpayer money spent on indicting and eventually trying a man whose only real heinous act was starring in a film that was wretchedly horrible to begin with?  After seeing INSIDE DEEP THROAT, there should be no denying that this cheap and poorly made porn film - which featured 17 hardcore sexual acts in its 62 minute running time - sparked a National censorship debate.

INSIDE DEEP THROAT is a typical documentary in the sense that it includes a lot of talking heads (in this case, DEEP THROAT director Gerard Damiano, star Harry Reems, and a whole other slew of famous celebs like Dick Cavett, Ruth Westheimer, Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, John Waters, Wes Craven, and many more).  It was produced, rather surprisingly, by Brian Grazer (funny how a man that is behind such populist cinematic works ended up making a documentary about one film that was on the absolute fringes of the industry) and directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato ("Party Monster," "The Eyes of Tammy Faye").  The film itself manages to marry new and old interviews with old archival footage of 1972 where porn was only a glint in many peoples’ eyes and the possibility of a major adult film industry was not a logical proposition.

Yet, people went to see this film…by the thousands.  Lines were around the block at many New York theatres and, even more amazing, the most prudish of souls actually let themselves be filmed by TV news cameras and discuss they willingness and excitement to see DEEP THROAT.  One particularly memorable moment occurs when a newsman catches an elderly lady and, when questioned, she states the fact that she is going to the film because she wants to and looks forward to seeing it (in her mind, why should she not have the right to see it?).  It was, as the New York Times reported, very chic for its time.  This was a film with overt and graphic oral sex that you did not sneak into with your girlfriend unaware of the fact.  This was the film that you took your girlfriend to and where both of you were completely willing audience members.

DEEP THROAT, even as the director himself comments to in the documentary, was pretty awful at its foundations.  People did not go see it because they thought it was on the higher echelon of art.  Films before DEEP THROAT, to be sure, had excessive amounts of flesh in them (the films of Russ Meyer come to mind) but none of them had explicit sex.  I think that the documentary pains to establish that when word was out that a film that includes content that would make even Myer himself blush and it was being screened right in Times Square, then you know it was going to be eventually prosecuted as obscenity.

The film was, indeed, prosecuted obsessively and it was raided time after time in cities across America.  Ironically, it was this ethical and moral force that sort of inadvertently made DEEP THROAT the cultural and social hit that it became.  The more talk about banning this film only made more and more people want to see it.  If there is another certainty in life outside of death and taxes it’s that censorship always fuels public interest, and DEEP THROAT was the poster child for this sentiment. 

Many people became famous for their aggressive attack of the film (Charles Keating, for example, got more press for being a champion against the DEEP THROAT than he did when he was later indicted on racketeering in the Lincoln Savings and Loan Scandal, for which he eventually served four years in prison for).  Presidential Commissions were even spawned to investigate whether viewing pornographic material was “harmful” or not to a person.  Some early ones said "yes", some later ones said "no", and these later ones were eventually discredited by the Reagan administration, despite the fact that their scientific data and findings found no direct or positive correlation to viewing pornography and anti-social or deviant behaviour.  By the way, Reagan was a staunch Catholic…wink, wink.

On the fiduciary side of things, did the film really make $600 million dollars?  Honestly?  Well, numbers remain kind of hazy on the subject (the IMDB states that the film grossed $20 million domestically, a far cry from $600 million, but an astounding figure nonetheless).  The fuzzy math and numbers may have been the result of the financing of the film itself.  INSIDE DEEP THROAT makes no qualms about revealing that the porn film was largely funded by the mob.  In fact, director Gerard Damiano originally signed a deal that entitled him to collect about one third of the profits that the film generated.  He was "convinced" to sell his percentage for about $100,000 because his backers were members of an underworld crime family.  The film also shows that when certain theatres that would not “cough up” proceeds from the film’s ticket sales, accidents happened (one mid-western theatre was burned to the ground).  One former theatre exhibitor and his wife provide some of the more humorous moments in the documentary.  He reflects on the mob's influence and she provides a hilarious and sarcastic running commentary for all of his anecdotes.

As for the director and the stars of DEEP THROAT themselves?  Director Damiano is comfortably retired and lives with his family.  He does not seem to have many regrets about making the film, but you can sense some pent up anger about not making a dime off of it.  Linda Lovelace, unfortunately, died in a car accident a few years ago.  Co-star Harry Reems arguably suffered the most.  Not only did he sustain viscous assaults on his character and went to trial for obscenity, but the result of which sent his life into a downward tailspin of substance abuse.  I find it somewhat incredibly that he was the only actor to be brought up on charges by the law (I kept wondering whether or not if it was he that was on the giving end and Lovelace on the receiving end if Lovelace herself would have been prosecuted?  Seems to make sense, since the law at the time seemed more interested in sending the recipient of oral pleasure to the slammer, but I digress).  Yet, Reems did what every other former porn actor does when they hit rock bottom – he became a born again Christian and got a job as a realtor.  If only Dirk Diggler would have done the same.

INSIDE DEEP THROAT seems somewhat aimless and negligent in one key respect – Linda Lovelace herself.  She is seen early on in the documentary in archival footage as a woman that seems to enjoy her chosen vocation in life and does not really resent it.  Yet, as she achieved meteoric success and then saw her career descent into mediocrity, she ironically became an anti-porn advocate.  In a Congressional Hearing in the 80’s she boldly claims, in regards to her performance in the film, that "every time you see me having sex in Deep Throat, you're watching me being raped."  Despite the fact that I sort of appreciate her willingness to be candid and frank with her opinions about her participation in the film, her comments seem to ring falsely, at least in my mind.  She later would make a largely hypocritical move and pose for a sleazy men’s magazine called “Leg Show”.  Despite the fact that the documentary does not portray Damiano as the cruel perpetrator and ringmaster of Lovelace’s career path, it does hint at the possible interference of Lovelace’s lover at the time.  Regardless, the film’s hazy focus on Lovelace, not to mention a genuine lack of interview coverage or footage of her, seems kind of perplexing.

Aside from its deficiencies, INSIDE DEEP THROAT is an endlessly invigorating work that is layered and multifaceted in approach and goals.  It’s part historical time capsule, recounting a time when pornography was embraced by the masses, especially before it became the assembly line product it became when videotape was introduced in the 70’s and 80’s.  It’s also part conundrum picture in the way it both chronicles the film’s battle with the PC and censorship police and asks the audiences for their buy in and two cents.  DEEP THROAT was more than just a bad porn film with lots of sex in it that everyday  Middle Americans went to see.  It was a film that had far reaching sociological ramifications and implications.  Despite the fact that I am not an enthusiastic supporter of pornography in any way, I still do like to believe that governments should stay out of the theatres, no matter what film is being placed up on the screen (the very fact that Reems went to trial is inane at its foundations).  In the end, I embody the views of the elderly woman being interviewed by the newsman back in 1972.  Simply put, if one wants to watch pornography – let them at their choice.  The only thing they should be guilty of is, quite honestly, bad taste.

VIEWER DISCRETION WARNING:

The documentary is very, very appropriately rated NC-17 by the MPAA.  It does contain a very short segment (aproximately 20 seconds in duration) from one of DEEP THROAT'S most notorious scenes. 

 

  H O M E