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DVD Review: Inside Deep Throat

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It’s surprising that it’s taken someone so long to make a high-profile documentary about the archetypal porn film, Deep Throat, considering the long-standing interest in vintage porn. Or just porn, full stop. Porn is ubiquitous, and the female body is its canvas. Britney Spears is pure pornography. Pamela Anderson pole-danced her way out of the porn industry and Madonna used it to boost her career in the early 1990s. Porn is ‘chic’, a multi-billion dollar industry that is bigger than Hollywood itself and it will only grow stronger.

Those who are old enough to remember the buzz around Deep Throat, which resonated throughout a good part of the 1970s, will understand better the framework in which directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (‘Party Monster’) and producer Brian Grazer inserted their glossy, footage-rich documentary on the most famous porn flick ever. However, they were clever enough to avoid getting trapped in a time capsule and made a film that is more about issues such as censorship and sexual morale than Deep Throat itself.

Bailey and Barbato have patented a genre of documentary that mixes a sense of fun with investigative journalism. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it works, and they seem to be on the money since their World of Wonder’s irreverent, zeitgeisty production company is behind a bevy of high-profile documentaries, including Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture (shown on Channel Four in the UK), Party Monster: the Michael Alig Story and The Adam and Joe Show. Made in 1972 for $25,000, it is estimated that Deep Throat may have grossed $600 million. Rather than explore the sex industry per se, the film attempts to present the film as a cultural phenomenon with a huge impact on popular culture and a barometer of the American dysfunctional attitude towards sex.

Inside Deep Throat is pure pop anthropology, crammed with punditry, courtesy from a wide array of well-known personalities. These include Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Helen Gurley Brown, Camille Paglia, Hugh Hefner and John Waters, to name but a few.

We also get to know the film’s director, Gerard Damiano, a rather sweet old man who these days live in Florida with his very normal family. He comes across as more of a victim (he never made any money out of the film and certainly got a lot of hassle when the FBI went after him), instead of a cigar-munching monster who exploited the film’s tragic star, Linda Lovelace.

The late Lovelace, of course, is one of the main topics in the film. The impression you get is that she was a damaged person before she actually got involved in the industry. Footage of her shows an impressionable, deeply insecure woman of very limited intellectual capacity. Even when she was appearing in talks shows, railing against the porn industry, it seemed like that she was just voicing someone else’s thoughts.

Overall, the 70s porn industry is presented as part of the burgeoning movements of sexual liberation, equal rights and questioning of authority that permeated popular culture at the time (in high contrast with the professionally hardcore, commodified industry of today). Deep Throat was the first porn movie to crossover into the mainstream and present a story. This was bound to annoy many of those in the echelons of the powers that be.

Inside Deep Throat ultimately deals with the question: why does sex, despite its pervasiveness in contemporary culture, remain a taboo? Why, for instance, on cinematic terms, it is okay to blow someone’s brain up but a fellatio scene is deemed a crime against humanity? The film does not try to answer these questions because probably there is no straight answer to them, but those are good points to make. The departure point in the film to ask such questions is intrinsically American but the fascination is universal.

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About Antonio Pasolini

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