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Review: Inside Deep Throat

The movie cost $25,000 to make. The female and male leads were paid $1,200 and $250, respectively. The movie was ultimately banned in 23 states yet grossed $600 million. More important, it was part of a cultural earthquake.

That movie was Deep Throat and its history and impact are explored in Inside Deep Throat, a documentary now out on DVD. Deep Throat was a porn sensation that not only brought the “adult film” industry into the mainstream but sparked dozens of prosecutions and helped contribute to a debate over pornography that continues to this day.

Although rated NC-17, don’t plan on picking up the DVD if your interest is solely seeing the sexual acts that gave rise to the prosecutions or the filming of those acts. Sure, the most notable scene and others are there as they are necessary to tell the story. But the focus here is to put the movie in cultural and historical perspective. Ultimately, Inside Deep Throat does not go quite deep enough, skimming over various aspects of the story and the people involved. It is, though, a fairly satisfying assessment of the disproportionate impact of a porn film of which even the director says, “I don’t think it’s a good movie.”

For those unfamiliar with the premise, Deep Throat was predicated on a woman’s unique medical problem — her clitoris was in her throat. As a result, performing oral sex was the only way she could gain sexual satisfaction. Suffice it to say that the film’s title reflects the extent of immersion during the act of fellatio.

Star Linda Lovelace was a newcomer to the adult film industry and her husband, Chuck Traynor, arranged a “screen test” with Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano. Damiano says that “what she was doing was so unique that I could build a whole film around it.” Male lead Harry Reems originally wasn’t hired to “act” in the movie. Instead, he started out as a production assistant. When the movie they starred in together premiered in Times Square in June 1972, it opened a major chapter in the culture wars.

Inside Deep Throat sets the stage for that battle by briefly looking at the state of the adult film industry in the U.S. prior to this movie. It also tells of the the making of the movie, interviewing not only Damiano and Reems but various others involved in the production and filming. It spends most of its time on the impact of the movie on the director and stars and American culture.

Cultural impact? The movie led even the mainstream New York Times to run an article called “Porn Chic.” That generated even greater audiences and the movie became a topic of references and jokes on late night talk shows. Repeated seizures of the movie across the country (with a New York judge pronouncing it “a nadir of decadence”) generated further buzz. Some of those prosecutions are the subject of separate bonus features on the DVD. The movie so permeated American culture that the name would be given a major newspaper source in the Watergate investigation of the same era, as reporter Carl Bernstein recounts in an interview. The documentary also has such cultural icons as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal opining on the movie and its impact.

Yet filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who also made the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye, don’t lose sight of the personal impact of the movie.

Damiano, who features most prominently in the documentary, ended up selling his third of the movie to what are termed “organized crime” figures. He asserts he made no money from any of this adult films. The interviews with him provide valuable insight not only into the making and “marketing” of Deep Throat but the operation of the porn film industry as a whole. At the same time, Bailey and Barbato seem to go somewhat easy on the extent of Damiano’s own ties to organized crime and shift the focus to others.

As for Lovelace, she tried to convert the fame (or infamy) created by the film into a Hollywood career. That quickly disappeared and by the mid-1980s, she was an anti-pornography advocate. She wrote a book and testified before Congress, claiming she was forced into the performance by Traynor and that each sexual act in which she engaged in the film was rape. She did, however, do an adult pictorial at age 51 after losing several jobs once her employers found out who she was. Unfortunately, Lovelace was killed in a car accident in 2002 so we see only archival footage of her thoughts and perspectives, although both her daughter and her sister are interviewed. Again, however, her claims about being forced to do the film and the sexual acts are not given as much attention and detail as one might hope.

Reems fared not much better. He was prosecuted and convicted in Memphis even though, for unexplained reasons, Lovelace and Damiano. The conviction, which was ultimately set aside, made him a First Amendment and free speech cause as the only actor ever to be convicted for his performance in a film. Reems spiraled into alcoholism and drug use as he was unable to find work other than in the porn industry. He eventually entered recovery and works now as a real estate salesman.

Undoubtedly, Deep Throat was life changing for these individuals. Likewise, there is little doubt it contributed to a chance in American culture. The extent of its impact was aided by the development and wide sale of home video recording equipment. According to the filmmakers, in 2002 Hollywood produced 467 films. That same year, more than 11,000 adult films were released in the US market. Inside Deep Throat gives us a closer look at how a $25,000 investment in 1972 may have been one of the main routes to this point.

About Tim Gebhart

After 30 years of practicing law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs. Tim Gebhart is now perfecting the art of doing little more than reading, writing and sleeping.

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