Inside Deep Throat

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Documentary
Director: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Gerard Damiano, Wes Craven, Larry Flynt, Hugh Hefner, Gore Vidal, John Waters
Rated: NC-17

Inventive, entertaining and sometimes enlightening, Inside Deep Throat ultimately falls short of the film it might have been, because it tries too hard to paint Deep Throat, Gerard Damiano’s 1972 porn “classic” about a woman with an anatomically misplaced clitoris, as some kind of stand-alone work without taking into account the far more mainstream films of the same era that seriously pushed the boundaries of what was and wasn’t permissible on a movie screen.

This documentary doesn’t mention the fact that the ratings system — G, M (later GP, and then PG), R and X — had been implemented only four years earlier, and that the movie industry was taking advantage of this sudden freedom from traditional censorship, where all movies had to conform to a single, acceptable standard, without the need for the porn industry leading the way.

And there’s nary a word about John Schlesinger’s Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy (1969), Mike Sarne’s Myra Breckinridge (1970), Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) or Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) — all of which were X-rated, mainstream, part of the same cultural revolution and happened to predate Deep Throat. And each of these films arguably had a more lasting impact on filmmaking than did Deep Throat. (It should be noted that most of these films were later re-cut to garner R ratings, while numerous R-rated films of that era would never be granted that rating in today’s stricter censorial climate.)

Yes, Deep Throat was of that era and important to it — but the film did not, as this documentary would have you believe, create that more permissive era. Sure, it became the first actually pornographic film to become quasi-acceptable to the average (or at least the trendier) moviegoer. It definitely became a cause celebre, but Inside Deep Throat ignores too much of the cultural and social climate that paved the way for Deep Throat‘s phenomenal success.

The filmmakers also take too much at face value, never noting that Deep Throat‘s stated budget of $25,000 was ultimately closer to $40,000. Nor do they factor in how much of the movie’s reported $600 million gross may in fact have been the result of mob-money-laundering for activities more illegal than porn — making the claim that it’s the most financially successful film of all time a bit hard to swallow.

All that to one side, Inside Deep Throat is an important and timely film that needs to be seen in this age when the “cultural war” is, if anything, more intense than it was in the early ’70s. (Having received letters protesting my recommendations of “morally offensive” movies like I [Heart] Huckabees, Closer and Bad Education, I’ve had a minor firsthand taste of this intensity.)

But what the film depicts from that earlier era is both instructive and a little frightening. For example, two of the “moralists” who crusaded against Deep Throat were old Sen. Joe McCarthy cohort Roy Cohn and racketeer Charles Keating — hardly shining examples of high-mindedness. Then there’s prosecuting attorney Larry Parrish, who, in new interview footage, uses terms like “prostitutes and whoremongers” to describe the people who made Deep Throat, and concludes that if we could “get those terrorists to go away and quit taking up so much time,” we could devote our time to truly important things like stamping out porn.

On a similar note, the documentary recalls the original, scientific study of pornography that was commissioned by President Nixon — and subsequently buried by him when it couldn’t find any evidence that porn was noticeably detrimental to adults. The study was ultimately replaced by a new “study” directed by Ed Meese that relied on personal anecdotes to “prove” porn’s harm.

It can be argued that the film gives somewhat short shrift to the victimization of Linda Lovelace — indeed, no mention is made of her infamous porn short involving a dog — and that’s a shortcoming. But her experience is a complex issue that’s clouded by her chameleon-like moves — from porn darling to anti-porn crusader to her final incarnation (shortly before her death in a car accident) as a skin-mag model.

This is heavy, thought-provoking stuff. But the film itself is deceptively light in tone and clearly made with an eye on entertainment value, as evidenced by the often comedic interviews and the insertion of snippets of “quaint” films that purported to be educational.

Still, the film has a clear emotional and dramatic arc that moves from the use of the jaunty Melanie Safka hit, “Brand New Key” (a thinly coded song about sexual experience — just say the last two words of the title as one word), at the beginning to the pop-music gloom of Marmalade’s “Reflections of My Life” at the end.

Be warned: The frank sexual talk and the clips from Deep Throat (including ones of Lovelace performing her specialty) justify the movie’s NC-17 rating and will offend some viewers. The rating itself is ironic, since it festoons a movie produced by Brian Grazer — who’s famous for such fare as How the Grinch Stole Christmas — and Grazer wouldn’t dream of producing a narrative film with that classification. Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content.

– reviewed by Ken Hanke

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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