At a Glans
Inside Deep Throat Offers Heady Glimpses Into the World That Made a Porn Legend
Despite what many already know of fellator Linda Lovelace—her tragic fall into poverty, and her cultural-footnote death in a car crash in 2002—there’s a heady buzz to Inside Deep Throat. Limning the origins and aftereffects of the 1972 benchmark porn movie Deep Throat, the most profitable film (and blow job) in history—cost: $25,000; gross: more than $600 million—Inside Deep Throat offers seemingly endless glimpses of entire cultures colliding and redefining themselves, fueled by the sexual revolution and its engines of unfettered, free-form fuckery.
Directing with neither smirk nor condescension, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) cast their net wide. Among their better catches is the story of porn as America’s first independent cinema. Then there’s the original convulsions of the Christian Right, Richard Nixon’s fall, the failed attempts of Republican prosecutors to eliminate clitoral orgasm from the list of “healthy” female sexual response—there’s enough here for seven more films.
But the basic Deep Throat tale goes like this: At the dawn of the ’70s, Queens, N.Y., cosmetologist Gerard Damiano dreams of making movies. But Hollywood is a remote closed shop, and all New York offers to those outside the avant-garde loop is porn (a fact blushingly admitted by Wes Craven, who toiled in soft-core before becoming America’s premier scream-meister).
Fate leads Damiano to Linda Lovelace and her absent gag reflex. Some money—from the Columbo crime family, it later turns out—sends Damiano, his starlet, and goofball stud Harry Reems to Florida. Six days later, voilŕ, Deep Throat. Released in 1972, its mad success begot porno chic, which created a new market for porn—namely, couples—which then caused assorted tight-asses—among them, GOP leader/convicted racketeer Charles Keating Jr.—to try to ban the film. Which, of course, only fueled its popularity. Suddenly, there was Jack Nicholson, Walter Cronkite, Bob Hope, Gore Vidal, Helen Gurley Brown—all interviewed and/or glimpsed in clips here—finding a unifying context in Throat, about which they talked incessantly until Watergate gave the phrase a more sinister meaning.
More mob money created an independent film distribution network. The stupefying sums earned from this eventually led to Reems becoming America’s fall guy for the nation’s prurient interests in a ridiculous obscenity trial, commented on here by Alan Dershowitz (who laconically advised Reems that if a Republican became president after Nixon, he’d be convicted, while a Democratic administration was a guarantor of freedom). The batty laws used to prosecute the case are still on the books.
Narrated by Dennis Hopper, Inside Deep Throat is carried by a who’s-who of vintage talking heads, supported by vintage news clips. John Waters, never more adorably avuncular, swoons as he recalls driving all the way to New York to see the film. Helen Gurley Brown, so multi-face-lifted she looks like a propped-up sarcophagus, babbles bizarrely about the cosmetic properties of semen, which women like to rub into their faces because “it’s full of babies.” Damiano comes off as a basically nice old ex-swinger who not only never made a cent off the film but seems still amazed at all the fuss. And Reems is a still-goofy senior whose drift into substance abuse led to being born again and a career in real estate. (With ironic circularity, Reems now lives in Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival.)
Lost amid the zeitgeist hubbub of Deep Throat, however, was Lovelace herself, a fact that Bailey and Barbato reflect by showing her in fragmentary glimpses, a somewhat blandly pretty girl manipulated by a freak boyfriend who then seems distantly pleased with her fame. Years later, she appears with anti-porn feminists Susan Brownmiller and Gloria Steinem after writing her own anti-porn screed, but destitution eventually reduces her to appearing in tatty skin mags. Lovelace’s tale is worthy of its own film, and her life might have been more poetically addressed than it is here. Damiano insists that she was happiest when being told what to do; her sad history seems to bear out his claim.
Bailey and Barbato are most effective when using small peeks to glean the larger cultural macrocosm, and the film’s period tunes are key to revealing the crazed cultural fecundity of this pre-corporate era in the entertainment business. Marmalade’s achy post-Beatles pop, Alice Cooper’s protopunk, Gary Glitter’s early glam, Eric Burdon and War’s Chicano psychedelia, and blaxploitation funk from Kool and the Gang to Curtis Mayfield all evoke the anarchic exhilaration that was the 1970s.
All this helps to make Inside Deep Throat a paradoxically invigorating record of things lost. The crash only comes when we see Throat trial prosecutor Larry Parrish lament the way terrorism has gotten in the way of the government’s ability to fight porn. After this, we leave the theater with earned apprehension about the return of yet another spell of hysterical conservatism.