Inside Deep Throat

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Inside Deep Throat

DOCUMENTARY:

United States, 2005

U.S. Release Date:

2005-02-11

Running Length:

1:32

MPAA Classification:

NC-17 (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Dennis Hopper

Director:

Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Screenplay:

Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Inside Deep Throat, a documentary from directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, is passably interesting, occasionally compelling, sporadically amusing, and badly lacking in focus. Although the film starts out with a clear thesis, by the time its 90 minute running length has expired, it is grasping at themes and topics that are beyond the limited scope of what a superficial documentary can achieve. Inside Deep Throat comes across as a scattershot look at the war between pornography and morality during the 1970s as seen through the prism of one overhyped X-rated feature.

As made-for-TV fare (this was produced by HBO Pictures), there's nothing wrong with Inside Deep Throat. It's perfect for laid-back watching, for a viewer not expecting anything thought provoking or deep. But as a theatrical documentary, it disappoints. For the $10 admission fee, one anticipates something more insightful or engaging than what Bailey and Barbato have to offer. Then again, for those viewers who have never seen the original Deep Throat, this documentary provides a glimpse of the most 20 notorious seconds from the 1972 porn "classic."

Inside Deep Throat starts out by explaining the genesis of Deep Throat - where the title came from, what it took to get the project off the ground, and how Harry Reems ended up with the lead male role. The shadier aspects of director Gerard Damiano's financing are explored - the involvement of the mob is discussed in some detail, including how Damiano's "partners" bought him out early in the distribution process. Deep Throat is said to have grossed $600 million, but, as popular as the film was, one has to question how much of that total came from ticket sales and how much was the result of money laundering.

When a New York Times article labeled Deep Throat as "porn chic," the movie became a phenomenon, the first X-rated film to draw from the "normal" film-going population. It also became a target of right-wing politicians who wanted to "clean up" Times Square. Eventually, Deep Throat ended up banned in 23 states. But, as most people know, there's no better publicity than attempted censorship. The word "banned" is synonymous with "must see." It didn't matter that Deep Throat was a wretched motion picture with no redeeming non-hardcore cinematic values (even Damiano admits that it's crap); it generated so much word-of-mouth and curiosity that it had to be seen.

Linda Lovelace, the film's star, eventually became an anti-porn advocate, claiming that "every time you see me having sex in Deep Throat, you're watching me being raped." When she made statements like those, she gained TV and magazine exposure, but 10 years later, she posed naked in a trashy men's magazine. Harry Reems ended up on trial for running afoul of obscenity laws, and might have been headed for five years in prison had the Republican administration stayed in office following the 1976 election.

Inside Deep Throat chronicles all of this, and brings an army of talking heads to the screen, including Dick Cavett (who is consistently funny), Ruth Westheimer, Alan Dershowitz, Hugh Hefner, Camille Paglia, Erica Jong, Larry Flynt, Al Goldstein, and John Waters. The film tries, with limited success, to place Deep Throat into a larger social context. It fumbles its way through an exploration of how Deep Throat fit into the overall social upheaval of the 1970s. (Based on this documentary, you would think that everything that happened in the morality vs. obscenity wars of the decade had something to do with Deep Throat.) Deep Throat's legacy, according to the documentarians, was the mainstreaming of porn, which ultimately led to its mass production and the substitution of a "factory mentality" for creativity. Boogie Nights did a better job of depicting the slippery slide of porn once the VCR arrived.

Inside Deep Throat has a tendency to become ponderous as it weighs in on its subject's cultural impact and importance. If the filmmakers' goal was to convince me that Deep Throat offered a seismic jolt to 1970s society, it failed. On the other hand, although Inside Deep Throat sometimes turns dry and dull, it never takes itself too seriously. There are occasional bursts of humor to liven things up. Deep Throat location manager Lenny Camp's profane one-liners are perfectly edited into the fabric of the production, as are quips by Dick Cavett. And there's a hilarious interview with Florida distributor Arthur Summerfield that's notable because of the interruptions of his brassy wife, Terry.

Because it shows a key hardcore clip from Deep Throat, Inside Deep Throat earned a deserved NC-17 from the MPAA. Aside from that excerpt, there are random instances of nudity and quite a bit of profanity, so this movie isn't for prudes. That being said, Inside Deep Throat feels much like a traditional documentary, with lots of archival footage intermixed with new interviews. The subject matter might seem racy, but Bailey and Barbato's presentation is anything but erotic. (One has to wonder whether, when this airs on HBO, the fellatio scene will be left intact.)

Inside Deep Throat was developed with a viewer in mind who didn't live through the 1970s. For those who experienced the decade firsthand, the film presents little in the way of true insight, although it may be able to satisfy the curiosity of those who have heard of Deep Throat but don't know much about it. Really, though, Inside Deep Throat is a shallow film that will leave those who yearn for something more substantial feeling a little parched.





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