Inside Deep Throat

on February 11, 2005 by Francesca Dinglasan
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As one of the more hotly anticipated films at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Inside Deep Throat" had the mixed fortune of inspiring curiosity and heightened expectations. Sure, the documentary's focus -- a look back at the most profitable porn film, if not the most profitable motion picture, of all time -- is titillating enough by itself to attract a certain facet of the American moviegoing audience. More intriguing, however, is the filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's promise to delve, well, deeper into the phenomenon behind "Deep Throat," contextualizing the ultra low-budget picture's historical role within the sexual revolution as well as the discernible influence that the movie has had on both the film industry and culture in general since its initial release more than 30 years ago. It's a promise that is met, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Featuring new and archival interviews of "Deep Throat" director Gerard Damiano and star Harry Reems, as well as television footage of the late Linda Lovelace, who eventually became an anti-porn crusader after making the fellatio flick, it becomes clear that even those closest to the production are not willing to credit the film with as much cultural significance as the documentary indicates to be a given. (Damiano, in a '70s-era interview, unflinchingly answers "no" when asked if he thought "Deep Throat" was a good film.) Although the film's notoriety, along with the Nixon Administration's determination to suppress its exhibition, unquestionably drove up mainstream interest -- and therefore box-office receipts -- what is less obvious is the implied notion that "Deep Throat" actually fostered an openness about sexuality at the time of its roll out in 1972.

Rather than for its attempts to demonstrate the theoretical connection between "Deep Throat" and the saturation of sexuality in pop culture, "Inside Deep Throat" is most intriguing when it examines the historical episodes that resulted directly from the film's release. The government's campaign to ban the movie, for example, not only led to the prosecution of Harry Reems on the ridiculous charges of conspiracy to transport obscenity across state lines -- an act that made him an unlikely poster boy for the First Amendment -- but also enabled the mob to take over distribution of the film. Because legal action was instigated on any company attempting to handle "Deep Throat," theatre operators brave enough to screen the film would secure prints from mobsters, who are reported to have taken box-office splits of 50 percent (a ratio that actually might be considered generous by today's exhibitors).

In addition to principles associated with "Deep Throat," interviews with cultural figures as diverse as Gore Vidal, Erica Jong and John Waters keep "Inside Deep Throat" a funny and largely fascinating take on one of the film industry's milestone productions. Narrated by Dennis Hopper. Directed and written by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Produced by Brian Grazer, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. A Universal release. Documentary. Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content. Running time: 92 min

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