Inside Deep Throat

by

In what seems, surprisingly, like more innocent times, a Z-grade porno flick made for a little over $25,000 went on to become a cultural phenomenon and gross well over $600 million. This fast-paced and hugely entertaining documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) doesn’t entirely explain why 1972’s Deep Throat became such a sensation. Certain subjects seem to be beyond this documentary’s scope: the appeal of fellatio as a male fantasy that quells performance anxiety, and the advent of the film rating system, a self-censorship move that ironically facilitated the mainstreaming of porn. Instead, we get boilerplate about the sexual revolution as something that just, you know, happened.

But within the narrow focus, the film is about as thorough as one would wish. It offers a heady look back at a time when porn could actually be viewed as something liberating rather than desensitizing; an amateur’s craft (or hustle, with the mafia lurking in the background), rather than a billion-dollar industry riding formulas as woefully predictable as TV sitcoms. It has a comic cast of retired hustlers, professional bozos, one borderline insane evangelical and iconic talking heads like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. It also has about 10 seconds of graphic footage from the original film, hence the NC-17 rating.

Of all the people involved with Deep Throat, the two lead actors seem to have had the roughest post-fame careers. Star Harry Reems is shown at his high point, flanked by Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, an au courant symbol of artistic freedom, and later tells of his lowest point, panhandling on Sunset Boulevard after years of legal prosecution and a serious struggle with alcoholism. His current appearance in the documentary shows him to be hale and hearty.

Meanwhile, the legendary Linda Lovelace drifted back into obscurity after Throat, re-emerging in the ’80s with a phalanx of feminists supporting her in her new role as a victim, someone who had been forced to perform in front of the camera. Lovelace said anyone viewing the film was “watching me being raped.” It was the performance of her career; her presentation of remorse was unimpeachable, even if the details she offered didn’t stand up under scrutiny. When that gig dried up, she went back to exploiting her infamy, even appearing in a Playboy spread. Later she died as a result of wounds suffered in a car accident.

A little sordid and a little absurd, the story of Deep Throat offers no great moral lessons, but ably documents a moment of upheaval in the culture wars — of which there will be many more, since the motivating engine, sex, ain’t going away.

 

Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

comment