(WARNING: As befits its subject matter, this review contains some possibly offensive wording. It is not intended to be titillating, merely a frank discussion of a very frank movie.)
I never saw the famous porn movie Deep Throat. When it was first released, I was way too young to get into an X-rated movie. And now that I’d be quite able to get into a theater showing such a movie, I can see far more graphic sex than that on the Internet.
However, the documentary Inside Deep Throat is a fascinating account, not only of that movie, but of the era in which it was released. While the movie, its “creators,” and its stars (Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems) are the movie’s primary focus, lurking in the background are the extreme-right politicians of the time — including everyone’s favorite whipping boy, President Richard Nixon, who commissioned a scientific study on pornography and its effects on the nation, then brushed the study under the rug when it told him the exact opposite of what he wanted to hear. It was in that repressed climate that Deep Throat made its mark.
The most profitable movie of all time (made for $25,000 and grossing over $600 million to date), Deep Throat is the story of a woman (cutely billed, “Linda Lovelace as ‘Herself’”) who finds that the reason she cannot climax during sex is that her clitoris located in her throat. As I’ve said, I’ve never seen the movie per se, but the documentary provides generous clips from the film — and based on its meager plot and its high-school-nerd attempts at comedy, it seems fair to say that if you’ve seen Deep Throat in this documentary, you’ve seen the movie.
Based on the movie’s premise, which is a blatant male fantasy (gee, I can shove this down her throat and we’ll both be satisfied!), the story begins and ends with the men behind the scenes. Chief among them is the movie’s director, Gerard Damiano, who seems an affable enough man on the basis of his interviews here. He really does seem as though he was out to have fun and to break down a few taboos in the process.
A far more sinister figure, though shown only in still photos, is Chuck Traynor, who apparently lured Linda Lovelace out of her middle-class existence and into graphic sex porn before she knew what hit her. Serving as her unofficial pimp, Traynor never let Lovelace out of his sight during and, for a while, long after the movie was made.
The movie came out and immediately hit pay dirt, helped along by a New York Times review that “legitimized” the movie and made it okay for “regular” people (not to mention celebs such as Johnny Carson and Jack Nicholson) — not just the “raincoat brigade” — to attend an X-rated movie. Unfortunately, the movie was basically financed by the Mob, who went to every theater where the movie played to collect “fifty percent of the gross — or else.”
The movie’s stars, so eager to please others on-screen, ended up suffering the most from the movie. Thanks to the hounding of the Nixon Administration, Reems nearly had to serve five years in prison just for starring in the movie. Although his conviction was overturned, the same Hollywood hotshots who came to his defense when he was a First Amendment icon forgot all about him once he was acquitted, and his movie career went straight downhill after that. The movie tells us he is now a Christian and a real-estate salesman.
Then there’s Linda Lovelace. Her public persona was wiped clean and revised so many times, it’s hard to know what to think of her. In Deep Throat and in interviews given at the time, Lovelace seems like a happy, healthy, sexually unrepressed young woman. Then in the 1980’s, she went public with her stories about the manipulative Traynor and the contention that she was essentially “raped” for the sake of the movie. Then, when she stopped receiving publicity as a feminist/survivor, she eventually turned back to porn again, trying to sell herself in porn magazines. She died in 2002 from injuries sustained in a car crash.
Inside Deep Throat is never less than absorbing, but the lesson it intends to teach isn’t quite as notable as the lesson it really teaches. The doc’s ostensible reason for being is to promote the First Amendment and the idea that, even if we are personally offended by a movie, we mustn’t take Gestapo tactics to shut the movie down. That’s certainly a valid argument.
But what the movie finally shows us is that nobody involved with the movie had a positive outcome (except, of course, the mobsters who cleaned up on the production). Deep Throat’s director never made any money from it or any other movie he did. The owners of the theaters that played the movie were elbowed out of the way by the mobsters. Inside Deep Throat is reminiscent of another dark documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, in that its protagonists, while certainly not guilty of the crimes of which they’re accused of the movie, seem to have been tainted by life as being guilty of something.
Inside Deep Throat is rated NC-17 for frank sexual dialogue, and much nudity and sexuality.