Inside Deep Throat (2005)

I find that there are generally two requirements that make a really great documentary: 1) have an interesting story, and 2) have an interesting way of telling it. I’ve seen documentaries on ripe topics squandered because of the dull and unimaginative ways they tell their tales. The skilled documentary team behind The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Party Monster has set their sights on a little smut film that changed the world in the early 1970s. Deep Throat was a “dirty movie” made for peanuts (25 grand) that ended up becoming the most profitable film of all time, eventually grossing more than $600 million. The story behind its meteoric rise, cultural acceptance, and damnation hits both requirements, thus making Inside Deep Throat a sensationally entertaining documentary.

It all started in 1971 when Gerard Damiano wanted to make an inexpensive pornographic film. Back in those days, many aspiring filmmakers actually got their start in porn (Wes Craven admits it). Damiano was in the planning process when he was visited by a man who wanted his girlfriend, Linda Lovelace, to appear in the eventual porno. He swore his girlfriend could do the most amazing trick. Lovelace demonstrated her trick, the full swallowing of an erect penis. Damiano was dumbstruck. He was determined not just to involve Lovelace but to base an entire film around her stunning ability. Deep Throat was written in three days, filmed in six days, but the furor it would bring would be irrevocably long lasting.

Deep Throat, as many of the crew will happily report, is not exactly a good movie. In fact, some call it the worst pornographic film of all time. Lovelace’s character found sex joyless, that is, until a doctor (Harry Reems) discovers that she has her clitoris all the way in the back of her throat. Thus to orgasm she has to swallow head-on (oh the double meaning). When the crew actually witnessed Lovelace’s cavernous abilities firsthand, they too were flabbergasted. But they wouldn’t be alone. Inside Deep Throat makes smart use of archival footage to prove how mainstream a small smut flick became. We see clips of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson cracking jokes about the film, and most amusingly of all are one or two interviews with little old ladies who “wanted to see a dirty picture.” Deep Throat crossed over and people went out in their Sunday finest to watch a hard-core porno.

Inside Deep Throat is rated NC-17 and with good reason. We do get to see Lovelace strut her stuff and the film almost playfully teases an audience with anticipation. We hear interviewees discuss their amazement; we see a close-up of Reems face as he gets pleasured. By the time the scene in question is shown uncut, we’re eager to witness this feat of fantastic fellatio ourselves. Let’s be honest, you can?’t have a documentary about Deep Throat‘s impact without showing the goods.

Filmmaking duo Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato have a very visually satisfying way of telling their story. Images tear across the screen and animation pops, all set to what must amount to most of the soundtrack to Boogie Nights. The glossy visual flair reminds me of the swirling, near-pop-out book imagery of The Kid Stays in the Picture. The pacing of Inside Deep Throat is near break-neck, with the film clocking in at just over 90 minutes. I wish that the filmmakers had spent more time on their subject and gone more in depth into certain areas like Lovelace’s turnaround from girl next door goddess to anti-porn crusader back to fifty-something nude model (she was killed in a car accident in 2002).

The cultural splash Deep Throat made is interesting enough, but the meat of the story is in the battles that would ensue. Damiano openly talks about how the mob controlled the early porn industry. He admits that he refused his share in the millions out of fear that he might have had his legs broken, or worse. There’s a long tangled web of mafia influence in the proliferation of Deep Throat. It was banned in over 30 states, but everywhere it went it became a hit. A Mafioso says that they were making so much money that they had to count it by the pound. Mob hits would materialize over the film’s profits and territory.

Even more fascinating, the U.S. government, to no one’s surprise, declared the film indecent. They couldn’t prosecute the director, or the distributors (unless they liked sleeping with the fishes), or anyone really making money off of the success of Deep Throat. So what’s a stubborn government to do? They prosecuted Reems for his involvement in a pornographic film. It was the first time an actor was ever prosecuted for his participation in art after the fact. Celebs like Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson came to Reems’ aid, fearful of what might happen if a government could retroactively punish artists. Sadly, Reems was found guilty and sentenced to years in prison and was really never the same afterwards.

But instructional films on sexuality were still okay as far as government was concerned, and we see clips of them in all their medical film hilarity (apparently some positions are not meant for the obese we’re told). These were acceptable because they were meant to help and inform, whereas porn is meant to entertain.

The film’s interviews comprise some of its best and worst moments. Most of the Deep Throat crew is in their 60s or 70s now, and hearing them talk about porn and sexual acts does make you titter a bit. The crew provides funny anecdotes and some of the juiciest material. However, the film also curiously interviews people like Dick Cavett and Bill Maher. The expected talking heads are here like Dr. Ruth, Camille Paglia, John Waters, Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt, but they regularly don’t have anything insightful to say.

Inside Deep Throat goes back and forth with its objectivity. It’s obviously pro-freedom of speech and doesn’t mind ridiculing the government agents who tried taking Deep Throat down (oh the double meaning). Particularly telling is an FBI agent who wishes that terrorism could be tidied up so that he could finally get to the real importance, which is stopping people from seeing pornography. One of the main points of the prosecution of Deep Throat was that it “wrongly” purported the idea of a clitoral orgasm (I think many will find some error with this judgment). It’s easy in retrospect to chide government officials ruling on inaccurate information or just plain ignorance. It may be too easy for some viewers, but for me it’s fair game to lambaste any idiot trying to strip me of my Constitutional rights.

Inside Deep Throat is an engrossing if light-hearted look at a moment in time. Some of the seedier elements feel skipped over, but this is a documentary on a fascinating subject told with a pleasing visual style. Don’t be put off by the NC-17 rating or the subject matter. Inside Deep Throat is more than a behind-the-scenes featurette on a wildly successful porno. It’s a fast, funny, and greatly entertaining time capsule of an era where boundaries were still being pushed, both by artists and by censors. And in today’s FCC-fearing landscape, maybe not everything has changed since Deep Throat brought porn into the mainstream.

Nate’s Grade: B+

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at PictureShowPundits.com (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on January 25, 2005, in 2005 Movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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