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Inside Deep Throat

Swallow's return

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In the three decades both before and since the release of Deep Throat -- the zenith of all low-budget, high-profit skinflicks that came with the rise of the sexual revolution -- pretty much nothing has changed in the world of fellatio: You take it out, you get it hard, someone sucks on it (although not necessarily in that order). And yet, in 1972, Deep Throat somehow legitimized the act of watching and discussing pornography. To put it simply, everyone wanted to belong to a club that had something like that as a member.

 

 

Psychologists say we make awkward puerile jokes about sex because of our discomfort with it. I don't buy that. I think we do it because sex is funny. What it does to the mind, what it does to the body, the way we need to validate ourselves with it: You just have to laugh. And when it's good, why would you want to get all serious about it anyway? If sex is really that much fun, then laugh, dammit. Laugh.

 

In their new documentary, Inside Deep Throat, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Party Monster, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) don't exactly make light of the original film, whose infamous star, Linda Lovelace (née Boreman), later claimed that she was essentially forced to do what she did. But as it turns out, there's really nothing new to say about the porn wars of the past 30 years. Unless their film is off the radar with subtle irony -- surely that dolorous music at its dramatic turns must be a joke -- Bailey and Barbato seem to operate on the assumption that we still need and want to have sex explained to us.

 

Inside Deep Throat is about as straightforward as a sex documentary can be. We have the historical footage. We have the witnesses. We have the authors, the doctors, the cultural critics, the morality cops who want to take it all away. We get to see a few clips of old porno movies, and some "instructional" reels that America once used to misinform its children. Been there, laughed knowingly at that. It's always helpful to have stuff in one place for the ignorant, or for those who enjoy hearing things repeated over and over. But even by that standard, Inside Deep Throat is somewhat de rigueur.

 

That's not to say it doesn't offer plenty of titters and well-turned phrases. Funniest moment, paws down: a still photograph of Lovelace's cat, which resembles its namesake, Adolf Hitler (seeing is believing, trust me). Funniest characters: Arthur Sommer, who distributed the film in Florida, and his loving, irascible wife, Terry, who derides her husband in the background of his interview, afraid that his loose lips about ancient mob ties will bring old wiseguys to their condo door (presumably with the help of Miss Cleo). 

 

Inside Deep Throat catches up with lots of people who saw the original film and have things to say about its legacy. John Waters, Hugh Hefner, Gore Vidal, Bill Maher, Dr. Ruth, Larry Flynt -- these are the usual suspects. Erica Jong watched the movie while smoking dope at a private screening in a psychologist's apartment. That must have been wads of fun. Xaviera Hollander, a.k.a., "The Happy Hooker," also attended a private screening, and an orgy broke out. Dick Cavett, who's genetically incapable of not being glib, observes that kids today don't even consider it to be sex. (Deep Throat has no screwing, just blowing, which we see in closeup for a bit.)

 

Helen Gurley Brown, looking like a painted plate, reminds us that semen is an excellent facial cream (and, we've since learned, a passable hair gel in a pinch.) Camille Paglia (isn't she over yet?) calls the film an "epical moment in the history of sexuality." Al Goldstein, editor of Screw magazine, gave it a 100 on his peter meter, and now says, "I wish my wives could suck cock like that. As we say in Israel, what a mitzvah."

 

But the best observation comes from Norman Mailer, who comments on the frenzy of government censorship that followed the film's success: "Sex is a force," he says. "It's like lava. And there haven't been too many successful engineering projects diverting the flow of lava."

 

Of course, every silver lining has its dark cloud, and Inside Deep Throat makes it clear that mob money financed the film, which remains the most profitable in history (it reputedly earned $600 mil on a 25K investment). Fenton and Barbato document -- as best as they can, and without comment or judgment -- Lovelace's midlife allegation that she was abused and even hypnotized by her then-husband, Chuck Traynor, to perform in porn. The last time we see her in Inside Deep Throat, she's touting her good looks at age 51 after doing a racy magazine spread. She died two years later, in 2002, in an auto accident.

 

The director of Deep Throat, former hairdresser Gerard Damiano, is now a white-haired gentleman who wears his polyester trousers high on his belly. He's a central figure in the documentary, and he explains how he came up with the idea for his film after watching Lovelace at work. But back then you needed a plot, so he cast Lovelace as a biological oddity with her clitoris in her throat. A doctor, portrayed by hirsute Harry Reems -- today, a Utah real-estate salesman and Christian, after stops at various addictions  -- diagnoses Linda's condition, but with a British accent, because "clitoris" sounds much funnier with emphasis on the first syllable. Reems then helps Linda reach orgasm -- and later was sentenced to five years in prison for his performance (jury verdict overturned on appeal).

 

A lot has happened to pornography since Deep Throat. For example, porno theaters are virtually gone, replaced by the porno video industry, whose output triples that of Hollywood's, and now by the Internet too. But -- and this, I propose, is the thing to take away from the documentary -- after all of his bravado about launching a healthy guiltless sexual revolution, Damiano (who made his last film in 1994) says he "couldn't make the kind of film" he sees being made today.

 

So -- what? Does the old fart now think everyone went to see his movie for its plot? He seems to have become uncomfortable with the fact that people watch pornography because they want to see other people having lots and lots of sex. If this isn't just sour grapes, then the director of Deep Throat has apparently gone soft. For that, I give him 50 lashes with a wet noodle. Literally.

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