Inside Deep Throat
2005, NC-17, 92 min. Directed by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato. Narrated by Dennis Hopper.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 18, 2005
If nothing else, the existence of Inside Deep Throat proves producer Brian Grazer's mettle at Universal. That the co-chairman (with partner Ron Howard) of Imagine Entertainment (a production outfit whose roster covers the spectrum from A Beautiful Mind to The Cat in the Hat) got his regular distribution company, Universal Pictures, to underwrite a wide national release for this NC-17-rated documentary indicates something – and I don't think it's that the major studios are softening their attitude toward the much-feared NC-17. One way to look at this documentary about the influence of the famous porn movie Deep Throat is as the flip side of the fiction film Boogie Nights. Same industry, same time period, same general characters. Inside Deep Throat provides a lot of background information and period color, while arguing for the film's place as the breakthrough sex movie of all time. Released in 1972 to a Times Square porn house, Deep Throat, starring Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems, soon became a cause célèbre when Nixonian legal emissaries shut down the movie and made buying a ticket to see it an act of defiance. And a hip one at that. If Jackie O could go down to Times Square and buy a ticket, how could the rest of us prudes say it was beneath us? Furthermore, Deep Throat's cheeky plot about a woman whose clitoris is in her throat, which thus made her titular sex act her only means of sexual satisfaction, was a big plus in those early years of the modern women's movement, as well as something that was, comparatively, a fairly sophisticated storyline in the world of film pornography. The term “deep throat” even crossed over into the world of politics when it became part of the Watergate saga as the code name for Woodward and Bernstein's anonymous source – a name we still use to this day. One of the points this documentary makes powerfully clear is the power of repression to make something desirable: Ban a movie and people itch to see it. Ironically, Deep Throat may have had no greater benefactor than Richard Nixon and his minions. Another idea that permeates Inside Deep Throat is that the porn film was the most successful independent movie of all time. It was made for $25,000 and is estimated to have made $600 million. Getting precise figures was impossible because of the mob involvement, something the filmmakers allude to but never really investigate with any depth. For all the valuable reflections offered by Inside Deep Throat, there is also a vast pool of material it never touches. In addition to evading hard information about the mob involvement, documentarians Bailey and Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Party Monster) also gloss over the impact of the women's movement and leave the impression that the public flowering of pornography was poisoned and uprooted by angry feminists. Furthermore, there's hardly the discussion there was in Boogie Nights of how the advent of VCRs altered the porn industry and returned porn to the home sphere instead of the public arena. Bailey and Barbato have an innate sense for the hot topic, but here, as in their other documentaries, their fascination tends toward the superficial. Inside Deep Throat also features a host of commentators – among them Dick Cavett, Helen Gurley Brown, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Erica Jong, Hugh Hefner, Camille Paglia, John Waters, and more. Few provide any profound insight into the phenomenon of Deep Throat, and curiously a straightened-up Harry Reems may be the most articulate commentator of all Inside Deep Throat's wagging tongues. Not even the film's director, Gerard Damiano, will argue for Deep Throat being a great movie. But, hey, at least there's no gag order anymore.