Thursday, September 06, 2007

To Untangle Her Tingle?

The 2005 documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT opens with a claim that 1972's DEEP THROAT, the cause celebre that brought pornography to the suburbs, has grossed more than $600 million. Clearly, this is bullshit. Yes, I know it's the most famous (and infamous) porn film ever made, and the box office gross includes overseas plays and home video, but $600 million is impossible. There's no reason for Universal to inflate the numbers, because I have little doubt that, in terms of production cost to profit, DEEP THROAT probably is the most successful independent picture of all time. And that's impressive enough without doctoring numbers.

It's a surprise to see Universal Studios and Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's production company) involved with this NC-17 documentary, and their participation probably added some gloss and respectability to a film that is, after all, about a notorious sex film haunted by rumors of rape, drug use and organized crime. By the way, it's completely coincidental that I'm writing about sex films in back-to-back posts.

DEEP THROAT, made in Florida on the cheap for around $25,000, made a household name of its star, Linda Lovelace, who was indeed the first adult film performer to become a household name--the first porn star to be referenced in Johnny Carson's and Bob Hope's monologues. Linda starred as Linda Lovelace, whose disappointing sex life was based around the odd biological mutation that her clitoris was located in her throat. Therefore, to achieve sexual fulfillment, she had to, um, hone her oral skills and find a partner with a member prodigious enough to reach her clitoris. In reality, this plot, created by writer/director Gerard Damiano, is based on Lovelace's actual talent for "deep throating," which wasn't called that, of course, until the film.

DEEP THROAT (which I haven't seen, by the way) struck some sort of chord with mainstream Americans, which made it a box-office sensation on the level of a Hollywood hit like, oh, THE STING or THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. It was one of the first (maybe the first?) porn films to play regular theaters, not just the grindhouses, and the first that normal everyday suburban middle- and upper-class couples attended together. Going to DEEP THROAT in those days was no different that going to see THE GODFATHER. The fact that DEEP THROAT is, apparently, an awful film didn't matter. As one writer put it, seeing DEEP THROAT was not nearly as important as being able to say one saw it. Curiosity likely brought in more paying customers than its content.

Of course, where would society be without those wonderful men and women who thanklessly take it upon themselves to serve as our moral chaperones and decide for us what movies we adults should be able to see? DEEP THROAT became the subject of several court cases in which local prosecutors sought to ban the film for being obscene. In one shocking case in Tennessee, Lovelace's co-star, noted adult film actor Harry Reems, was convicted of a conspiracy charge for no other reason than that he was in the film! Thankfully, the conviction was later overturned.

To get back to my original subject, INSIDE DEEP THROAT is a fine documentary that looks at all facets of the film from its making, the backgrounds of its makers, and the notoriety it inspired. Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato interview nearly everyone even remotely involved with DEEP THROAT, including Damiano (now an old man with a bad toupee in Florida), Reems (a likable, intelligent man now working in real estate in Utah), the production manager, the location manager and theater owners who booked the film (Lovelace died in a 2002 car crash, but is heavily represented through archival footage and interviews with her family and friends). Other subjects, such as directors Wes Craven (who actually directed hardcore films early in his career) and John Waters, help place the adult-film art form in its proper historical perspective, while DEEP THROAT's legal battles are concisely told by the attorneys, judges, cops and even FBI agents (!) who were involved.

One aspect where INSIDE falls short is its connection to organized crime. According to the film, Damiano owned 1/3 of DEEP THROAT, while two reputed mobsters (who are named) owned the rest. Even though DEEP THROAT was worth millions, Damiano's partners forced him to sell them his share for less than it was worth. INSIDE fails to dig into this story, which sounds as though it could itself be the basis of an interesting film.

INSIDE DEEP THROAT earns its NC-17 rating with many glimpses of sex and nudity and much frank talk. And, yes, you do get to see for yourself Linda Lovelace's unique talent without which this documentary could never have existed.

1 comment:

Hal said...

Ironically, Damiano's other adult films of the decade are actually of reasonable quality film-wise ---considering the genre. MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE, THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES, and THE STORY OF JOANNA are all decent films, much better made than DEEP THROAT. The latter two also feature leading ladies who could act.

Damiano had to be the primary inspiration for Burt Reynolds' Jack Horner character in BOOGIE NIGHTS IMO, because he was the most outspoken adult film director regarding the crappiness of videotape.

In terms of the genre's directors, I think Henry Paris a.k.a. Radley Metzger was better, but Damiano also had ambitions of making quality films.

Yeah, I snuck into dad's videotape collection several times at that particular age, in case this post doesn't make it obvious. :)