Deep Throat (1972): Hardcore Porn as Media and Cultural Event

 

Initially made for the specialized porno industry, a niche market to use the industry’s jargon, “Deep Throat” shockingly became one of the decade’s top grossing films.

When the film was released, on June 11, 1972, at Manhattan’s World Theatre, no one could anticipate that the hardcore flick would become such an “event.” The movie became “porno chic,” with respectable artists like Mike Nichols telling Truman Capote that he shouldn’t miss it. Soon, the word got around that “Deep Throat” was the first stag film to be seen with a date, preferably over lunchtime.

Media Buzz

“Deep Throat” went on to become the first crossover adults-only hit film, titillating audiences that previously had been biased against the genre it represented. The quick and effective crossover into the mainstream was a combined result of the extensive media coverage, on nightly news and particularly the N.Y. Times articles, and the fact that the film was attended by celebs like Jacquie Kennedy and Marlene Dietrich.

Once the movie began to garner nationwide attention, it became a cultural phenomenon, with references, both serio and comic, on popular TV shows like Johnny Carson’s.

Pauline Kael Vs. the New Yorker

At first, Deep Throat” was considered so outr that even liberal editors were reluctant to write about it, or even mention it. “New Yorker” editor William Shawn constantly tried to rein his celeb critic, Pauline Kael. In fact, the only movie that Shawn had ever talked Kael out of reviewing was “Deep Throat.” In a 2000 interview, a year before she died, Kael said: “I still feel I should have put up more of a squawk, but I’d gotten so tired of battling with him.”

Charlie Simmons has a passage about going to see that movie with Kael in his novel “Wrinkles”: “She invited him soon after to see ‘Deep Throat,’ giggled throughout, and was shushed by the men in the audience.” But Kael couldn’t convince Shawn that a porn movie was worth writing about. Needless to say, Kael’s interest in “Deep Throat” had nothing to do with the quality of the film and everything to do with her interest in eroticism in the movies, a subject she was allowed to touch on only briefly and occasionally in the “New Yorker.”
Indeed, then as now, artistically speaking, “Deep Throat” doesn’t quite live up to its reputationit’s a rather poor movie. However, back then, it was superior to all of its competitors. The technical quality was above the norm for such fare. The film had sharp color photography, and a satirical musical score that spoofs, among other things, the Coca-Cola’s TV commercial, “It’s the Real Thing.”

Variety Review

Most reviewers, including “Variety,” did not even enlist the cast, reflecting the prevailing bias that porno performers were not really acting and thus didn’t deserve credit for their efforts. But some of the anonymity was due to the actors themselves, who chose to hide behind pseudonyms, including the film’s star, Linda Lovelace (ne Linda Marchiano). Years later, in her memoir “Ordeal,” Lovelace claimed that she was hypnotized and drugged into performing the hard core.

Writer-director Gerard Damiano (billed as Jerry Gerard) has made a number of stag films before casting a young actress, who he renamed Linda Lovelace. A suburban girl from Long Island who dreamed of becoming a flight attendant, Lovelace revealed “a close affinity for fellatio,” the director says, though he didn’t discover her unique talent until the camera began rolling. However, once Lovelace’s “specialty” became apparent, Damiano decided to feature her unconventional act as a centerpiece and to construct a whole story around it.

The “plot” revolves around a young woman who’s devastated because she fails to “hear bells,” despite her various sex bouts, some of which with as many as 14 men. A visit to her friendly and accommodating doctor reveals that nature has played a nasty trick on her. With therapy and practice, however, she finally experiences euphoria with fireworks and bells. In the film’s happy ending, she finds a young man with credentials equal to her own.

Far more important than its plot, “Deep Throat” takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to hetero hardcore, following the trend of gay porno, in which humor had always had a presence. Dishing out enough laughs during the main “action,” it proved that porno features needed as much comic relief as thrillers or actioners.

If my count is accurate, “Deep Throat” contains at least 17 scenes of explicit sex, a high ratio considering that the film’s running time is only 62 minutes! Allowing for the sequence devoted to Lovelace driving around Miami, while the credits roll, and eliminating the duration of a swimming pool scene, the fireworks, and the launching at Cape Kennedy, leaves a sex act every 3 minutes.

To escape the cold winter, the production headed to Miami, Florida, where “Deep Throat” was shot over six days. Joining Lovelace onscreen was the production’s assistant cameraman, Harry Reems (ne Herbert Streichner). An actor with Shakespearean ambitions, Reems had ventured into porno “strictly for the money.” In fact, Reems was cast when the original porno star simply failed to show up.

The disproportionate ratio of the film’s budget to its box-office gross is still striking. Made for the miniscule budget of $25,000, “Deep Throat” became a $600 million global phenomenon; it’s considered to be the most profitable film in history. Who got the money Theater managers Distributors The Mafia Certainly not the vastly underpaid talent. Lovelace, who became an overnight celeb, was paid the meager fee of $1,200, and Reems received only $250.

Context is crucial: “Deep Throat” was released amidst the nation’s most significant social movements: Sexual liberation, Anti-Vietnam War, Black Panthers, feminism, gay liberation, equal rights, and other counter-cultural values. The 1970s were probably the last decade in which political activism had such important meaning and impact. Moreover, in 1972, the porno industry was at its beginning and it benefited from the decline of the old Hollywood Studio system.

Perhaps most important of all was the fact that the film was released at least a decade before the VCR Revolution, around 1984. Were “Deep Throat” made today, it’s doubtful that if it would have had such an impact on American culture.
In the wake of the sharply divisive Vietnam War, “Deep Throat” benefited immensely from the whole resistance to–and questioning of–any form of authority, be it military, political, or parental. Making pornography was partly motivated by the belief that adult films were a natural offshoot of self-expression, liberation, and experimentation in art as well as lifestyle that permeated pop culture in the 1970s.

At present, there’s critical consensus that “Deep Throat” was much more than a campy comic romp. The movie became an emblem of all the repressive forces in American culture that tried to halt individual expression and artistic creativity. Going beyond artistic or personal values, “Deep Throat” represents a unique moment in American cultural history, when buying a ticket to see a “dirty” flick was a political statement, turning moviegoing into a revolutionary act!