Inside Deep Throat: How the Movie Changed Pop Culture

This insightful documentary, from Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer, is now offered in both R and NC-17 versions. It takes the viewer through the making, release, and aftermath of “Deep Throat,” one of the most talked about adult films ever made. After 1972, American pop culture was never the same again.

Both versions of the “Inside Deep Throat DVD” have bonus materials, giving additional insight and commentary on the historical adult movie:

“The Last Word for Now” includes discussion from Bill Maher, Erica Jong, Hugh Hefner, Wes Craven, and other about America’s prevailing attitudes toward sex.

“The Binghampton Trial: literally Speaking” examines the first town to put “Deep Throat” on trial.

“Quincy House: Poison Ivy League” depicts the case of two Harvard students who were arrested for screening “Deep Throat” on campus.

“Commentary Track” offers many insights from co-directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey.

One of the most eagerly anticipated films at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, “Inside Deep Throat” received its world premiere to enthusiastic response by a full-to-capacity house, whose attendees included Harry Reems, the star of the notoriously famous 1972 porn film, who’s now a real estate agent in Park City!

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who wrote, produced and directed, have made an entertaining and culturally significant work that suffers from some structural and other flaws. However, for anyone who has lived through the 1970s, arguably one of the most tumultuous decades in American, Inside Deep Throat is a must-see documentary, the kind of film whose social and political dimensions outweighs and goes far beyond artistic merits.

For the record: As a movie-movie, “Deep Throat” is a rather weak work artistically. But, like the documentary that reexamines the short run and long run effects of the film, it’s one of the most significant socio-cultural phenomena in the history of American cinema and pop culture. Both the 1972 film and the new documentary raise such important issues as artistic freedom and censorship, and morality, sexuality and pornography, politics, cinema and pop culture, and many other hot-button themes.

Combining facts, statistical data, and personal recollections, “Inside Deep Throat” benefits from the numerous interviews conducted with the dramatis personae of the inflammatory porn film, both in front and behind the cameras. And the timing for such a film could not have been better, since the cultural wars, begun in the 1960s and 1970s, are very much part of the contemporary moral, artistic, and political climate.

Since the film is a Brian Grazer production, a teaming of Imagine Entertainment (the company of Grazer and director Ron Howard) and the estimable HBO Documentary Films, whose leader is Sheila Nevins, “Inside Deep Throat” is a high-profile, well-produced film.

It will be interesting to see what the reaction of Middle America would be to the film. Recent films that dealt with the issues of sex, sexuality, and morality, such as Bertolucci’s Nc-17 “The Dreamers” and Bill Condon’s biopic “Kinsey,” have not played well in the hinterland. It also remains to be seen to what extent Inside Deep Throat, a docu that leaves a lot to be desired, will result in an intelligent and provocative debate about those important issues. In this respect, rather disappointingly, neither “The Dreamers” nor “Kinsey” became controversial issues.

The docu establishes some basic, astonishing facts; primary among them is the disproportionate ratio of budget to box-office gross. Made for the miniscule budget of $25, 000, “Inside Deep Throat” became$600 million global commercial phenomena and is considered to be the most profitable film of all time.

Who got the money Where did the money go Theater managers Distributors The Mafia The Mob The docu poses—but does not answer definitively—all these questions and more. The talent was underpaid, even by standards of the 1970s. Linda Lovelace, who became an overnight star and celeb after the film, claims to have been paid the meager amount of $1,200, whereas Harry Reems received only $250.

Opening theatrically in New York City on June 11, 1972, “Deep Throat” caused the Nixon administration to declare war on freedom, while manipulating the media and Congress. From a more individual perspective, buying a ticket to see a “dirty” movie became a statement, turning film viewing into an act of revolution. No matter what your personal politics, aesthetics, and value system are, you cannot dismiss the movie as just a titillating curiosity and a money-making blockbuster.

Context is crucial: “Deep Throat” was released at the very moment when the nation’s most significant social movements—sexual liberation, anti-Vietnam War, feminism, gay liberation, equal rights, and counter-cultural values—were at their height—and most influential. It’s arguable the last decade, in which political activism had any meaning and reached such proportions.

Furthermore, the porn industry was at its very beginning, the Hollywood Studio system was in decline and transitional phase, and, most important of all, the film was released a whole decade before the VCR Revolution (around 1984). Should a film like “Deep Throat” have been made to day, I doubt that it would have had such an extensive and expansive impact on American culture and society at large.

As a sociologist, I can’t help but notice the gap between the modest intent of the filmmakers, who were clueless as to what they were doing, and the unanticipated effects of the sexually explicit film (I refer here to the sociological theory of The Unanticipated Results of Social Action). There was a huge chasm between the filmmakers’ artistic and political goals and the unforeseen legacy they inadvertently created.

Phrased differently, “Deep Throat” became a flashpoint for an unprecedented social and political firestorm, a major cultural phenomena whose impact continues to influence us today, 32 years after the film’s initial showing.

Following more or less a chronological structure, Grazer and the directors begin by taking the moviegoers behind the scenes of “Deep Throat.” The first images to come to my mind, just hours after seeing the film, is the amazing, vastly entertaining parade of truly larger-than-life personalities. The dock’s “cast” includes not only some of the filmmakers and stars, such as director Gerald Damiano (ne Jerry Gerard), production manager Ron Wertheim, and assistant cameraman turned leading man Harry Reems, but also an array of esteemed intellectuals and authors (Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer), filmmakers and enfant terrible (such as John Waters, whose “Pink Flamingos” was also released in that crucial year, 1972), lawyer and law professor (Alan Dershowitz), feminists (Gloria Steinem, Camille Paglia), publishers (Hugh Hefner), theater owners across America, distributors, FBI agents and so on.

This impressive aggregate of witnesses is the docu’s single most important value, as each one reflects on his/her opinions and activism, in the 1970s and follows it up to the present. It is also this dimension that makes the absence of some key players more noticeable. As is known, Linda Lovelace died in 2002 of bad injuries of a car accident. And though docu interviews her high school classmates and her vocal and angry sister, there are only brief statements from Lovelace’s daughter, and none from her son and/or father of her children.

That said, those that are present in the film are terrific, give a wonderfully lively and unique testimony about “Deep Throat” the film and their subjective role in the film’s creation and aftermath. Taken collectively, these witnesses represent a wide range of of artists, politicians, opinion-makers (such as the New York Times reporter who first wrote about the film), and ideologues of various political persuasions, both right and left of center.

I saw the film in 1973, upon arriving in the US to do undergraduate and graduate studies at Columbia University. I mention this fact to highlight the personal journey that moviegoers who saw the film back in 1970s would inevitably undertake upon seeing “Inside Deep Throat.”

It’s hard to think of many other films, pornographic and other ones) that crossed over into mainstream society so quickly and so effectively, a combined result of the extensive media coverage (on nightly news and particularly the NY Times’ first article), the fact that the film was attended by celebs on the order of Jacquie Kennedy and Marlene Dietrich, and, of course, the government’s declaration of war and constitutional efforts.

“Deep Throat” and porn were positioned between crime and art,” says Norman Mailer. “The movie opened a can of worms,” witnesses author Gore Vidal. “Daminao made the film to get laid,” says the production manager. “The movie changed the sexual practices of Middle-America,” says sex specialist Dr. Ruth Werthheimer. “People learned a lot about female anatomy, the different kinds of orgasm,” says a feminist. “The film revolutionized the whole notion of female pleasure,” declares noted Berkeley film scholar Linda Williams. These statements reflect the various meanings of “Deep Throat” for different segments of the audience.

Some of the most illuminating and hilarious recollections come from ordinary housewives, one of whom claims, “The government is not going to tell me if I can see a dirty’ picture.” Though not chronicled systematically in the docu, it’s fair to claim that many Americans began to think of sex, sexual practices, and sexual gratification in an entirely new way. As one witness says, “oral sex, fellatio, was not new, but Deep Throat made it more widely discussed and acceptable.”

I don’t wish to trivialize “Deep Throat” by suggesting that its chief importance was sexual. Au contraire: There is universal consensus among film scholars and filmgoers that the film was much more than a silly and campy comic romp. In fact, the movie became an emblem of all the negative repressive forces in American culture that tried—and continue to try—halting a certain kind of individual artistic expression.

It is still amazing and instructive to reflect on the effects of such a “tiny” film, made for the adult industry, and modest effort, in both its funding and aspirations. “Deep Throat” struck chords with many people over many years,

Among the many strengths of “Inside Deep Throat” are the mini-profiles of the key participants. We learn that Gerald “Jerry” Damiano has made a number of stag films before casting a young actress, appropriately renamed Linda Lovelace in his latest romp.

A suburban girl from Long Island, who dreamed of becoming a boutique or becoming a flight attendant, Lovelace turned out “to have close affinity for fellatio.” Interestingly, Damiano did not discover this until the camera began rolling. However, once Lovelace’s “special ability” became apparent, he decided to feature the unconventional act as a centerpiece and to construct a whole story around it, realizing he could exploit his latest sensational find.

To escape the cold winter of New York, the production headed to Florida, where “Deep Throat” was shot over six days, in January 1972. Joining Lovelace onscreen was the production’s assistant cameraman, a NY actor with Shakespearean ambitions named Harry Reems (ne Herbert Streichner), who had ventured into porn “strictly for the money.” Reems was cast when the male porn star, originally engaged to play opposite Lovelace, failed to show up.
“Deep Throat” benefited immensely from its direct link to the burgeoning movements of sexual liberation, equal rights, and the whole resistance to and question of any form of authority (military, political, and parental) in the wake of the sharply divisive Vietnam War.

“Inside Deep Throat” demonstrates most effectively that, for many at the time, making pornography was at least partially motivated by the belief that adult films were a natural offshoot of the spirits of self-expression, liberation, and experimentation in art as well as lifestyle, that permeated pop culture in the early 1970s.

As Paul Thomas Anderson showed in his sprawling masterpiece, “Boogey Nights,” a tribute to the porn industry of the 1970s that was inspired by people like Damiano, there was also a belief, perhaps too nave, that experience in the adult film industry could lead to legitimate gigs in mainstream, non-pornographic, projects. Reems recalls how he arrived in Hollywood, hoping to be grabbed and signed by a major agent or studio; instead, he rapidly descended into the drug culture, reaching a point where he was so drunk that he could not get an erection and perform his duties on camera.

Unlike many docus and films, including those by Bailey and Barbato (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Monica in Black and White” “Party Monster”), “Inside Deep Throat” gets more interesting and intriguing as it goes along. Hence, in the film’s second half, there is invaluable documentation of the aftermath of “Deep Focus.” Once the 1972 film began to garner nationwide attention—thanks in parts to reviews in Variety and essays in the NY Times—it became a cultural phenomenon, one mentioned (or ridiculed) by TV hosts like Johnny Carson.

However, shortly after its premiere, “Deep Throat” got more than it bargained for, when it became the target of politicians, including President Nixon, intent on “cleaning up” what they regarded as “the backwater of filth” that the 1970s had washed upon American—and later foreign—shores.

Legal action was instigated, on the city, state, and federal levels in a barrage of attempts to clamp down on “Deep Throat” in particular, and on the entire pornography and film industry in general. Not only were theater and distributors, who handled the picture, charged with a variety of offenses, but, in a blatant attempt to intimidate anyone who might, in the future, even consider participating in the making of adult films, federal prosecutors tried to make an example of actor Harry Reems, charging him with conspiracy to transport obscenity across state line. Damiano and Lovelace cooperated with the authorities and were able to plea-bargain their way out of court. Moreover, later, they even testified against Reems—as the actor were in any way responsible for the movie’s contents and distribution.

When Reems was found guilty in 1976, an impressive list of civil liberties groups, along with major Hollywood stars and celebs—including Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty—rallied to his side and eventually, his conviction was overturned. Reems benefited from the new regime and new climate, post Nixon’s resignation, in 1974.
One of many ironies discussed in “Inside Deep Throat,” is that Nixon, a major foe of the film and porn industry, had to resign due to the Watergate scandal, which occurred in June 1972, the same month of “Deep Throat” premiere. Those who have read the book and/or seen the film “All the President’s Men,” may recall that a key witness in the Watergate scandal was labeled “deep throat.” Washington Post journalist, Carl Bernstein, who co-wrote the book, is interviewed in the new docu.

The weakest aspect of the otherwise riveting “Inside Deep Throat” is its semi- successful but ultimately incomplete attempt to draw parallels between the repressive forces of American culture in 1972 and in 2005. This could be a function of time and space, though the docu is rather short. What would have made “Inside Deep Throat” far more significant is a more detailed and analytic examination of the conservative moral and artistic climate at present.