Cinema Psycho

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Archive for October, 2005

The Interpreter (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on October 4, 2005

Directed and written by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato/narrated by Dennis Hopper/Universal Home Entertainment

A documentary about the infamous 1972 porno movie Deep Throat and the impact it had on mainstream American society.

You know, I’ve never actually seen Deep Throat. Not in its entirety anyway, just clips here and there over the years, but never the whole thing. I know some people might find that hard to believe, but I was 3 when it came out – I’m not that ancient.

From what I’ve heard, apparently I haven’t missed that much. People who have seen it generally seem to think that it’s not even particularly good porn, even by the relatively tame standards of the time. Honestly, once you’ve seen the likes of Taylor Rain and Aurora Snow in action, you don’t have much of a desire to go back to the old days. I know some people prefer “classic porn”, with its film quality, laughably bad music and weak attempts at plot, but I have a difficult time getting excited about women who are either dead or grandmothers now. But at least we still have the bad music.

Anyway, given the passage of time, it’s difficult to fully comprehend the impact that Deep Throat had when it was released. It was literally the blowjob heard ‘round the world. This was the porno movie that changed everything, that took hardcore sex flicks out of the seedy underground and into popular American culture. It was, for lack of a better term, huge. No X-rated film that came before or since has ever been so notorious.

It’s no wonder, then, that Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer wanted to make a documentary about it. The amazing thing is that he actually did it. What’s even more incredible than that? The doc includes footage from an oral sex scene that got it rated NC-17. Now you really want to be shocked? It was released by a major studio and actually played in some theaters uncensored. And no one, except for journalists and critics whose job it is to take note of such things, even batted an eye. As far as I’m aware, there were no protests, no cries of outrage or threats to boycott Universal for “corrupting society”. Some people chose to see the film, some people chose not to, and the world kept on spinning. It was no big deal.

Holy Christ, somebody should make a documentary about that.

The great thing about all this is that Inside Deep Throat is fascinating stuff, probably more so than the film it’s actually about. Acclaimed documentarians Bailey and Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) manage to cover all the bases in a mere 90 minutes, from the making of the film to its record-breaking theatrical run to the various controversies surrounding the film during and after its release. Anything you could possibly want to know about Deep Throat, they’ve crammed it in there (so to speak).

Plus there are brief soundbites from various celebrities and “deep thinkers”, everyone from the usual pro-sex pundits (Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, Dr. Ruth Westheimer) to noted intellectuals (Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Dick Cavett) to ‘70’s porn performers like Georgina Spelvin (herself known for performing a blowjob gag in the original Police Academy) and the film’s co-star, Harry Reems. There are also counterarguments from anti-porn feminists and the prosecutors who tried to have the movie banned and even have Reems thrown in jail simply for being on the receiving end of star Linda Lovelace’s mouth. Try to figure that one out, boys and girls!

This is where most critics would simply regurgitate each point that the film makes, one by one, in order to demonstrate how effective the film is at making said points. I’m not going to do that, simply because I think doing so would dilute the impact of the film – the whole point is to watch the story the way the filmmakers tell it, after all. If I told you everything that’s in the film, there would be no reason for you to watch it, now would there? Nor do I particularly want to get into the whole porn debate here. It’s out there, it exists, and it’s not going away as long as women are willing to do it. At this point, it’s like debating whether or not the birth control pill should be sold – that ship sailed a long time ago. Get over it.

Even though they give screen time to both sides, it’s clear where the filmmakers’ sympathies lie here. They’re particularly aggressive in their defense of the film as it concerns its persecution by the government. It’s clear that Deep Throat, with its celebrity endorsements and cultural shockwaves, was an easy target for the corrupt Nixon administration. And there’s a delicious irony that one of the film’s most ardent prosecutors, Charles Keating, would later be famously indicted and imprisoned for securities fraud. Hypocrisy abounds in this case, but thankfully Bailey and Barbato don’t hammer these points into the ground – they simply make note of it and move on, assuming the audience is smart enough to understand the implications on our own.

Politics aside, there’s a lot to be said for Deep Throat as a cultural touchstone, a point of no return for sexual discussion in America. As difficult as it is to believe now, oral sex was a taboo subject back then, and the movie pretty much blew that wide open (I’m really trying to avoid these bad puns, believe me). When people watched Lovelace do her thing on Reems’ monster cock, it was an eye-opener (still is, based on the clip we see here) and mainstream America was suddenly turned on to sexual possibilities besides the good old missionary position. So was Deep Throat beneficial to society? I don’t know – ask any man or woman who’s ever enjoyed giving or receiving oral sex.

Not that the film’s director, Gerard Damiano, and company had any inkling of the impact their little dirty movie would have. As the doc makes clear, they were just going to make another porno flick, but they stumbled onto a gimmick when they saw what Lovelace was capable of. That’s all it was, and they had no aspirations beyond that. It was the culture that picked up the ball and ran with it, to the complete shock and disbelief of everyone who was actually involved with its making. Deep Throat was that rare thing: a cheap little underground flick that became a mainstream sensation. It was the right movie at the right time, just at the point when the culture was ready for it.

Three decades later, porn is a multibillion-dollar industry thanks in large part to home video and DVD. Actual porn theaters are a rarity, and various distributors churn out thousands of flicks a year based on various sex acts, fetishes and perversities. None of this would be happening if films like Deep Throat hadn’t paved the way. Yet old-schoolers like Damiano seem disillusioned with the business’ current lack of artistry (despite the fact that Throat, with its vaudeville shtick and silly premise, was anything but art). It seems strange to me that someone who essentially helped pioneer a cultural revolution, intentionally or not, would go on to condemn the kind of sexual expression that he fought for in defending his own work. I guess that’s the ultimate irony, but it’s certainly not the only one where this film is concerned.

Deep Throat may not have been a great film, or even a great porn film. But in its own weird, warped way, it was a film that helped change the world. Inside Deep Throat is an essential document of that film, and of the specific time and place in which it grew into an unlikely but necessary smash hit. Even if you’ve never seen the original film and never intend to, this is a documentary well worth seeing. It certainly doesn’t suck.

***1/2 9/23/05

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