PARK CITY -- Deep Throat
is still the most successful indie film ever made, a $25,000 porn flick released in 1972 that may have grossed -- no one was really counting -- $600 million. So what better place to premiere Inside Deep Throat
, a film by Sundance veterans Fenton Bailey
and Randy Barbato
(The Eyes of Tammy Faye
), than here at the king of indie fests?
The docu turns out to be an often provocative and perceptive look at the history of the porn business in America, the cultural wars the movie fed into and the lives of some who worked on the film.
Since forces on the right are currently galvanized for a renewed attack on civil liberties and freedom of expression, Inside Deep Throat
is making a timely appearance. The film, which Universal will release nationally Feb. 11, looks like another documentary boxoffice winner.
When asked about the landmark film he made more than 30 years ago, director Gerard Damiano
(a.k.a. Jerry Gerard
) admits, "No, I don't think it's a very good movie." Which has to be the most irrelevant fact one can state about Deep Throat
A poorly shot, absurd sex comedy constructed around its star's remarkable ability at fellatio, the movie opened in Times Square at the height of the war being waged by the counterculture and sexual liberation movements against a belligerent establishment. While Erica Jong
's comment that suddenly sex was out of the closet may be overstating things, the movie certainly marked the first time grandmothers stood in line to watch porn and talk show hosts and The New York Times could make references to a sex act, then considered illicit in some states, which few had any trouble understanding.
The movie traces several themes emanating from this cultural phenomenon. First there are the damaged lives of the film's stars, Linda Lovelace
and Harry Reems, an assistant camera drafted into the male starring role while on location in Florida. Then there is the growth of porn, which many filmmakers and artists saw as having artistic as well as commercial potential if it could cross over into the mainstream. That never happened.
The film also navigates through the legal and political battles this film and others faced including a presidential commission's investigation into pornography and society, which was roundly ignored by the government when the commission reached the "wrong" conclusions.
For the most part, Bailey and Barbato succeed in weaving together these various themes, thanks to smart editing by William Grayburn
and Jeremy Simmons
. Linda Lovelace
, who disowned the film in a memoir that claimed she shot it under duress, later seemed to embrace her former image in a sexy magazine layout. She died in an auto accident in 2002 dead broke, according to her sister.
Reems suffered federal prosecution. While he prevailed, this sent his life into a downward spiral of alcoholism. Thankfully, he has recovered and lives here in Park City, where he has a real estate license.
For interviews, the filmmakers astutely cast a wide net, bringing before their cameras people not always connected to the film yet with insight into the issues it raised. These talking heads include Norman Mailer
, Helen Gurley Brown
, Susan Brownmiller
, Alan Dershowitz, Camille Paglia
, Gore Vidal
and Reems' zealous prosecutor, Larry Parrish
. A narration delivered by Dennis Hopper
is unobtrusive, appearing only when necessary.
The salient point here is that Deep Throat
can be seen as one of the first battles of the culture wars that still divide this nation. The choice of interviewees tilt the viewpoint heavily in favor of freedom of expression, yet both sides conclude that damage has been done and the wars are far from over.
There seems to be no middle ground on this issue, just as there never was any intersection between mainstream and porn. Movies such as Last Tango in Paris
and, more recently, 9 Songs
hint at the possibilities. But when an actor such as Reems can be hauled into court for accepting a movie role, little wonder those possibilities remain unexplored.
INSIDE DEEP THROAT
An Imagine Entertainment in association with HBO Documentary Films presentation of a Brian Grazer
Production in association with World of Wonder
Writers/directors: Fenton Bailey
, Randy Barbato
Producer: Brian Grazer
, Fenton Bailey
, Randy Barbato
Co-producer: Mona Card
Executive producer: Kim Roth
Directors of photography: David Kempner
, Teodoro Maniaci
Editors: William Grayburn
, Jeremy Simmons
Music: David Steinberg
MPAA rating: NC-17
Running time -- 88 minutes