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Inside Deep Throat

The ongoing culture wars pitting freedom of expression against upright moral standards provide a relevant kick to "Inside Deep Throat," a comprehensive account of the landmark porn film and its influence that is both raunchy and reflective. Unrated as yet but surely destined for an NC-17 in its present form, pic is due for theatrical release Feb. 11.

With:
With: Peter Bart, Carl Bernstein, Tony Bill, Ralph Blumenthal, Barbara Boreman, Helen Gurley Brown, Susan Brownmiller, Lenny Camp, Patsy Carroll, Dick Cavett, Wes Craven, Gerard Damiano, Alan Dershowitz, Larry Flynt, Al Goldstein, John Gorman, Hugh Hefner, Xaviera Hollander, Erica Jong, Herb Kassner, Charles Keating, Bruce Kramer, Bill Maher, Norman Mailer, Peter Manouse, Lindsay Marchiano, Camille Paglia, Larry Parrish, William Purcell, Harry Reems, Ray Shipley, Arthur & Terry Sommer, Georgina Spelvin, Annie Sprinkle, Andrea True, Gore Vidal, John Waters, Ruth Westheimer, Ron Wertheim, Linda Williams.

The ongoing culture wars pitting freedom of expression against upright moral standards provide a relevant kick to “Inside Deep Throat,” a comprehensive account of the landmark 1972 porn film and its influence that is both raunchy and reflective. Spawned from the unlikely match of mainstream producer Brian Grazer and the edgy “Party Monster” team of Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, with heavyweight backing of Universal and HBO, spunky docu has a gaudy pop-culture personality that perfectly suits its subject. Unrated as yet but surely destined for an NC-17 in its present form (yes, the dirty deed is shown onscreen), pic is due for theatrical release Feb. 11.

With left and right both busy with their cultural agendas, this film arrives to assert the significance of “Deep Throat” in what is celebrated by one side as the long-awaited emergence of a wide-open, liberated society and lamented by the other as the dreaded complete breakdown of conventional morality.

After all, what would Watergate have been without Deep Throat? And wasn’t the sort of uncensored media coverage of such events as the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings and the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair made possible by the unprecedented anatomical discussions first foisted upon the public by the phenomenon of this modest movie starring a young lady named Linda Lovelace who possessed one very specific talent?

Tracking down everyone possible involved in making the film, a raft of intellectual commentators and key participants in the lengthy legal battles, the filmmakers successfully place “Deep Throat” in the context of its time. It was made under a Nixon administration that, despite its power, could do little to stem the tide of counterculture forces that prominently included sexual liberation among its facets; tellingly, the government’s commission on obscenity came up with conclusions that were the opposite of what the administration desired.

In a brassy manner that perfectly amplifies the tawdriness of the porno world, pic charts the astounding career of the $25,000 production that reportedly grossed upward of $600 million, making it by far the most profitable movie ever made.

Financed by shadowy underworld figures and directed by Gerard Damiano, who credits his skill for relaxing women into effectively performing sex scenes to his years of talking with ladies while a hairdresser, “Deep Throat” was quickly made in Florida under almost ludicrously unprepared circumstances. Damiano claims not to have known of Lovelace’s particular oral abilities until filming began, and Harry Reems, initially brought along as a production assistant, was thrust into the male lead out of desperation.

Despite the numerous jokes by participants about the meager talents deployed on the picture (which even Damiano admits was bad), it did apply a certain lame sense of humor to the physical hydraulics; with its little plot gimmick of placing the heroine’s clitoris in her throat, it unquestionably hit a nerve.

Crucially, it also attracted official attention: As attorney Alan Dershowitz says, “‘Deep Throat’ succeeded in part because the government went after it.” Repeated raids on the New York theater showing the film raised its profile, and a subsequent New York Times piece called “Porno Chic” suddenly made it respectable for men and women who had never set foot in a dirty-movie theater to see it.

The legal wrangling that followed is well documented, culminating in a federal trial in which Reems was convicted, a decision later overturned on appeal (a particularly compelling clip shows a passionate and articulate Reems on a TV show arguing with none other than Roy Cohn).

But as the mob, whose ruthless collection methods are soberingly related, could barely count its profits and the porno industry boomed, a sadness came to underline the lives of those involved in “Deep Throat.” Damiano was elbowed out financially by partners he will only identify as “Roman Catholics.” Reems succumbed to drugs and booze (before rehabbing and becoming a Park City, Utah, realtor); and Lovelace eventually advanced herself as a victim of abuse before she died, penniless, in a car accident. Expanding pic’s view of Lovelace are emotional testimonies by her sister and closest high school friend.

More implicit but undeniable is the coarsening of the arts and of public discourse across the three-plus decades since “Deep Throat” made fellatio a virtual household word. Some may attack the docu for not laying more blame at the film’s doorstep for what’s happened subsequently, just as some commentators have attacked recent pic “Kinsey” for its sympathetic interest in the man they similarly castigate for his role in loosening society’s chastity belt.

Despite the fact that Bailey and Barbato previously made the docu “Monica in Black and White,” it still would have been apt for them to acknowledge the obvious link between the “Deep Throat” furor and Clinton’s Oval Office scandal.

Production values are colorfully showy, and a vibrant, imaginative score by David Steinberg gooses things along. Nudity and graphic language are abundant, with hardcore footage limited to a few close-up moments of Lovelace incontrovertibly demonstrating her capacities for the technique she made forever infamous.

Inside Deep Throat

Production: A Universal release of an Imagine Entertainment presentation in association with HBO Documentary Films of a Brian Grazer production in association with World of Wonder. Produced by Grazer, Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato. Executive producer, Kim Roth. Co-producer, Mona Card. Directed, written by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato.

Crew: Camera (CFI color), David Kempner, Teodoro Maniaci; editors, William Grayburn, Jeremy Simmons; music, David Steinberg; music supervisor, Bill Coleman; sound (Dolby), Albee Gordon, Jayme Roy; supervising sound editor, Lance Brown; associate producers, Ashley York, Sarah Brown; additional camera, Harry Frith, Allan Palmer. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 21, 2005. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Peter Bart, Carl Bernstein, Tony Bill, Ralph Blumenthal, Barbara Boreman, Helen Gurley Brown, Susan Brownmiller, Lenny Camp, Patsy Carroll, Dick Cavett, Wes Craven, Gerard Damiano, Alan Dershowitz, Larry Flynt, Al Goldstein, John Gorman, Hugh Hefner, Xaviera Hollander, Erica Jong, Herb Kassner, Charles Keating, Bruce Kramer, Bill Maher, Norman Mailer, Peter Manouse, Lindsay Marchiano, Camille Paglia, Larry Parrish, William Purcell, Harry Reems, Ray Shipley, Arthur & Terry Sommer, Georgina Spelvin, Annie Sprinkle, Andrea True, Gore Vidal, John Waters, Ruth Westheimer, Ron Wertheim, Linda Williams.Narrator: Dennis Hopper.

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