‘Throat’ doc shows wide cultural impact

Fest no longer a virgin with NC-17 pic

This article was updated on Sunday, Jan. 23.

PARK CITY — Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s “Inside Deep Throat,” a documentary about the world’s most successful movie, inspires the unthinkable.

It represents the first time the screens of the Sundance Film Festival have hosted hardcore porn. It will be the first movie released by Universal with the dreaded NC-17 since “Henry & June” in 1990.

And most of all, “Inside Deep Throat” is the first film producer Brian Grazer made with his own money.

“I always tell people never to do it,” Grazer said, standing outside the Library Center Theater after the film’s second sold-out screening. “And I did it.”

HBO Films initially financed the film with $1 million. But when the budget turned out to be a lot closer to $2 million, the balance came from Grazer’s pocket.

Popular on Variety

To hear Grazer tell it, “Deep Throat” has been an obsession throughout his career. At one point he even optioned Linda Lovelace’s tell-all autobiography, “Ordeal,” but finally realized the story he was interested in telling wasn’t that of the film’s uniquely talented star.

“I wanted to use ‘Deep Throat’ to show how culture works,” he said. “This film had an impact on everything.”

Although the NC-17 “Inside Deep Throat” doesn’t shy away from showing its titular act (a moment that inspired perfect silence at the Library screening), the doc is less about porn than the capacity for a single X-rated film to act as an inadvertent instrument for change. Without “Deep Throat,” the film argues, we would have neither a multibillion-dollar porn industry nor a government infatuated with the idea of fighting obscenity.

Cultural relevance

“At first we thought (our film) was more of an exercise in cultural nostalgia, about ‘Deep Throat’ and 1972,” Bailey said. “But as we made it, we realized it was a movie about what’s happening today.”

Still, Grazer said, convincing U to release the film theatrically “wasn’t easy.” Grazer didn’t get the studio’s firm commitment until execs screened a rough cut.

“Once they saw it,” he said, “they wanted to do it. They made it effortless.” Grazer also acknowledged the process might have been different had General Electric been the studio’s owner at the time.

The 90-minute doc was culled from more than 200 hours of footage, which means viewers can expect hours of DVD extras. And that, in turn, will mean more money in Grazer’s pocket: His investment gave him the pic’s DVD rights.

The person responsible for introducing Grazer to “Deep Throat,” he said, was his porno-chic grandmother, part of the improbable mainstream groundswell drawn to see the X-rated film in the 1970s. Grazer didn’t watch the film himself until a few years later, as a Warner Bros. law clerk who found himself invited to a “big-shot party” that included a “Deep Throat” screening.

“It was memorable,” he told the audience Saturday afternoon. “And it ignited a series of acts that were also memorable.”

Creative menu

Friday night’s party for “Inside Deep Throat” was infused with a similar sensibility. As a DJ spun hits from the 1970s, scenes from the documentary unspooled behind him. Even the menu paid tribute to the film, with a spread that included Tootsie Pops, gherkins, corndogs and pigs-in-a-blanket.

However, the party’s centerpiece was a pair of go-go-dancing strippers who wore little more than glittery star-shaped pasties, belly chains, furry knee-high mukluks and tattoos. Imported from Jumbo’s Clown Room on Hollywood Boulevard, they perched on a white platform cube as they performed raunchy routines.

The incongruity of watching nearly naked women jiggle and writhe in Mormon-dominated Utah seemed to inhibit most revelers from doing their part to complete the tableau. (Among the generous few who thought to tip the ladies was toque-topped Endeavor topper Ariel Emanuel.)

Right on Reems

As with all porn movies, the success of “Deep Throat” was driven by the persistence of authorities to shut the picture down.

However, if “Inside Deep Throat” has a hero, it’s the male star of “Deep Throat,” Harry Reems.

Reems said he needed a lot of convincing from Barbato and Bailey to tell his story on camera. After the X-rated film became the centerpiece of a national obscenity trial, Reems was sentenced to five years in prison. The sentence was overturned shortly after Jimmy Carter was elected president, but the porn actor soon found his life in a downward spiral.

Today, Reems is as much a part of Park City as Sundance itself. He has lived in the town for two decades and is one of its most successful real estate brokers. Reems is also a 12-stepping born-again Christian who says he sees no conflict between his present and past lives.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Reems said.