INSIDE DEEP THROATNC-17
Few baby-boomers would have trouble identifying the star of Deep Throat, or describing the tonsillar talent that made Linda Lovelace the most famous nom de porn in cinema history. Shot in 1972 for less than $25,000, the film grossed more than $600 million, making it, in all probability, the most profitable movie ever produced. We'll never have an accurate accounting of its earnings, since Deep Throat was financed and distributed by the mob, beginning a lucrative relationship between organized crime and pornography that coincided with the '70s sexual revolution and subsequent relaxation of censorship laws.
Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Party Monster) acknowledge the dark side of the film in Inside Deep Throat, but they mostly play to their strength, concentrating on the cultural and political repercussions of the hour-long oral extravaganza. Producer Brian Grazer initiated the project, originally intended to be a portrait of Lovelace. Unfortunately, she was killed in a car crash in 2002 at age 53. "After Linda died, the idea of doing a film about her life was kind of problematic, because her story is a difficult one to tell," says Bailey, "kind of a mystery that eludes us to this day." The media hype and court battles that turned Deep Throat into a cause cèlébre, on the other hand, make for straight-up narrative.
The movie opened at the World Theatre in New York City about the same time Nixon's bungling burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington-thus the appropriation of the film title for Woodward and Bernstein's anonymous source. Racy foreign films had aroused public interest since the '60s, and some, including I Am Curious (Yellow), had been seized by U.S. Customs. But Deep Throat, along with Behind the Green Door, starring Ivory Snow girl Marilyn Chambers, which premiered simultaneously at the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre in San Francisco, were the first American feature-length blue movies with some pretense of story.
Of these two notorious films, Deep Throat was the more palatable. (Green Door, made for $60,000, earned $30 million.) Director Jerry Gerald, a former hairdresser and swinger whose real name was Gerald Damiano, wrote the script specifically for Lovelace during an inspired weekend, realizing that audiences needed to laugh while watching people have sex on screen. In a brilliant bit of last-minute casting, he coaxed aspiring 25-year-old actor Herbert Streicher, hired as a grip and gaffer, to play Dr. Young, the devil-may-care psychiatrist who discovers that Lovelace can't achieve orgasm during intercourse because her clitoris is in her gullet. Streicher, billed under the pseudonym Harry Reems, hammed it up, delivering his lines with mock gravitas and crossing his eyes in parodic paroxysms of pleasure.
It was Lovelace, however, who gave the performance of a lifetime. Not only did she make fellatio safe for dinner conversation among prim libertines such as Helen Gurley Brown, who appears in the documentary discussing the benefits of semen as a skin conditioner, but she prompted the modish intelligentsia, led by Norman Mailer, to take up the cause of sexual freedom, a newly discovered civil right that became inextricably entangled with free speech.
Inside Deep Throat, its title a reference to the first of four memoirs Lovelace would publish over her strange, confused life, spends itself on the legal controversies that followed the film as it made its way across the country. Bailey and Barbato tracked down archival footage of some of the principals in the various court cases, including dour FBI agent Bill Kelly and moral crusader Charles Keating (who would later be prosecuted for financial malfeasance), and re-interviewed others, most prominently Memphis prosecutor Larry Parrish, who brought charges against Streicher for his role in the movie, and Harvard defender Alan Dershowitz. A good deal of screen time is given over to old-timers like Hugh Hefner and Erica Jong, who mouth the obligatory platitudes. Dick Cavett, in particular, is his usual snide and sneering self. One wonders why he made the cut (other celebrities, including Tom Wolfe, didn't), since he admits, smugly, that he never saw the movie.
These éminences grises add little to the debate, which at any rate has long been settled in favor of free expression. Recent attempts at censorship-the fines levied on Howard Stern by the FCC-end with the offender profiting obscenely from the barrage of publicity. Indeed, one of the most telling sequences in the documentary is a brief montage of X-rated actresses who giggle with feigned embarrassment when asked about Lovelace...they haven't a clue who she is or what she represents.
As an exercise in nostalgia, however, Inside Deep Throat is amusing. Bailey and Barbato are empathetic directors, as they proved with their profile of Tammy Faye Baker, and they manage to capture the sweeter side of Damiano, who shuffles around his suburban rancher wearing his pants pulled up to his armpits. But Damiano and Miami theatre owner Arthur Sommer refuse to talk about their relations with the Colombo crime family-Sommer's wife, Terry, chimes in with unerring comic timing every time the subject comes up-and its this kind of missed opportunity that will make viewers of the movie wish the filmmakers had better reportorial skills.
Oddly, Bailey and Barbato give little screen time to Streicher, now a successful real-estate agent in Park City, Utah, and they never had the chance to talk with Lovelace, whose life turned out sadly. Born Linda Boreman, she enjoyed more than 15 minutes of fame but failed to cash in on it, in part because she stopped making X-rated films. (Most of her subsequent hardcore releases were cobbled together from loops she had made before Deep Throat.) Her embrace of feminism (unlike Streicher's conversion to Christianity) was well-publicized but unconvincing. Her three marriages all fell apart while she suffered through a double radical mastectomy (the result of a botched boob job) and a liver transplant (necessitated by Hepatitis C, contracted through a blood transfusion). She ended up working low-paying clerical jobs and at one point cleaned office buildings at night.
One of her last hurrahs, of sorts, came when Ron Howard, of all people, optioned the rights to one of her memoirs, Ordeal, for a reported $3,000-a little over twice what she was paid for her performance in Deep Throat.