Sunday, 3 July 2005

Inside Deep Throat (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Documentary about the notorious 70s porn film Deep Throat, which caused a scandal in the United States and provoked a number of court cases. At first the film was a cult hit in the sleazy theatres around New York's 42nd Street and Times Square. When New York Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal wrote an article headlined "Porn Chic" it became a must-see. Takings increased on an exponential scale and the New York police authorities started to confiscate prints and shut down porn theatres, making Deep Throat a high-profile victim of its attempts to clean up that part of midtown. All this scandal merely acted as free publicity for the film and interest continued to grow. A court case found the film to be obscene and it was banned from New York cinemas. Other cities in other states were still showing it, though, including Miami, where theatre manager Arthur Sommer knew one of the shady figures behind the film and purchased a print on the cheap. Audiences queued around the block to see it.

By this time, the White House and the FBI were on the case, following the NYPD's example to make Deep Throat the showpiece of their crackdown on porn. Sommer's connections were with the Miama mafia, who had moved down to Florida from New York. As he is being interviewed, his wife, Terry, sits at the other side of the room makinig caustic objections to what Arthur is saying. They make a great, undeliberate, comic duo. She is still worried about the people he used to do business with. It is obvious, now, that they enjoy a quieter life in retirement and don't want to go back to face those demons of 30 years ago. Something big obviously happened, a death-threat, perhaps, which scared Arthur out of the theatre trade and kept his mouth shut all these years.

Co-Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato find a number of characters to entertain us, including Production Manager Ron Wertheim, who claims that Director Gerry Damiano's "primary motivation" for making these pictures "was to get laid. Really. And he did." Wait till you see his face when he talks about the fellatio skills of the film's star, Linda Lovelace. Her story is also told. Although the film was championed by some as an expression of female sexual liberation (the clitoral orgasm began to be talked about; it was acknowledged that sex should also be pleasurable for the woman), Linda seems to have been taken advantage of. It's claimed that her partner used to beat her and that you can see the bruises in the film; but that bruise on her left thigh, which you can see in the pool scene, could be a birth mark. Nevertheless, she didn't make much money from the film and couldn't avoid the notoriety that came with it. Years later she became a spokesperson for the feminist backlash against pornography, led by figures such as Susan Brownmiller. She even claimed: "Everyone that watches Deep Throat is watching me being raped." When she tried to make a fresh start with an office job in Denver, she was sacked when her bosses discovered that she was formerly known as Linda Lovelace. In 2002 she died, penniless, in a car crash.

Harry Reems, the actor who played Dr Young, was even more put upon. In a federal case brought by the puritan prosecutor Larry Parrish from Tennessee, Reems was convicted of obscenity (strangely, the Director and Linda Lovelace were immune) and faced five years in prison. However, after Jimmy Carter won the Presidential election in 1976, the appeal hearing quashed the verdict because Reems's conviction depended on a Supreme Court ruling that was made after the film was produced. New Hollywood actors Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson defended him, but Paramount later objected to his being cast as the high school coach in Grease (1978); and from there he turned to alcoholism and drug addiction. We learn later that he has, surprise surprise, become a Christian and is a licensed real estate broker in Utah.

This is a well constructed film: first detailing the movie's production; then following the impact of its release; and finally tracing the affect it has had on the people who made and distributed it (none of whom made any money out of it, apart from the mafia). It's a solidly conventional and dependable arc, but the research feels sound and the archive footage that splices together the talking heads is aesthetically interesting, without being too gimicky (which documentaries such as The Corporation and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 are guilty of). They speak to all the necessary parties, but only include archive interview footage of Linda Lovelace towards the end (earlier they had spoken to her high school friend and sister). For a judgement on the wider social impact of the film they speak to writers Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, and sexologist Dr Ruth Westheimer. Another New Hollywood icon, Dennis Hopper, narrates in a low-key style, his voice resembling somewhat - and being confused with in my mind - that of the FBI agent who was ordered by President Nixon to find cases through which they could please the religious right by attacking pornography.

One angle I would have preferred to be widened was that whose apex was Nixon and Watergate. Carl Bernstein appears only briefly to confirm that the codename for his source "Deep Throat" (revealed last month as W. Mark Felt) came from the journalistic jargon "deep background". More could have been made of the connection between Nixon's convervative electioneering zeal and the need to cover up his own crooked networking (but that would have been another, much longer movie, perhaps one for Errol Morris).

Nugget: an important piece of filmmaking, but perhaps at times it did exaggerate the influence of Deep Throat, which merely crested the wave of sexual and moral revolutions that were already latent in 1970s American society.

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