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Inside Deep Throat

(Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato, USA, 2005)


 


The tone of this entertaining but superficial documentary is indicated by a prize gag.

 

Early on, we learn what seems at first to be a strangely gratuitous detail: that Linda Lovelace, star of the famous porn film Deep Throat (1972), had a beloved cat she named Adolf Hitler – because of the odd splash of dark colour under its nose.

 

Much later in the film, we are fully immersed in the cause célèbre of Deep Throat’s public release – an unexpected hit with America’s filmgoing middle-class, thus giving rise to an inevitable backlash pursued in the courts. Lovelace is seen in a television interview, spouting some fairly naive political rhetoric: “Do you know the last person who tried to censor things? It was Adolf Hitler!” And on that cue, directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Party Monster, 2003) cut to a still of the aforementioned cat, ironically underscored with ominous music.

 

Inside Deep Throat (that title is an equally unsubtle joke) vacillates between the abundant enjoyment of sending up rotten the cheesiness of the ‘70s porn-making milieu, and celebrating a supposed age of rebellious political freedom. Sometimes the mixed messages collapse in on themselves, as when a section devoted to Lovelace’s belated conversion to feminism comes over as a strident, bitchy critique of the Women’s Movement.

 

There is also the crazy, misplaced nostalgia that virtually every contemporary documentary or fiction film on this topic has inherited from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997): the kind of porn shot hastily on film, with a bit of comedy thrown in, must now be romanticised as some Golden Age of erotic cinema, while the subsequent shot-on-video era is damned as cheap and exploitative. If only Deep Throat was actually a good enough film to support this quaint fantasy.

 

Mostly, however, Inside Deep Throat succeeds in being fast-paced fun. The parade of now quite elderly participants in the fly-by-night adventure of Deep Throat – including director Gerard Damiano and star Harry Reems – rarely fails to amuse. Darker currents – such as the involvement of the Mafia and the imprisonment of Reems – are touched upon, but lack a certain gravitas in the midst of all the easy laughs. The most compelling aspect of the documentary is the surreal story of Lovelace herself and her several, starkly different lives.

 

The film is upholstered with slick personnel: Ron Howard’s producer Brian Grazer is at the helm, ex-rad Dennis Hopper provides the narration, Camille Paglia flies the flag (once again) for her freewheeling generation. But when Bailey and Barbato conclude hastily with an invocation of the current “culture war” on free speech and the continuing relevance of the case of Deep Throat, the argument is vague and unconvincing.

 

The porn industry deserves in-depth analysis, but doesn’t get it in this film.

© Adrian Martin November 2005


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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