Inside Deep Throat Review

A family holiday in the UK in the early 1970s. A family friend is wearing a T-shirt which says I CHOKED LINDA LOVELACE. Needless to say, I asked what it meant and he wouldn’t tell me…not surprising considering I was nine or ten years old. But even here in Britain, we had heard of this dirty movie called Deep Throat that was making headlines in the United States. It wasn’t a film you could see yourself, of course, at least not legally. It wasn’t until 2000, and the liberalising of the BBFC’s R18 certificate, that the film could be legally available uncut in the UK. There’s a story of a censorship debate in the 1970s which tried to show Deep Throat, only for one of the participants, Mary Whitehouse, to tip off Customs who refused to let the film into the country. The book Inside Linda Lovelace was the subject of one of the last major British obscenity trials, and the fact that it was not found obscene meant that almost no other book could be.

But in the United States, things were different. Deep Throat, directed by Gerard Damiano under the pseudonym of “Jerry Gerard”, played openly in Times Square, New York. This story of a woman whose clitoris is at the base of her throat, meaning that she can only achieve orgasm via fellatio, became the most profitable film ever made, grossing $600 million on a $25000 budget. The phrase itself entered the language (via the Watergate affair). For a while it made hardcore porno films respectable, with couples lining up to see the film. The New York Times wrote an influential article on “porn chic”. It made fellatio, previously seen as a “low” sexual activity, mainstream. Feminists held debates on clitoral orgasm (which gave women sexual autonomy) versus the traditional vaginal one (requiring the presence of a penis). Quite something for a tiny-budget hour-long film that is, by its own director’s admission, not very good. It’s a pretty silly film, for all its talk of a woman’s sexual empowerment based squarely on male fantasy – as Erica Jong in particular is on hand to point out.

It was soon over. The Mob moved in, and took over the distribution (and profits) of Deep Throat. The porn films with higher aspirations that followed (Damiano’s own The Devil in Miss Jones, Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven, amongst others) gave way to a video industry that was a production line with money the sole motivator and no whiff of art to be found. (Unsimulated sex in arthouse films did become a possibility, beginning with W.R. Mysteries of the Organism and In the Realm of the Senses in the 1970s, up to the more recent Romance and 9 Songs.)
Deep Throat was subject to several obscenity trials. Meanwhile, Linda Lovelace renounced the film and claimed that she was forced into making it by her husband Chuck Traynor, making the film a feminist cause celebre.

Inside Deep Throat is an entertaining, snappily put together telling of a complex story. Although its sympathies are clearly on the side of freedom and lack of censorship, it does commendably let all sides have their say. As well as hearing from the very personable Gerard Damiano and Harry Reems, and former porn stars Georgina Spelvin, Annie Sprinkle and Andrea True, the film also interviews the prosecution counsel Larry Parrish, Linda Lovelace’s family and commentators such as Norman Mailer, John Waters, who parodied Deep Throat in Pink Flamingos, Camille Paglia and even Dr Ruth Westheimer.

Linda Lovelace died in a car accident in 2002, and her husband Chuck Traynor of a heart attack shortly afterwards. Lovelace appears in this film, not just in extracts from Deep Throat (including a couple of shots of her “deep throating”) but also archive footage. We see the young Lovelace (born Linda Boreman) on a beach talking about how people should be free; then years later testifying that every time someone watches Deep Throat they’re watching her being raped. Chuck Traynor doesn’t appear at all. (Mark Kermode did interview him for his Channel 4 documentary The Real Linda Lovelace and it’s a pity that none of this footage could be used.) Traynor was by all accounts not a nice man, and could well have been an abusive husband: it’s said you can see the bruises he left on Lovelace in Deep Throat itself. But did he force his wife to make this film? Damiano, and others who worked on the film, dispute this. Damiano claims that Traynor was in fact very jealous and found his wife having sex on screen with other men hard to cope with. Damiano sent him off to buy film stock and they shot the sex scenes in his absence. Lovelace published a (ghost-written) book called Ordeal and was taken up by feminists – we see archive footage of Susan Brownmiller and Gloria Steinem – in a crusade against the porn industry. (One shortcoming of this documentary is that it implies that all feminists are anti pornography, which is not the case.) However, Lovelace is clearly not the innocent she makes herself out to be, and in fact can be seen as opportunist. She seems mostly concerned about the money that was made from her, first by pornographers and then by feminists, that she didn’t see herself. As the two participants are now dead, we will probably never know the whole truth, but it does make the film uneasy viewing – watching it, my reaction was that she looks dead-eyed throughout.

Nowadays, Deep Throat looks quaint, and compared to the material available nowadays, quite harmless. It’s a poorly acted film with some corny jokes and songs. There’s some revealing footage at the end of the documentary taken at the Adult Film Awards which shows that few of today's porn stars have even heard of it and its leading actress. However, Inside Deep Throat does remind us of a time when it was a cause worth standing up for: the right to say whatever you needed it say, and for it to be heard. That’s a freedom that was at threat then and is more at risk now.

The DVD
Momentum’s release is the full version of Inside Deep Throat, given a NC-17 rating by the MPAA and passed uncut for an 18 certificate by the BBFC. There is a R-rated version in existence, which presumably removes a couple of shots of Lovelace performing fellatio and maybe some other material, such as a sex-education film with a hilariously po-faced narration.

Inside Deep Throat is transferred to DVD in a ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced. There’s a lot of archive material in this film which would have had an aspect ratio of 4:3, but it’s cropped accordingly to fill the wider frame needed for cinema distribution. The DVD transfer copes very well with the mix of archive footage in all sorts of states, from near pristine to heavily scratched. The newly-shot interview footage is sharp and colourful. All in all, nothing I can fault, especially given the original materials concerned.

The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1. As this is mostly a series of talking heads and archive footage, the 5.1 track only really comes into its own with its music track, partly made up of pop songs from the period. There’s little directional sound, apart from a thunderclap in the left channel at one point. The subwoofer is occasionally called into play, notably in occasional sound “sweeps” at notable moments. There are twenty chapter stops and the DVD is encoded for Region 2 only.

This disc has a lot of extras. First of all is an informative commentary by the two directors. This commentary, which is more a discussion between the two men, touches on some interesting points not in the film itself. This is a documentary about a heterosexual porn film made by two gay men: how would it have differed if one or both of them had been straight? As Bailey points out, fellatio is an activity seen differently by gay men: to heterosexuals it could be seen as an index of male dominance and female submission, but that isn’t necessarily the case when two men are doing it. To them, it’s just another activity of those available.

Apart from the trailer (2:18), the rest of the extras are really thirteen deleted scenes, separately listed on the menu. These were clearly omitted to bring the film down to a manageable length, but there’s plenty of useful material here. In menu order, they are: “The Binghampton Trial: Cliterally Speaking” (7:15), “Beverly Hills: Holly Gets Wood” (3:56), “Princeton: Throat Deep in the Suburbs” (3:14), “Cut Throat: Where in the World is Bobby de Salvo?” (2:40), “Harry Reems’ Athletic Club” (2:21), “The Tuscan Trail: Where Jerry Met Annie” (5:13), “The Zen of Deep Throat” (3:45), “Linda Does Hollywood” (3:36), “Legends of Erotica: Remembering Linda” (6:14), “Firedance With Me” (1:53), “Women Against Pornography” (1:59), “Linda’s Exit: What’s the Big Deal?” (2:46) and “The Last Word – for Now” (6:04).

Inside Deep Throat is a film that gives a fair say to all sides of the issue, but you sense that its audience will be naturally those in favour of freedom of speech and lack of censorship. Anyone likely to be offended by the subject matter won’t be watching anyway. But it’s a well put together film which is a useful primer on what the fuss was about, for those of us who weren’t in the time and place to see for ourselves.



Film
8 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 18/04/2018 16:41:49

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