Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's Inside Deep Throat puts the tongue depressor to the epochal 1972 porn movie Deep Throat. Dennis Hopper narrates the story, a classic tale of basic instincts versus the self-appointed defenders of social order. Deep Throat attracted conservative protests that resulted only in skyrocketing ticket sales. Though the movie was made for around $25,000, it has purportedly grossed in the neighborhood of $600 million.
Bailey and Barbato dabble in distracting stylistic fabrications, but do better by assembling a rogue's gallery of commentators to represent the differing viewpoints on the film. Social observers like Norman Mailer and Dick Cavett are good for pithy and, pardon, the pun, penetrating observations, while the hands-on participants—Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano and stars Harry Reems and Linda Lovelace—provide sad, surreal commentary on the highs and lows of the experience.
Some of this NC-17 film defies description in polite company, like Lovelace's awe-inspiring talent and the movie's dirty-joke premise. Out of left field, Helen Gurley Brown extols the virtues of rubbing ejaculate all over oneself for one's complexion. Damiano describes, and we see (in one of several clips) an oft-parodied sequence intercutting sex with rockets and fireworks. Both conservatives and liberals bristle at these affronts. A Deep Throat prosecutor claims, "Deep Throat attacks the very core of our being," while feminists decry the fantasy of women deriving orgasmic pleasure from delivering oral sex.
Mostly, Inside Deep Throat details the movie's fallout: the protests, the criminal proceedings, and the pain of the filmmakers, their families, and their friends. Arthur Sommer—a theatre manager who exhibited the movie and reluctantly kowtowed to mob collectors—shares modern interview scenes with his nagging wife Terry. The Sommers' comical inability to bury the past contrasts harshly to the story of Lovelace, whose demons couldn't be laughed off ("everytime someone watches that movie, " she later concluded," they're watching me being raped").
Bailey and Barbato's perhaps over-insistent argument that all modern mores lead to Deep Throat has some merit, but the disconcerting examples of Damiano, Reems, and Lovelace—each, in his or her way, regretful—are the hardest pills to, um, swallow. That the laws used to prosecute Deep Throat remain unchanged is unsettling, but so too is Norman Mailer's conviction "The worst thing that can be said about us is 'We'll sell our souls for a giggle.'"