Oral Acrobatics: Two X-Rated Insights Are Better Than a Kick in the Head
Kermode, Mark, New Statesman (1996)
Inside Deep Throat (18)
Mr and Mrs Smith (15)
Two new releases document the creation of a pair of landmark movies from the lawless heyday of X-rated independent movie-making. While the identity of the Watergate informant "Deep Throat" is now public knowledge, the porno flick that inspired his nickname remains something of an enigma. Directed by a hairdressing cinephile, financed by shady mobsters, and starring a woman who later became a cheerleader for Women Against Pornography, Deep Throat provided a startling paradigm for the changing fortunes of the celluloid sex industry.
In their lively (if occasionally glib) documentary Inside Deep Throat, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato assemble an impressive stable of talking heads to recall this unpredictable hit, which began life as a seedy, underground sex comedy and wound up riding a wave of "porno chic" as millions of ordinary Americans flocked to watch Linda Lovelace perform oral acrobatics.
Interspersing archival newsreel footage with entertaining contemporary interviews (most notably with Deep Throat survivors Gerard Damiano and Harry Reems), Bailey and Barbato conjure a nostalgic evocation of the social and political madness of the early Seventies, buoyed up by a jukebox soundtrack that owes a weighty debt to Paul Thomas Anderson's sublime Boogie Nights. At its best, Inside Deep Throat offers revealing insights into what Norman Mailer calls the intersection "between art and crime", investigating the alternative distribution network of "checkers" and "sweepers" who would "babysit" prints of Deep Throat and skim the profits accordingly, and unravelling the complex legal cases that began with the bludgeoning rhetoric of Nixon's corrupt "new moral leadership" and culminated in Reems facing imprisonment for simply playing a role in a film.
Despite some half-baked grandstanding in Dennis Hopper's narration about "freedom" versus "shame and hypocrisy" and a reluctance to address the nastier sides of its subject's history (if only Lovelace and her wife-beating manager Chuck Traynor had been alive to tell their tales), Inside Deep Throat offers an open-minded--not to say wide-eyed--account of a bizarre cultural moment whose ancient controversies still resonate today.
Equally apposite is Mario Van Peebles's dramatised account of his father Melvin's renegade hit Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, an independently financed flick brimming with revolutionary rage which kick-started the money-making blaxploitation cycle of the early Seventies. …