Freedom, morality and a porn flick

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Freedom, morality and a porn flick

You may be surprised to hear this, but there was a time in the United States when people ― the young and the old, men and women, parents and grandparents ― lined up at movie theaters across the country to watch a woman perform fellatio. The movie was called “Deep Throat.”
“Inside Deep Throat,” the latest member of the slick new generation of documentaries, shows the story behind this blockbuster. This history lesson is full of sex, culture war, mob bosses, civil disobedience and highly dysfunctional characters. The result is surprising, fascinating and titillating.
By today’s standards, “Deep Throat” is nothing more than a silly porn flick with low production values and over-the-top acting. The star, Linda Lovelace, can’t experience sexual pleasure because, as a doctor discovers, her clitoris is in her throat. You can imagine where it goes from there. But when it was released in 1972, the 62-minute film and its 17 scenes of explicit sex became “porno chic,” thanks to a ripe social environment and an article in the New York Times.
But beyond the appeal of a sex movie approved by the liberal elite, there was the thrill of legal controversy. The documentary makers interviewed Larry Parrish, the special prosecutor behind the “Deep Throat” case, and dipped into stock footage to drive home what a moral crisis some believed the film had caused. Police staged showy raids on theaters screening the film as it was banned across different states. In his original review of "Deep Throat," Roger Ebert wrote about seeing it in Chicago only two days after 11 squad cars had charged over to the theater, trying shut it down. "Smaller numbers of officers have successfully flushed killers from attics," he wrote. Parrish, exercising a novel legal interpretation, dragged into court the actor for the role of the doctor, Harry Reems, convicting him of obscenity.
But as the documentary shows, "Deep Throat" really was nothing more than a silly porn movie, and its players, who had no idea what they were getting into when they signed on, buckled under the pressure of the public eye. The star, Linda Lovelace, was at first clueless, then became an anti-porn fighter and called the film “rape” before doing another 180 and returning to Playboy at age 51. She died in a car accident in 2002.
Reems was also uniquely unsuited for his role as First Amendment defender, which left him a destitute alcoholic. (Reems turned his life around and is now a sober, born-again Christian real-estate broker in Park City, Utah.)
When the police started clamping down on the theaters, the mob, which produced the film, took over its distribution and ticketing. The interview with retired Miami theater owner Arthur Sommer is both harrowing and amusing, with his wife Terry interrupting the interview to plead (or nag) her husband about angering the mob once more.
The film claims that “Deep Throat” was made for $25,000 for a return of $600 million, making it the most profitable film ever made. The Los Angeles Times has called the $600 million figure “baloney.” But even so, “Deep Throat” was a significant episode in American entertainment, and this documentary is an intriguing, personal and complex portrait.


by Ben Applegate

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