Throat Culture   by Greta Christina

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Greta Christina has worked in and around the sex industry for over a decade writing about it, editing books about it, and living it. She edited Paying For It, a collection of articles by all kinds of sex workers: dommes, escorts, peep show girls, T-girls. She's got a novella called Bending coming out this July in Susie Bright's book Three Kinds of Asking For It (published by Simon & Schuster). In response to overwhelming member requests for reviews of sex toys, sexy films, and other sex whatnots, Ms. Christina brings her girl-about-sex wisdom twice monthly to Adult FriendFinder. Check her out on her web site, www.GretaChristina.com.
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Inside Deep Throat. Documentary. Written and directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Starring Gerard Damiano, Linda Lovelace, Harry Reems, Dick Cavett, Gore Vidal, and more. Rated NC-17.

Well, it's a good story, that's for sure. Full of humor and suspense, rebellion and commotion, with flawed heroes and righteous villains. It's sexually incisive, politically fraught, culturally significant. And it's fucking hilarious to boot. It may not be the soft-core tease-fest you might expect from the NC-17 rating, but it sure beats some other porn-industry documentaries I could name.

In case you haven't heard about it, Inside Deep Throat is a documentary about the porn movie Deep Throat: how it got made, how it got released, how it turned into this insanely huge cultural phenomenon, how it became a focal point of hysterical controversy, how it was championed, how it was reviled, how it got banned in 23 states, how it raked in unspeakable pots of money, and how it wound up influencing some weirdly unexpected areas of our lives. It's a fine documentary, entertaining and informative, loaded with both weighty social significance and fun gossipy tidbits. If you're on the lookout for intelligent movies that don't make you want to shoot yourself from despair, put this one at the top of your list.

The main people telling the story are the ones most involved in the drama -- the director of Deep Throat, its camera guy, its actors and actresses, its distributors and bagmen -- and the folks who prosecuted all of the above on obscenity charges. The prosecutors and persecutors are chilling but fascinating, with a tight, fearful, self-righteous rage that's all too familiar in the political landscape today. (My favorite was that stalwart guardian of American morals, Charles Keating.) And I was particularly intrigued by how the court case against Deep Throat wasn't just anti-porn, but anti-clitoral -- unbelievable as it may seem, the prosecution's case actually hinged, in part, on the invalidity of clitoral orgasm.

The folks on the other side of the fence are equally intriguing. Charming and fucked-up, absurd and funny, strikingly thoughtful and deeply insane, the producers and performers of Deep Throat come across, more than anything else, as fairly ordinary '70s counterculture folks who got caught up in something way the hell bigger than they ever expected, or intended, or even wanted. And the movie is worth the price of admission alone for the sight of porn director Gerard Damiano with the old-man pants belted way above his waist.

But what really makes this movie work is the entertainingly varied cast of cultural commentators, smart and important and funny people gassing on about what the hell was going on with this movie and why people reacted to it the way they did. There's commentary from John Waters and Dr. Ruth, Dick Cavett and Wes Craven, Carl Bernstein and Hugh Hefner, Alan Dershowitz and Erica Jong, and plenty more big famous names I don't have room to list here. And to provide an easily overlooked bit of perspective, there's commentary from ordinary folks of the time, the ones actually experiencing all this upheaval and schism and social change: people who loved the movie, or thought it was a disgrace, or didn't see what all the fuss was about. (My personal favorite was the grandmotherly old lady coming out of the porn theater, saying firmly and with great spirit, "Yes, I enjoyed it. I wanted to see a dirty movie, and I saw a dirty movie. I should have the right to do that if I want.") It's these people, the smarty-pants commentators and the just-plain-folks actually experiencing the whole thing, who give Inside Deep Throat its broader perspective. Without them, it'd be just another mildly amusing "inside the porn industry" flick. Instead, it's a smart, funny, surprising film, full of broad understanding and telling detail, exploring a time of freaky agitation and serious polarization by focusing on one notably agitating and polarizing piece of the puzzle.

The documentary does tend to overstate its case. It portrays Deep Throat as a primary cause of deep cultural divisions, when it's probably more accurate to call it a marker of those divisions. It often depicts Deep Throat as the sole agent of some bit of social change, when it was actually just one agent out of many. And it's very bad about calling Deep Throat "the first" of some important trend, when it was really just one of the first. When Harry Reems referred to himself as the first performing artist in America to be arrested for obscenity, I wanted to smack him across the head and introduce him to Lenny Bruce, God rest his smutty soul.

What's more, Inside Deep Throat makes the all-too-common error of idealizing the "Golden Age" of '70s porn, bathing it in a golden Utopian light of artistic creativity and potential, while casting the video age as the evil corporate robot that ruined everyone's party. Anyone who's seen much porn knows how simplistic that is. Sure, there's a grain of truth to it -- but there's a gigantic grain of bullshit to it as well. I'll grant that the video porn era created a huge flood of generic commercial crap -- but it also made porn movies more accessible for women, created the couple's market almost single-handedly, and made the entire labor-of-love indie porn phenomenon possible. And it's not as if video producers invented the quick-and-dirty porn flick churned out to make a buck. Yes, there were some beautiful, creative, totally tasty and hot adult movies made in the 1970s. Absolutely. But there were some real shit piles made then, too.

Speaking of which. While Inside Deep Throat is a fascinating cultural document of the industry and the era and blah blah blah, it is not -- repeat -- NOT -- a very hot movie. In fact, while it's got a good amount of casual nudity and quite a bit of graphic sex talk, there's almost no explicit sex in it at all. Mostly there's just a few seconds of the fabled deep throating -- and while that may have been deeply fascinating to a '70s audience, it's hard for anyone in the 21st century to be all that impressed by it -- especially if you have any connection with the gay male community.

But the main reason for this unsexiness is that the sex... well, frankly, it's taken from the movie Deep Throat, which wasn't exactly the industry's finest hour. Deep Throat may well have been a hot-button marker of deep cultural divides and an important catalyst of social change -- but it was kind of a crummy porn movie. Even its director, Gerard Damiano, says it's a bad movie. Anyway, if you want to see it, it's readily available on DVD. So don't go see "Inside Deep Throat" if you're looking for a hot little thrill. See it if you want a smart, funny, complex look at the messy, silly, fucked-up, and weirdly beautiful phenomenon that is porn in America.
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