In 1972, Americans shocked no one so much as themselves when they lined up at movie theaters across the country to see Deep Throat, a grimy little hardcore porn film that consisted of a pretty, mildly bedraggled brunette named Linda Lovelace (née Boreman) doing things that even most bad girls had never seen. The sociocultural earthquake that was ''porno chic'' would have been astounding even if the movie that set it in motion had been utterly routine. Deep Throat, however, was far from ordinary; it was one of the most idiosyncratic porn films ever made. It had that goony Mickey Mouse theme of a title song, not to mention a so-idiotic-it's-brilliant gimmick a woman with a clitoris in her throat! that gave the audience something to chortle over. As Norman Mailer observes in Inside Deep Throat, a sensational (in every sense) documentary about the porn film that changed the world, the effect of Linda Lovelace's outrageous oral acrobatics was to shift the entire culture's erotic spotlight from intercourse to...a different range of activity. Suddenly, a porn film wasn't just showing sex. It was expanding what was allowed, and inviting the audience to follow.
Inside Deep Throat is nimble, engrossing, and journalistically eye-opening, a movie that pulls into focus 30 years of porn in America. It also pulls no punches: Since the rating is NC-17, we see all the skin that we need to, including several explicit clips of Lovelace's still-startling abilities. The codirectors, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), work in their rigorous yet playful informational style, and the producer, veteran Hollywood player Brian Grazer, has ensured that the filmmakers got all the freedom they needed. Inside Deep Throat packs in the entire porno-puritan American circus: the lines around the block in the early '70s; the winking wisecracks on late-night TV as Deep Throat entered the national bloodstream; the anxiety that still lingers over the Mob's dominance of the burgeoning triple-X industry of the early '70s; the shutting down of theaters as the nation's prosecutors and censors went to work helping, of course, to publicize the very phenomenon they wanted to crush.
Just about everyone connected with Deep Throat comes off as a mere witness to something far larger than themselves. Gerard Damiano, the former Queens hairdresser who directed the film, is now an avuncular Florida geezer in high-waisted pants who barely saw a dime for his efforts. Lovelace, who died in 2002, is seen in a variety of clips, including her '80s testimonials as an anti-porn crusader, and what comes across in every one of them including those from Deep Throat is her blurry vulnerability, her eagerness to do what others told her.
Porn docs often play at film festivals and nowhere else, but Inside Deep Throat could turn out to be a one-shot porno-chic revival. I suspect many viewers, living in a world where virtually nothing happens in pop culture that isn't planned, will want to discover (or relive) the story of one of the flukiest revolutions of the 20th century: how the seamy sex-film underground turned mainstream. The enforcers who went after Deep Throat come off as the sternest of puritans, but, as Mailer points out, sex is like lava, and maybe porn is too. Once it erupts, you can't stop the flow.