A word of warning to the weekend moviegoer: “Inside Deep Throat” could be an awkward selection for a first date. There’s a good reason that the documentary has been branded with an NC-17 rating — one of the various clips from the 1972 proto-porno included in the documentary is the notorious scene that gave “Deep Throat” its name.

Even with such provocative content, “Inside Deep Throat” is far from the second coming of the quintessential erotic film. Instead, it focuses on the people behind the film and the social consequences — record-breaking box office figures, government censorship — that made the movie a cultural touchstone for the second half of the 20th century and threatened America’s budding acceptance of more overt sexuality.

“This is one throat that deserves to be cut,” declared a New York judge in a ruling that would purge the Big Apple of the wildly successful, so-called dirty picture. But the court-ordered censorship only served to tantalize and tempt viewers across America. Warned to stay away, the country instead flocked to theaters as the film’s skyrocketing ticket sales became a media phenomenon, and “Deep Throat,” made for a piddling $25,000, eventually became the most financially successful motion picture of all time. Americans — and the Nixon administration — learned that sex does indeed sell.

The subject of “Inside Deep Throat” met as much controversy as it did success. The documentary examines the fates of those who worked behind and in front of the camera, as well as those involved in the film’s shady mafia distribution and its eventual censorship.

Director of the original “Deep Throat” Gerard Damiano — who moved to porn directing from a job as a hairdresser — ended up with almost no profit, due to what he continually refuses to identify as mafia intervention. Leading man Harry Reems was indicted under criminal charges of indecency for what was essentially an artistic role; he faced five years in prison for his involvement in “Deep Throat.” And then there’s star Linda Lovelace, who later famously declared her participation in the film to have been non-consensual, and therefore rape.

Briskly paced for all its 90 minutes, “Inside Deep Throat” balances discussion of its subject’s societal effects and the natural, inherent comedy of its subject matter. The documentary’s most impressive and entertaining strength is what can only be described as an unusually colorful cast of characters, ranging from a regular bevy of eager sex experts to the stereotypically sleazy (and strangely genuine) members of the early porn community.

Careful editing maximizes the comedy of these interviews — especially highlighting the pompous prosecutor who claims porn to be more socially hazardous than illegal drugs and the Miami porn distributor turned senior citizen whose shrewish wife nags at him constantly from off-camera. A bevy of notable cultural figures weigh in with their own humorous two cents, among them Dr. Ruth, Gore Vidal and the famously virile Hugh Hefner.

But the film’s most telling snicker comes from “Deep Throat” director Damiano’s former hope that hardcore porn might actually merge with mainstream Hollywood to synthesize a higher art — that dream, far from realized and almost charmingly naive, has been killed by porn’s eventual transformation into a booming and solely money-minded industry. The commentators in “Inside Deep Throat” reflect upon this development with some degree of sadness, revealing the strangely innocent intentions behind what became such a notorious and shocking cultural scandal. “Inside Deep Throat” transports viewers back into this era.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

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