On the Application of Probabilities to Life Contingencies

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by ANTHONY LANE : Inside Deep Throat.

"Deep Throat was a sixty-one-minute film, released in 1972. It was directed by Gerard Damiano, whom even French critics would struggle to classify as an auteur. He had been a hairdresser, before making the tediously traditional leap from blow-drying to pornography. Damiano also claims to have written the script of Deep Throat over a weekend, although I suspect that he got up late on Saturday, started writing, and was done before brunch. The star of the movie was Linda Lovelace, who plays a woman named Linda Lovelace. This Method-like combustion of performer and role was understood to have searing implications for societys grasp of the real, although one might equally suggest that, given what Linda did best, and given the gourmandise with which she did it, it was asking too much of the poor woman that she pretend to be somebody else at the same time.

The plot of Deep Throat concerns Lindas courtly quest for the white knight, or knights, who will go to any lengths to meet her unorthodox needs. There is a curious scene, early in the film, during which Linda and her roommate Helen (Dolly Sharp), who looks like Rita Moreno with jet lag, sit beside a swimming pool and develop a touch of the Bovarys. Helen, theres got to be more to life than just screwing around, Linda says. I perked up at this point, wondering what alternative enrichment the pair might seek; would Linda try ceramics, perhaps? Could she and Helen tour the great Gothic cathedrals of Western Europe? Sadly, the cure for screwing around turns out to be more screwing around, with the volume turned up. In Lindas words, There should be bells ringing, dams bursting, bombs going off. Damiano is so pleased with this line that Linda is forced to repeat it throughout the film; for those who still dont get the point (pornography, like high-school poetry, has both a weakness for metaphor and a terror that the message might not get through), he waits until the climactic moment and then sprinkles the action with shots of ringing bells. There are no dams bursting, but the budget of Deep Throat was only twenty-five thousand dollars, so, unless Damiano could rig up something fancy in his bathtub, dams were out.

The movie earned some six hundred million dollars. Needless to say, Damiano got the crumbs. The bulk of the cashand it was literally cash, collected from theatres around the country by yes-mendropped into the pockets of the Mob. Such are the claims, at any rate, that are aired by Inside Deep Throat, a documentary that takes us nimbly through the story of the movies notoriety. We are introduced to everybody concerned, right up to Adolf Hitler. (Adolf was Lovelaces cat, with a perfect mustache of black fur under his nose. In stills, he looks unimpressed by the whole affair. He may have been a Republican.) We are guided through the shooting of Deep Throat, the modish allure that clung to it, and the efforts of the courts and the Nixon Administration to squeeze the life out of it. Harry Reems, the lead actor, was even prosecuted in Memphis, Tennessee, for breaking obscenity laws. This was like giving Pinocchio five years in the pen for being made of wood.

The hook of Deep Throat is that Lindas throat turns out, under medical inspection, to house her clitorisa word that several contributors to the documentary, including Hugh Hefner, pronounce on the second syllable. I found this strangely troubling. For a few seconds, indeed, I misheard dear old Hef and found myself wondering why the site of all sexual pleasure should be a tourist. Was this some wistful backward glance to the glamorous globe-trot of the pre-aids era? Would the makers of Inside Deep Throat, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, get to interview the tourist in question? No such luck. We have to settle for a predictable roster of guest preachers: Camille Paglia, Norman Mailer, Erica Jong, Gore Vidal, Larry Flynt, Alan Dershowitz, and a bundle of simpers and tics with the words Helen Gurley Brown written underneath. Far more enjoyable are the crew from the original picture, who are, without exception, on loan from the pages of a Carl Hiaasen novel. Connoisseurs of fruitcake will treasure Ron Wertheim, the production manager, whose vivid gray locks burst outward like solar flares, and who is plainly looking forward to being reunited, in the near future, with his own mind. Moving on, we come to Lenny Camp, the location manager, who cups one ear at the interviewer and describes Deep Throat as a piece-of-shit film. Plus, the actors are all shit. I would second Lenny in his thoughtful analysis, adding merely that, if you think the actors are shit, you should try the editing. And the lighting. And the sound recording. And the sex.

Websters Dictionary defines pornography as a depiction of behavior intended to cause sexual excitement, and by that standard Deep Throat fails in its task. The movie is numbly, grindingly, trouser-saggingly dull. If you want arousal, get in your car and drive very slowly over a speed bump. The notion that Damiano was aiming at comedy is scuppered once you realize that the comic scenesHarry Reems as the doctor, say, with his silly shrinks accentare roughly as amusing as trench foot. Even more ill-founded were the efforts to cast Linda Lovelace as a feminist pioneer; from a distance, the fantasy of a woman deriving her sharpest satisfaction from the most slavish act of man-pleasing seems more, not less, like something that only a man would dream up. Feminist invective, to its credit, swung against Deep Throat, powered largely by Lovelaces own account of the films execution in her 1980 book, Ordeal. Whether you believe her or not, there is no gainsaying the number of women (infinitely greater these days, because of the Internet) who are hustled and hijacked into the rumpus room of pornography. Inside Deep Throat offers few inklings of that persuasive grimness, except for a difficult sequence with Patsy Carroll, a school friend of Lindas, who saw the film, went home, and wept. I just felt like someone I loved had died, she says.

The sleaziest aspect of Inside Deep Throat is its desperation to make a big noise out of a pip-squeak. From the opening credits, in the course of which Camille Paglia recalls an epochal moment in the history of modern sexuality, to the closing homage, in which our narrator, Dennis Hopper, tells us that Deep Throat was less about the joys of oral sex than it was about the freedom to speak out against shame and hypocrisy, we are dragged through a glossily packaged exercise in cultural aggrandizement, as immovable in its prejudice as the forces of religious reaction which it yearns to provoke. There is even a hilarious attempt, near the end, to argue that the good old days of pornography used to brim with Ambrosian innocence, after which, Erica Jong says, a very cynical pornographic industry came in on the heels of the First Amendment, and began coining money, hand over fist. Leaving aside her interesting choice of image, I take it that she is referring to the bad money made in our corrupt post-Reagan age, as opposed to the good money made by all the Mafia goons thirty years ago or more. Im sorry, but Deep Throat really was about the joys of oral sex, and from where I was sitting they didnt even look that joyful. To trumpet its progress as if it were Baudelaires Les Fleurs du Mal or Lady Chatterleys Lover, or, for that matter, Last Tango in Paris, which premiered later the same year, is to shrink the potency of art and to invest in the monopoly of junk.

It is now clear that what mattered, in 1972, was not so much seeing Deep Throat as saying that you had seen Deep Throat. In so doing, you bid farewell to any traces of inhibition that hung slack around your soul and equipped yourself to join in the bracing new conversation on which society had embarked. The possibility that such conversation was no less likely to bore and stultify than what came before would, of course, not occur to the makers of Inside Deep Throat, who are so enamored of porno chic (as it was then labelled in the Times) that they fail to recognize it as just another brand of self-obsession. The one thing we can say for certain of adult entertainment is that it is never adult; in its very eagerness to fence off sexual abandonment from other forms of lived experience, it betrays its origins in the hearts of the perpetually and perspiringly adolescent. As a caustic Norman Mailer remarks, The worst thing to be said about us Americans is that we sell our souls for a giggle. You may declare yourself groovily attuned to the liberties afforded by pornography (remember Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson standing shoulder to shoulder with Harry Reems), or you may rush to enshrine your distaste for it in frightened legislation, but you are falling into the same trap. The thousands who congratulated themselves on their ruttish bravado, simply by virtue of having seen a trashy little flick in Times Square, were no less deluded than the millions who fell away in strangulated horror at the revelation, during the Super Bowl broadcast of 2004, that Janet Jackson, in her capacity as a female mammal, possessed a nipple. Deep Throat bore an X certificate. Inside Deep Throat is an NC-17. Neither is suitable for grownups.



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22-08-2000, : -
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