Inside Deep Throat is a snappily paced, ceaselessly entertaining, moderately schizophrenic immersion into the life and times of the most infamous and lucrative porn movie ever made. Deep Throat, produced for $25,000 and starring an unknown by the name of Linda Lovelace, opened in a Times Square grindhouse in 1972. Boosted by coverage in the mainstream media and rabid police and government opposition, Deep Throat hurtled into the public consciousness. It migrated to theaters around the country, playing to the masses and, the documentary alleges, grossing some $600 million.
It wasn't all cream and peaches for Deep Throat, however. The Nixon administration and local prosecutors declared war on the film, and it was ultimately banned in 23 states. That didn't satisfy the guardians of public morality, who brought criminal charges against Harry Reems, the amateur actor who played Linda's doctor and "sex therapist." Bailey and Barbato draw a line from Nixon to Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese to the current influence of moral conservatives on the government's chillingly narrow view of the First Amendment.
The rest of the time, the filmmakers take enormous delight in milking the pop culture of the '70s for camp laughs. The nonstop flow of interviewees includes Erica Jong, Hugh Hefner, Dr. Ruth and Dick Cavett. Inside Deep Throat was produced by Hollywood stalwart Brian Grazer (Ron Howard's producing partner) in association with HBO, and one senses the imperatives of accessible entertainment driving the breeziness that buoys most of the film. Still, despite its concerns about censorship, Inside Deep Throat lacks the confrontation gene. Perhaps the filmmakers figured that showing the septuagenarian creators of Deep Throat in their pastel stretch slacks and Florida homes would be sufficiently disarming to the self-appointed protectors of America's moral fiber.
Recognizing that Deep Throat was (and is) a kind of Rorschach test for both female and male viewers, Inside Deep Throat includes several feminists and academics. (The weirdest moment in the film, by far, is Helen Gurley Brown's unsolicited endorsement of semen as face cream.) But it never comes to grips with the central figure of Linda Lovelace, who died a few years ago from injuries suffered in a car wreck. Was she beaten and forced to do the film by her husband, Chuck Traynor, as she later claimed? Or was she simply bitter that others cashed in on her hard work? Inside Deep Throat refuses to take a position. Evenhandedness is a wonderful trait in documentaries, but sometimes a dash of cynicism is required.