Porn and the politics of sex

By Danya Levy

It was the climax of the sexual revolution, sparked a moral and political war on smut, gave rise to feminism and introduced grandmothers to adult films.

Deep Throat, the 1972 pornographic film which cost $25,000 to make and generated $600 million, is considered the most profitable motion picture of all time.

Millions of people have seen Deep Throat, but the story behind the film is mostly unknown and is the topic of a new documentary by Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind, 8 Mile) featuring in this year's New Zealand International Film Festival.

Inside Deep Throat, narrated by actor Dennis Hopper, is a hilarious and often melancholic look at events 30 years ago.

It was a subject many people didn't want to talk about and a documentary many people did not want made, says co-director Randy Barbato.

The film was financed and distributed by the mob.

"It was a scary gig and the mob are not fun people to deal with," he says from California.

"There were times when we were scared. We were scared of some of the people we had to deal with. I can't really say much more about it. We still are scared to a certain extent.

"There were a lot of people who didn't want this movie to be made - a lot of people. So you're lucky that I'm still around to talk to you."

Banned in 23 American states, the controversy which surrounded the film only fuelled people's desire to see it.

At one point 1700 people a day were watching Deep Throat at a New York theatre which was screening the film 24 hours a day.

The irony is that America is now more conservative than it was in 1972, Barbato says.

"Technically it's very difficult to show porn in public places because of the way the law is set up. It's not the kind of chance that most distributors want to take."

Inside Deep Throat features running commentary from writers, filmmakers, social commentators and former porn stars, including sex therapist Dr Ruth Westheimer, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, feminist Erica Jong and B movie king John Waters.

The documentary is about pornography, but it's mainly about the politics of sex.

"Sex is politics, especially when it comes to America.

"Inside Deep Throat is about that very unique period of time in America in the late 60s and early 70s where genuine liberal ideology existed. For a minute it seemed like everything was going to change."

America has been reacting to that moment ever since, he says.

"It created a huge backlash across the board - political, conservative and puritanical."

Deep Throat may have marked the birth of the modern porn industry, but it killed the chic and artistic adult filmmaking of the time.

"The huge commercial success of Deep Throat helped people realise that porno and sex was a big cash machine."

Asked if he thinks porn will ever return as an art form, Barbato replies: "Never ever. It's sad.

"Sex is fine as long as everyone is making money and it's not 'out there'. People in America only feel comfortable with sex as something to sell products or to get off on. But sex as a natural part of our lives - it's bizarre to Americans."

Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano created the film around the particular ability of Linda Lovelace; the late Linda Boreman who died penniless three years ago at the age of 53 after being injured in a car accident.

Was there any debate whether to show her talent?

"There was no debate, we were always going to show it. That's the name of the movie, we had to show it."

America is becoming more conservative, Barbato says, pointing to fuss over singer Janet Jackson's nipple being shown on television in a so-called "wardrobe malfunction".

"The entire political structure of our country, and the political powers that be, would have to be completely toppled for us to have a comfortable ideology towards sex.

"And frankly I don't think it's ever going to happen, at least not in my lifetime."


* Inside Deep Throat (R18) is screening at Rialto theatres in Christchurch on July 31 at 7.45pm and August 1 at 8.45pm; Palmerston North on August 15 at 8pm and Hamilton on August 21 at 8.30pm and August 22 at 8.15pm.

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