DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Inside Deep Throat; (with original film discussed); The Light from the Second Story Window, Greetings, Lie With Me, I Am Curious (Yellow), (Blue), Caligula, Shortbus, The Rules of Attraction

 

Title:  Inside Deep Throat

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 90 min

MPAA Rating: NC-17

Distributor and Production Company:  Focus/Universal/Imagine/HBO Documentary

Director; Writer: Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato

Producer: Brian Glazer

Cast: Harry Reems, Linda Lovelace (stage names), Gerard Damiano  

Technical: apparently MiniDV

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Review:

 

This documentary looks like it was made primarily for cable, but released in platform fashion, perhaps to facilitate showing a couple of very explicit scenes to a paying adult audience. The distributor is Universal, a major studio name and not a so-called “boutique” distributor. I would have expected to see a company like Lions Gate pick this one up. The documentary itself gets an NC-17 apparently because of one close-up shot of fellatio from the original film. When I saw the film, in a small theater in Washington, D.C., the technical quality of the film (even the current shots, not just the reprints from the 1972 originals) and sound was relatively inferior by today’s standards.

 

The film gives a history of the famous porno film Deep Throat (1972, Arrow Productions, dir. Gearad Damiano, 61 min, NC-17 in today’s system, then X). “Deep Throat” is credited with starting a “porn revolution” that would spend itself out in the video and DVD market and become less profitable for theaters, as X-rated theaters would dwindle. When this premiered around Times Square, it brought down the wrath of law enforcement, which would follow it around the country. Made for a budget of $25,000, it grossed over $600 million, making it (from a bean-counting point of view) the most profitable film in movie history. Drive something underground (toward the mob) just to protect “culture,” you make people want it.

 

I had moved into the NYC area about then and moved into the City in 1974. I remember seeing a few other porno films (both straight and gay) around the old Times Square (long before Mayor Giuliani’s rejuvenation) and eventually “Deep Throat” itself. I remember another film called “Trick or Trap” (not “Trick or Treat”) in which an attractive young man is undressed in a beach resort at gunpoint, and told, “You will enjoy it.” Times Square theater owners then would show clips warning patrons that their legal rights to enjoy films of their own choosing were at risk.

 

I also recall that a first “trick” wanted to go with me to Times Square and see a straight porno film—an odd experience.

 

Harry Reems was quite an attractive, virile young man with body and chest hair in all the right places. He played Dr. Young, with an “effective” prescription for Linda Lovelace (playing herself), who claimed to have a clitoris congenitally located in the wrong part of her body. (The original “Deep Throat” is listed in Entertainment Weekly (June 16, 2006) as one of the 25 most controversial films ever made.) But Reems would “get it” in the subsequent fall out, as he was made the scapegoat by a Tennessee federal prosecutor in an obscenity trial. The idea was to pick someone relatively low on the totem pole and prosecute as a deterrent against “ordinary people” getting involved in organized crime. This principle can occur today, as movie studios and record companies sue ordinary people for illegal downloading.

 

His conviction would be overturned, as the political climate changed—Richard Nixon would resign to end Watergate (“Deep Throat” had been a player), Jimmy Carter (a “Democrat”) would get elected, and perceptions about pornography would change. Now the feminists would see pornography as an abuse of women.

 

Today, Reems is a real estate developer in Utah, although his life slid downhill, even into poverty and homelessness for some years. Linda Lovelace would likewise live in difficulty, loosing two jobs in Denver when her employers found out who she really was (and this ultimately ties into the blogging controversy I discuss elsewhere).

 

 

All of this brings us to a discussion of what the big deal about the public showing of sexual “freedom” really is. In fact, what is the big deal with the moralists about “sexual freedom.  The film suggests at one place that it has to do with the genders. Men would feel threatened if women were allowed to control their own sexual pleasure (the clitoris is discussed early in the film). I think there is something much bigger, and I can get at it with a kind of mathematical induction or perhaps something like integration by parts. I am a gay male, and I find the prospect of intimate interaction with men with certain attributes to be exciting?  The “part-object” that attracts me is a bit like a calculus partial fraction. The larger society (the “function” to be integrated) supplies a context that makes the part-object meaningful. Therefore, I will not want to see major cultural change that destroys the value of what I find exciting. Therefore, I do not welcome the widespread mainstream social acceptance of men shaving to go into drag. In a free society, there is not much practical chance that this would happen, so it becomes a non-issue. But now apply this model to how a middle-class married-with-kids heterosexual man without a lot of separate talents of his own. Society has previously always valued his role as a father and provider, and treated his fulfillment of that role as if it enhanced his self-worth. The whole paradigm of abstinence until marriage supported this belief system. This middle class married family man is likely to feel that this postulated social support system is essential to his own sexual well being and even to his ability to perform and remain dedicated to his family.  A free, “liberated” society can (unlike the circumstances that I just described for me) provide cultural shifts that destroy all the meaning of his sexual commitment. Wholly heterosexual pornography is the example of this explored by the movie, but gay liberation—and most recently gay marriage—provides another major example.

 

Of course, the next good question is: Why does a psychologically healthy marriage (or domestic partnership) need to depend on social supports? The Ninth Street Center had maintained during this time (the 1970s) that it shouldn’t; yet even small specialized communities will set up their own psychological support systems for the relationships of their own people. Ultimately, the contextual totality of one’s interaction with one’s larger community does take on moral importance.

 

Whatever the scientific investigation of sex and marriage reveals, the cultural divide remains. We have a debate about “morality” right now—whether “morality” is partly a shared collective concept that goes beyond rational self-interest and consequentialism. The Supreme Court, when striking down state homosexual-only sodomy laws in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case, maintained that now the right of privacy weighs heavily over more vague claims about communal morality. Still, one should be sensitive to the pressure that people raising families feel in today’s society, if they have been made to deal with the growing notion that family responsibility is but a trivial nuisance.

 

A somewhat famous “X” film in the gay community in the early days was The Light from the Second Story Window (1973, Jaguar, dir. David R. Allen, 120 min, now NC-17) with a “rear window” kind of plot (much more acting and plot than common for X films of that day; this film would probably make the art market today), starring Rick Cassidy and William R. Lasky. I remember writing the director on an old typewriter (well before the days of computers). In those days, there was concern about censorship, too, and about a “Times Square cleanup” that would prevent adults from seeing the films they want to see. There has been the cleanup, but the movies still are around. I remember manually typing a letter (this was long before personal computers) congratulating the director then from my Caldwell, NJ apartment.

 

 

 

Greetings (1968, Sigma III/West End, dir. Brian de Palma, 88 min, NC-17) was an early film by a now famous director, and offered Robert De Niro as Jon, an amateur film-maker who gets made fun of during the film. There is also Paul (Jonathan Warden), a free-love person, and Clay (Gerrit Graham), the conspiracy theorist. The film makes fun of a lot of trends of the time, and the title of the film is derived from the saluation “Greetings!” on induction notices mailed to young men from draft boards during the Vietnam era. I saw this film in Newport News, Va. while I was stationed at Fort Eustis, VA (“Fort Useless”), between rounds of a chess tournament in which I would beat the Armed Forces champion in a Saturday night “pro football” upset (he played a Kings Indian).

 

Lie With Me (2005, ThinkFilm/Conquering Lion, dir. Clement Virgo, 92 min, NC-17, Canada) starts out with a total upper body nudity shot of Leila (Lauren Lee Smith), with a soliloquy about the details of female sexual satisfaction. She has been having trysts, and she is desperate for love here in Toronto. She meets a buffed artist David (Eric Balfour), who is much more athletic than “Jerome” from “Art School Confidential”. They have their explicit scenes, and she wants to fall in love with him. Now David lives with his dying, hirsute father (Ron White), whom he takes care of diligently, with full attention to the most personal needs. What is interesting here is that two cultural worlds come together here: art and free love of the modern yuppie urban world, with the older world of family values. Eldercare is defanged as a political issue (where it may be viewed as less devisive in Canada than in the U.S.). Dad dies, David finds him and is grief stricken. He tries to break up with Leila, saying he doesn’t want her (like Clark Kent tells Lana in Season 5 of Smallville), and then she goes back to torturing and teasing a former boyfriend (Frank Chiesurin). That particular scene is rather unsatisfying, and could really have been much more man-threatening than it is. Then she decides, like a Miss Scarlet, that she can’t really lose David. Can she get him back?  The title of the film, of course, is a famous phrase in Genesis, when Joseph is trapped, or “tricked” so that the Jews will be taken into slavery in Egypt. An interesting metaphor.

 

I Am Curious (Yellow) (“jar ar nyfiken: en film i gult)  (1967, Criterion/Grove, dir. Vilgot Sjoman, 121 min, NC-17). This film was famous for being seized by U.S. Customs and viewed as obscene. It is a curious experiment in many ways. The central character Lena Nyman traverses her life as if a third-person observer; the movie is reflexive, as it is about making a movie about her life. So it is topical, and gets into all the issues about the social class system and participation in national defense. I thought that as a matter of history, Sweden was neutral and did not support us in Vietnam; here it is portrayed as having a draft. She goes from debate into a series of heterosexual encounters that are filmed in full frontal nudity, and we never know what is acting and what is “real.” Toward the end it gets bizarre. Men are tied together with rope, while she shoots one man, and then goes after his privates with a knife. That must be make-believe relative to the film. Then she and her partner are given vigorous scrub baths on camera, almost to the point of depilation. Then they make the movie.  There is a sequel “I am Curious (Blue)” one year later. Blue and Yellow are the colors of Sweden’s flag, yet this film is in crisp black and white.

 

Grove Press was famous in those days as the publisher of avant-garde authors (like Burroughs – “Naked Lunch” – and Miller). As it happened, in the 1970s they were right next door to the apartment building that I lived in at 67 E 11th St in New York (the Cast Iron Building) just as USCF (United States Chess Federation) had been across the street, in the antiques district between the Villages. I actually sent them a query about my unpublished novel “The Proles” then (a little bit of it wound up in DADT). The DVD tells the story of the publisher and the legal fight to allow the film to be shown. The Second Circuit overrode a district court jury and ruled that it was not obscene. Eventually the Supreme Court would uphold it. But the offense created by the film may have been as much political as about sex. In Sweden, the film had challenged the integrity of the social democracy, and there were questions at the trial about the nexus between sex and politics, and idea that we accept today. This film may have marked the beginning of an understanding that filmmakers could take on almost anything. 

 

I am Curious (Blue)   (“jar ar nyfiken: en film i blatt)  (1967, Criterion/Grove, dir. Vilgot Sjoman, 108 min, NC-17). This is the second film, again, discursive, utilitarian, and about making a movie, all to frame the docudrama that meanders. Here Lena gets into lesbianism, on camera, while she takes down the Church (as opposed to the monarchy in the first film). There are lots of discussions about The People, and utter justice – Ho Chi Minh, Chairman Mao, and the like. There is questioning of “meritocracy” where bookworms rule the world without paying their dues (anyone for a cultural revolution?) The deleted scene on the DVD tells all. Lena, and a boyfriend, slowly undress a priest (in the abbey, in front of parishioners), down to all, and we see that he has nothing to lose; he is by no means a high value target on anyone’s dance floor.

 

Caligula (or “Caligola”, 1979, Analysis/Penthouse, dir. Tinto Brass, wr Gore Vidal, 90 min/160 min, NC-17). Malcolm McDowell plays the notorious Roman emperor who wielded absolute power over the lives and bodily integrity of others. The film exists in several versions of varying lengths, depending on how much debauchery you can take. It is graphic, and it doesn’t pay to repeat it all here. Nero was as bad. What is interesting is to go back to the high school world history texts and study the moral values of Roman society. Government was an evolution, that backslid into the empire. But patriarchy was absolute; a father owned his family and could even have his kids killed. In a class society, control of your family was the one thing you could count on having, and that idea of “family values” explains a lot of what went on. It teaches a good lesson.

 

Shortbus (2006, ThinkFilm/Fortissimo, dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 101 min, sug NC-17) may seem like a high-class porno “X” film, but it has a lot going for it. Sure, a lot of the sex is live and impromptu, but perhaps not too much more shocking than what “Eyes Wide Shut” could have been. There are a lot of knickknacks in the film that add a random story. First NYC is shown in dominoes (the way Paris was shown in cardboard in “The Science of Sleep”), an idea that is effective when the 2003 power failure is recreated. Early on, the empty crater at WTC Ground Zero from 9/11 is shown (the way it has been shown in several other films like “25th Hour”) but that does not come back. Sook-Yin Lee (she reminds me of Sandra Oh) is Sofia, the therapist who sort of drives things, but the story builds up in layers. Jamie and James (PK DeBoy and Paul Dawson) are a gay male couple that wants to “open” the relationship, and that will happen at the gay-straight orgy party. There are a couple of underwater rescues and CPR’s, and two very nice gay male characters get introduced and built into the ménage: Ceth (Jay Brannan) and Caleb (Peter Stickles), the camcorder voyeur who constantly tapes the orgies, sometimes in “Rear Window” style. A little of the sex is truly graphic and autologous, but what one wants is more tension in the relationships that matter. At one point, Ceth kisses eightyish "Tobias the Mayor" (Alan Mandell). One way to advance gay rights would be to take the four strong male characters and introduce them into mainstream drama. You find yourself wanting to get onto FinalDraft and start writing. Other stars are Justin Bond and Raphael Barker. A sneak preview of this film opened the 2006 DC ReelAffirmations Film Festival.

 

The Rules of Attraction (2002, LionsGate, dir. Roger Avary, novel by Bret Easton Ellis, 100 min, R) has some spoiled rich kids in a bisexual love polygon. It starts with an “End of the World Party” and doesn’t give opening credits until 14 minutes into the film. The kids do have a world’s end with a suicide fest – and then world travel -- toward the end. Ian Sommerholder looks as good as it gets (with some split screen fantasy scenes); also with Kip Pardue, James Ver Der Beek, Jessica Biel. The film keeps shifting gears, like a disco DJ breaking up the dances with pauses.

 

Related reviews: The People vs. Larry Flynt;  Deliberate Intent   Art School Confidential

 

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