In their movies The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Party Monster, directors/writers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato showed an almost limitless propensity for taking complex real-life subject matter and smothering it with a big, fluffy pillow of triviality. These are the guys, after all, who submitted fundamentalist co-swindler Tammy Faye Bakker as a blameless dupe we should all admire because she's fun! and loves gay people; as for club-kid killer Michael Alig, well, wasn't that whole bludgeoning business a dish?
Their track record of misplaced advocacy and plain old vulgarity was the main reason I was dreading Inside Deep Throat, Bailey and Barbato's account of the making and impact of the seminal (sorry, I had to say it) skin flick Deep Throat. But if the boys' biases can once again be seen bulging through their chinos, at least this time they keep them zipped up until it's too late to do any real damage. Some third-act folderol about Deep Throat representing a shining moment in sexual liberation is merely an unfortunate comedown from an otherwise absorbing time capsule that gives advocates and detractors of the 1972 movie equal rope to hang themselves. Interviewed three decades after the fact, the surviving participants in the X-rated phenomenon are a bunch straight out of an SCTV mockumentary: Gerard Damiano, Deep Throat's industrious director, putters around in a bad toupee and with his trousers hiked up almost to his armpits, trumpeting the cultural savvy that moved him to reward the free-love generation with its low-budget manifesto; in an intercut confab, a less moony former collaborator recalls that Damiano was also significantly motivated by the chance to get laid.
Such "he said/he said" volleying is typical of this fast-paced doc, which in its early stages conscripts the makers of Deep Throat to debate if their picture was an avatar of the new frankness or a crummy exploitation exercise ground out by a pack of amateurs with mob ties. (Made for $25,000 and going on to return a profit of more than $600 mil, it's said to be the most profitable film in history. That sound you hear is the Haxan guys kicking themselves in the ass.) With no quorum achieved but after we've had the chance to ingest plenty of expertly framed period footage and other audiovisual razzle-dazzle the focus shifts to a discussion of the movie's legal ramifications, with prosecutors and defense attorneys explaining how the many courtroom actions it engendered were tied to the courts' shifting definition of "obscenity." Acting as a bridge between the philosophical sides is a phalanx of impartial commentators from the frisky Dick Cavett to the horrifically nipped/tucked Helen Gurley Brown who recall the impact Deep Throat had on their own lives and work.
Bailey and Barbato are, as always, master showmen, fixing their story in time with a rhinestone-flashing flair that's both vividly remembered and relentlessly motive. A segment about President Nixon's 1972 campaign is tracked with a few measures of Alice Cooper's "Elected" a choice so apt and full of excitement that I instantly forgave every last frame of Party Monster.
With so much skillfully presented data to weigh, observant audiences will come to an inevitable conclusion: Deep Throat was definitely the best film ever made about a woman whose clitoris is in her throat. Tagging the flick with any greater "meaning" entails ignoring the true lesson of pornography, namely that defending or deriding it takes valuable time away from emulating it in your own home. Acceptance of that 21st-century wisdom takes some some of the sting out of Inside's latent distrust of the anti-smut wing of feminism. For example, the doc shows a consistent readiness to believe the worst of Deep Throat starlet-turned-crusader Linda Lovelace, who isn't around to supply the firsthand (or first-tonsil) commentary that would lend her stories of paternalistic manipulation some sorely needed context. Otherwise, the doc proves everything you ever surmised about porn: The folks who make it are unsavory sleazebags with delusions of public service, while its opponents are self-righteous stuffed shirts who likely have salacious predilections of their own to hide.
That's what the evidence shows, anyway. As for what Bailey and Barbato think, who the hell cares? They only made the thing.