Last night, I was scheduled to attend a VIP screening for the first time in a long time, hoping to attend with a special friend as a plus-one. When that person, the only one in Los Angeles I knew who would be open to it at all, suddenly cancelled at the last minute, I was so disappointed, I was then just in no mood to go. But I promised the folks who arranged it some coverage, and one in particular is a friend of another friend who was instrumental in saving my life. So rather than grumble about the friend who unexpectedly pulled out, I’ll tell you what I would have seen, and what I would urge no matter what your personal feelings are about the subject you would be well served to follow suit.
The screening was the tail end of a year-long 50th anniversary tour of the film DEEP THROAT, now upconverted and restored in glorious 4K. The adult children of the movie’s director, Gerald Damiano, now deceased, have been touring the country and sponsoring screenings and discussions, accompanied by some familiar faces of the era. Well, for those who actually looked at faces. In addition, sex therapists and pop culture analysts lead post-screening discussions. Because no matter what your personal mores may be, it is undeniable that DEEP THROAT was an iconic accomplishment, a financial success and essentially led a movement in freedom of expression at a tumultuous time in America that, both ironically and sadly, continues to this day.
As THE NEW YORK POST’s Nikki Moscaly Roarty wrote at length when the tour kicked off in Manhattan last year:
Banned, protested and subjected to numerous obscenity trials after its 1972 debut, this week’s worldwide premiere for the 4K restoration of “the Golden Age of Porn’s” magnum opus initially had a hard time booking US theaters.
“Europe is much more receptive to us. We couldn’t find a venue that was comfortable showing the film, and we even had a couple cancel on us at the last minute. It was bulls–t,” Gerard Damiano Jr., son of writer and director Gerard Sr., told The Post.
It was history repeating itself for Robin Leonardi, daughter of porn star and industry activist Gloria Leonard: “Fifty years later, we’re still having this conversation about free speech and censorship — the very same issues that our parents fought for.”
DEEP THROAT featured a comely young actress, born Linda Boorman, with the nom de porn Linda Lovelace, who discovers that a part of her anatomy typically found in her nether region (yes, the one that DOES rhyme with Dolores) is actually in her throat. Her attentive doctor, played by Harry Reems, “treats” her. For one of the first times in the history of the genre, the camera focused on the actress’ face, and her expressiveness attracted a shockingly ecletic and diverse following. And, appropriately, it struck a nerve, as the POST report continued:
Despite “Deep Throat” debuting in the middle of a revolutionary and tumultuous time in US history, the country’s mindset remained very puritanical, especially in entertainment.
“Although you might have just been at a love-in in San Francisco, when you turned on the TV, Lucy and Ricky are still sleeping in separate beds. You couldn’t even show a couple in the same bed together,” Damiano recalled. But then came “Deep Throat,” and “suddenly media was beginning to catch up with people’s realities. You had hardcore sex in your life, so now you can see it in a movie.”
And see it America did, with celebs like Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Truman Capote and Frank Sinatra joining the “raincoat crowd” lining up to see the “porno chic” sensation made for just $25,000 over six days.
The film was made in Florida, which is now a state where even Disney is now considered too controversial. It was released at roughly the time the Roe v. Wade decision came down, and the fact that a movie depicted and saluted an act that took the immediate worry of pregnancy off the table is more than a bit coincidental. But as the log line for the screening continued, its impact was, then and now, indisputable:
(I)t was reported to have made over $600,000,000. It helped to kick-start the “sexual revolution” and came to define what was known as “porno chic” reaching mainstream audiences.
The response was not all positive. Conservative Christian groups and anti-porn feminists sought to ban on the film. It was prosecuted on both local and federal levels resulting in many high profile cases reaching all the way to the Supreme Court. “Deep Throat“ became a household term and lent its name to the Watergate informant who brought down then-President Richard Nixon. It is still considered to be the most profitable film of all time(.)
The timing of this is in line with the launch of the first original series to debut under the new name of the streaming service MAX, a much-anticipated drama called THE IDOL. It’s a reminder that for much of HBO’s earlier years (by the way, yet another entity entering its second half-century) its companion pay network was one called Cinemax, abbreviated MAX. Nicknamed “Skin-e-max”, it was notorious for showing soft-core dramas and romcoms as well as innuendo-filled movies deemed too controversial for the “prestige” of HBO. It was often given away as part of subscription drives which cable operators used HBO to headline, but in surveys of subscribers was often shown to be a very desired package, so to speak. So it’s more than a bit ironic that this series, with some prestigious names attached, is the one that Casey Bloys and company have chosen as the immediate successor to SUCCESSION. And much like DEEP THROAT then and now, it’s being both anticipated and panned. Per Wikipedia:
The Idol is an American drama television series created by Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Reza Fahim, and Sam Levinson. The series focuses on an aspiring pop idol (Lily-Rose Depp) and her complex relationship with a self-help guru and cult leader Tedros (Tesfaye). Appearing in supporting roles are Suzanna Son, Troye Sivan, Moses Sumney, Jane Adams, Dan Levy, Jennie Ruby Jane, Eli Roth, Rachel Sennott, Hari Nef, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Mike Dean, Ramsey, and Hank Azaria. The series will also mark the final television appearance of Anne Heche, who died on August 11, 2022. (It) focuses on Jocelyn (Depp), an aspiring pop idol who, after having a nervous breakdown that causes her last tour to be canceled, resolves to reclaim her title as the sexiest pop star in America and begins a complex relationship with Tedros (Tesfaye), a self-help guru and the head of a contemporary cult.
Levinson produced the acclaimed youth-appeal hit EUPHORIA, which caught the kind of critical backlash and controversy for its open and frank depiction of sexual activity among teenagers. Levinson has been outspoken in its defense because, of course, it’s accurate. Much like how DEEP THROAT was–and is. The statistical data on the growth of sites like OnlyFans and Pornhub, particularly during the pandemic, is undeniable, growth multiples in subscribers, time spent and net revenue dwarfing the levels seen with Netflix and, yes, HBO Max. So despite some truly lousy critical reviews from those who have posted to ROTTEN TOMATOES, MAX is upbeat about the potential for sampling. And they can look to the history of DEEP THROAT’s cultural impact and undeniable appeal for inspiration.
DEEP THROAT was produced at a time when political ideology took on culture wars as a way to curry favor, much like the climate THE IDOL is launching into. But as the Post story recounts, sometimes happy endings occur in real life too:
Its place in history was further solidified when the Washington Post adopted its title as the nickname for Mark Felt, who decades later would be identified as the Watergate informant whose tips led to the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Ironically, Nixon’s own disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew saw “Deep Throat” in theaters, according to Entertainment Weekly, but that didn’t stop the FBI under the administration — with Felt as the bureau’s second-in-command — from trying to choke the film’s release.
“My father fought against Nixon as his nemesis. Nixon vowed to bring him down,” Damiano Jr. said. “My father was always very proud to say that Nixon tried to take down ‘Deep Throat,’ but in the end, it was Deep Throat that took down Nixon.
It would be easy to call out the likes of those who try to criticize and castigate those of us who are simply trying to express themselves. Everywhere you look nowadays , as I wrote with passion yesterday, there are judgmental and mocking types judgement. Lord knows I feel that. I suspect at times my busy friend felt the same way. I KNOW my best friend at many times has.
In her later years, Lovelace/Boorman became an anti-porn advocate. The POST writeup recounted how she took on a different tone before her untimely death in a car crash at age 53 over 20 years ago, one that those who knew her best have taken issue withL
In her 1980 memoir, “Ordeal,” she details his alleged abuse, which included beatings, spying, death threats and a gang rape.
“Everyone that watches ‘Deep Throat’ is watching me being raped,” she wrote.
Traynor later admitted to hitting Lovelace and while several costars and crew backed up her claims of his domestic violence and control, many cast doubt on her claims of being coerced into making adult films.
“Yes, she had an abusive husband, but she wasn’t forced into anything. She was really into what she was doing,” two-time costar Reems told The Post in 2005.
No doubt it’s a more populist view to want to believe more puritanical narratives, to throw stones at those it’s easy to consider to be whores, sluts, perverts or any other convenient adjective you can think of. From my own personal experience, I would beg to differ. Even the disappointment I feel about being left in the lurch by my friend has to be put into the context of the compassion I was shown at a most needed time. I could say that friend sucks, and that could be considered justified and accurate on many levels. I could also say anyone who thinks the likes of the Damianos are criminals suck too. But I strongly suspect Sunday dinners with a simmering meat sauce at their home would be as warm and inviting as those of many other close-knit Italian families from the area, or any other city, for that matter.
And I would suck if I suggested you should feel exactly as I do. But I will humbly suggest you take a more open mind to everything and everyone, and be a tad more honest with yourselves. Don’t immediately protest what you consider to be an existential threat. Don’t judge people by what you think they are if you don’t actually know them. And certainly don’t reject shows like THE IDOL before you actually watch it. Make up your own mind, and keep it a notch more open than others might want you to.
If that’s what the real legacy of DEEP THROAT can be–the lessons of acceptance and tolerance– then it should be celebrated. More than once every 50 years. And I sure hope I get another chance to say this to those involved. With or without a date.
Until next time…