Whether a victory for female sexual liberation or a deeply misogynistic effort underlining women’s sex-object status, Deep Throat has one trait that seems beyond argument.
By all appearances, the controversial 1972 porn film that propelled Linda Lovelace into pop culture lore for her portrayal of a woman whose clitoris is in her throat is an unmistakably heterosexual affair.
Or is it?
Its brazen storyline about the perfect female-on-male blow job aside, Deep Throat has a message for gay audiences that remains relevant more than 30 years on.
So says the gay director of Inside Deep Throat, a documentary analysing the impact of the 1972 original that opens in Australia next week after screening at the Sydney Film Festival in June.
Fenton Bailey made the documentary with partner Randy Barbato to explore what he calls the cultural contribution of pornography.
We realised that the history of pornography adds up to the secret history of civilisation, because for every new technological medium -“ video, internet, film -“ the initial application has always been sexually explicit expression, Bailey said.
We could see how it had made this incredible contribution that really is essentially unrecognised.
Conservatives disagreed, mounting a campaign against Deep Throat that saw male star Harry Reems convicted for obscenity (the ruling was later overturned).
Many other porn films had been released, to a far less explosive response. What made Deep Throat different?
I do think part of the threat of Deep Throat was the fact it centred around a blow job, Bailey said.
This is an act that falls outside the normative definition of sexuality, not least because it is something that men can give to each other.
The message of Deep Throat was, -˜We’re all deviants, and as long as you’re not harming anyone else you should do your own thing.’
In any event, public curiosity was piqued. Made for about $US25,000, Deep Throat reportedly grossed $US600m worldwide -“ enough to make it the most profitable film in history.
Its main star’s story was less glittering.
Notoriety turned to ignominy for Linda Lovelace, who would later claim Deep Throat viewers were witnessing her rape. She is said to have died penniless after a car accident in 2002.
Such tales of hard times (how one moment someone can be a pop culture hero and then the next moment sort of used goods) are familiar territory for Bailey and Barbato.
The pair’s past documentary subjects include Los Angeles male prostitutes and Tammy Faye Bakker, the former wife of shamed US TV evangelist Jim Bakker. They also made the documentary and feature film versions of the queer-themed Party Monster.
I once read some review that said something about the fact that [Randy and I] like to trawl the gutter, but I don’t think it’s the darkness per se that attracts us, Bailey said.
I suppose we like to look in places that people have dismissed, written off or judged, and try to show the beauty and the truth that lie there.
Maybe it’s connected with being gay. Quite early on you realise -“ and you don’t necessarily understand why -“ that you’re being judged negatively, sometimes even before you commit a single gay act.
Feeling the sting of that judgment and that rejection has always motivated us.
What we’re trying to show I suppose is that the judgment game itself is a futile pursuit.
It’s a divisive pursuit to try and separate the good from the bad, the saved from the damned.
Because most of the time people’s judgments, I think, are wrong.
Inside Deep Throat opens in Sydney on 10 November .