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Digging deep

Documentary takes on a 70’s porn flick that became a cultural phenomenon

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What: Inside Deep Throat

Whistler Film Festival’s Reel Alternatives Cinema Series

Where: Rainbow Theatre

When: Wednesday, June 22, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Tickets: $9

With the recent coming forward of nonagenarian former FBI agent Mark Felt as the legendary ‘Deep Throat’ informant that brought down the Nixon administration in 1974, the timing of the Whistler Film Festival Society’s upcoming screening of 2004 documentary film ‘Inside Deep Throat’ is impeccable.

Hot on the heels of the story of Deep Throat’s role in the Watergate Scandal comes the opportunity to learn the story behind the notorious pornographic film of the same name, from which the shadowy figure derived his tongue in cheek moniker.

With Inside Deep Throat, filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes Of Tammy Faye) delve into the legacy of a simple skin flick of modest means and aspirations that became a mainstream cultural phenomenon.

Produced in six days in 1972 for $25,000, the original Deep Throat starred adult film actress Linda Lovelace in the role of a woman for whom sexual pleasure was triggered by enthusiastic fellatio.

Released into an era of sexual awakening and countercultural experimentation, Deep Throat found fertile ground.

The film was reviewed in respected publications such as Variety and The New York Times, which helped chip away at the stigma previously held by the backroom stag films that preceded it, luring society folk into the theatres.

"Why it really succeeded, we think, was because although it contained hard-core sex, first and foremost, it was a comedy; it was a comedy about sex," Bailey has said. "This gave people permission to go see this thing in public and talk about it."

But not all would be so enthralled. As the film’s popularity grew it became a target of social conservatives, feminists and reactionary administrations. The result: Deep Throat was banned in 23 states and became the rallying point around which a war against pornography and a culture that was finding it increasingly acceptable was waged, with theatre owners and distributors charged with a variety of offenses.

As Barbato has said: "The government saw the mainstream media paying attention and the movie’s popularity starting to spread and so it needed to act. Deep Throat had all the elements — the comedy, the popular acclaim, the approachability — for people to actually feel as if they had permission to go see it. This terrified conservatives and the government, who acted to stop it… though, of course, all they did was fuel its popularity. No porn films before Deep Throat had ever successfully told a story and had characters the way it did. And so, even though it’s not the greatest film, it was able to do something that the porn films before it were able to do — cross over into everyday culture."

In spite of restrictions and denouncements the film thrived, curiosity, titillation and banned-in-the-U.S.A. notoriety translating into major box-office intakes. To date the film’s grosses are estimated at $600 million, making it essentially the most profitable film in motion picture history.

In their retelling of the Deep Throat saga Bailey and Barbato catch up with many principal players. The now repentant Lovelace makes an appearance along with co-star Harry Reams who was jailed on obscenity charges in 1976 for his role. The filmmakers also catch up with director Gerard Damiano (Jerry Girard) who, despite the film’s astronomical take, has failed to profit due to shady financing and distribution attributed to organized crime.

A true documentary, Inside Deep Throat has its share of ideologues, celebrities and cultural commentators including Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Camille Paglia, John Waters, Alan Dershowitz, Erica Jong and Hugh Hefner, sounding off on the First Amendment issues and sexual socio-politics surrounding the film. Providing narration is 1970s counterculture icon Dennis Hopper.

It is a film about a film about sex, but Inside Deep Throat goes much deeper.

As Bailey has said: "We live in a sexually saturated atmosphere where sex is everywhere; it’s used to sell everything. But no one really talks about it and it’s still considered taboo… I think that was intriguing to us as filmmakers… Why is it still that way? By looking at this film that really did cross over into the mainstream in a way that no other artifact of pornography has, we though we might be able to find some answers."

The film has come to Whistler as the June installment of the Whistler Film Festival Society’s monthly Reel Alternatives cinema series.

Naturally, Inside Deep Throat contains explicit sexual content and carries with it an R-rating. It’s bold choice for the series, but in light of renewed interest in all things Deep Throat, it’s undeniably a timely choice.

Inside Deep Throat screens twice on Wednesday evening at Rainbow Theatre. Tickets are $9, available at the venue and in advance at Nester’s Market.

Reel Alternatives continues in July and August with four outdoor film screenings at Lost Lake Park. For more information go to www.whistlerfilmfestival.com.

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