INSIDE DEEP THROAT directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, produced by Bailey, Barbato and Brian Grazer, with Gerard Damiano, Harry Reems, Erica Jong, John Waters and Norman Mailer, narrated by Dennis Hopper. 92 minutes. A Universal release. Opens Friday (February 11). For venues and times, see page 107. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Park City, Utah -- Fenton Bailey is the dapper British one and Randy Barbato the gushing American. Together they've probed Hitler's gay secrets, put Monica Lewinsky on the hot seat and dressed Macaulay Culkin in a buttless nurse costume.
They are the world's most astute trash merchants, setting out to queer pop culture in films like Party Monster, The Eyes Of Tammy Faye and Dark Roots: The Unauthorized Anna Nicole.
But that was all foreplay. Their new film, Inside Deep Throat, marks a massive growth spurt. It takes the landmark 1972 porn film -- made for $25,000, earned $600 million -- and builds a portrait of America at a sexual turning point. Bailey and Barbato talk to everyone, from Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano and Erica Jong to Norman Mailer and Camille Paglia to understand how one movie bridged the gap between smut and suburbia.
The oddest thing about Inside Deep Throat is that it was produced by Hollywood power player Brian Grazer (producer of A Beautiful Mind, How The Grinch Stole Christmas). It looks like an unlikely fit, until you learn that Grazer's own grandmother went to see Deep Throat when it came out.
Grazer's participation meant a bigger budget, of course, but more than that.
"It brings a legitimacy to our filmmaking," Barbato said in an interview at last month's Sundance Film Festival. "It didn't particularly change our approach or our style. It just meant that we didn't have to carry all the equipment ourselves, and we got to ride in a jet once."
"It gave us more time to figure it out as well," Bailey adds. "That's what the money translated into, more time. We could edit the film for a year. And as we were making it, we started to realize that this was a film about today. You can trace everything that's going on today back to 1972.
"Just one example," he continues, "was Linda Lovelace. Her story isn't really a story about feminism and chauvinism and abuse. That's the story that's been told. It's really about reality. She was the first reality star. She was an ordinary person with this trick, and she became hugely famous. And she became famous again when the whole confessional talk-show media came along.
"If Linda were alive today," he adds, "she'd be on The Surreal Life."
But she isn't. She died after a car crash three years ago, and had spent decades denouncing the abuse she said she'd been subjected to as a porn star. Inside Deep Throat addresses her position, expressed most powerfully through her mother's anger. But Bailey and Barbato don't leave the argument there.
"Regardless of your attitude toward pornography, freedom of speech should always trump it," Barbato says. "It's not a popular thing to defend something like that, particularly today. You don't talk about sex.
"But to say that it's important to defend those freedoms," he adds, "is not to say you condone everything that comes with it."
What they do condone is sexual liberation. To Bailey, part of Deep Throat's significance was that it brought gay sexual practice to mainstream America.
"The cliché is that we gays are the early adopters," he says. "Fellatio and blow jobs are kind of a gay thing. They went from an exclusively gay domain into the straight mainstream.
"In 1964 Andy Warhol made Blow Job. And then Wakefield Poole, inspired by that, made Boys In The Sand, which was released theatrically. It was very much a precursor to Deep Throat. It wasn't about oral sex so much, but he was inspired by seeing Warhol's film and put gay porn out there. I really think it crossed over from the gay underground to the straight mainstream."
They see their films pursuing a similar kind of translation, but always in both directions, and always doused in celebrity.
"In every instance our films are about people and things that are overexposed in the media," Bailey says. "They're universal reference points. But in spite of that, we think the true story has never been told. There are heroes and villains, and people get off on that. Monica Lewinsky -- slut. Tammy Faye -- cheat.
"What we like to do is turn the tables and say, "The good people are the bad people, and the bad people are the good people.' We like to show that these moral judgments are ridiculous and don't have any real value, other than a kind of mob consensus that is designed to persecute minorities.
"So I suppose it's all motivated ultimately by being gay, and feeling the sting of being judged as an outsider.
"In Inside Deep Throat," he concludes, "all the people who are crusading for moral values are assholes, villains and crooks."
INSIDE DEEP THROAT (Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato)
This is a rousing cultural history of the landmark hardcore film, and one of Hollywood¹s true surprises this year. Trash-loving directors Bailey and Barbato (Party Monster, The Eyes Of Tammy Faye) go both up- and downmarket here, using the hugely profitable 1972 hardcore film as a prism for a rich look at American morality, celebrity and law.
Everyone from Norman Mailer to Camille Paglia turns up to take a crack at Deep Throat, interspersed with the porn-damaged lives of stars Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems. Inside Deep Throat was produced by Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind), which means it has the inspiring arc of a Ron Howard movie. That's just weird.