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Inside Deep Throat Opens in South Florida

Florida- When they signed on to write and direct a documentary about one of the most well-known pornography films of all time, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato first had to do one very important thing: watch it.

The filmmakers, both 44, had never seen Deep Throat, www.xxxdeepthroat.com but they were aware of the furious wave of controversy it sparked when it opened in 1972. The $25,000 movie featured hardcore depictions of fellatio and made a household name out of star Linda Lovelace (nee Boreman). Conservative politicians — Nixon was in office, not yet brought down in part by a confidential source dubbed Deep Throat — were struggling to stem the tide of reckless cultural abandon still spilling over from the ’60s.

A mob-financed, X-rated film centering on a woman who discovers her clitoris is where her tonsils should be was not really the kind of thing conservative watchdogs were happy to see pervading the mainstream. But thanks to heavy media attention, including a feature in The New York Times, even prim little old ladies in pearls were lining up to watch it.

Inside Deep Throat, which opened Friday in South Florida, takes a rich and highly entertaining look at the making of the movie and its ramifications. That includes Lovelace’s about-face, when, backed by feminists such as Gloria Steinem, she testified that she starred in the film against her will. (Lovelace died in a car crash in 2002, about nine months before production on Inside Deep Throat began.) The documentary also features enough footage — yes, that kind of footage — from the original film to enable those who have never seen it to get a pretty good idea of what they missed.

Along with partner Barbato, Bailey has explored everything from the world’s most infamous intern (Monica in Black and White), to club-kid-turned-murderer Michael Alig (Party Monster), to the wife of a crooked televangelist (The Eyes of Tammy Faye). Bailey talked about their latest project by phone from his Los Angeles offices, where the hold music is the ’70s disco hit More, More, More, by former porn star Andrea True.

Q. One of the overriding themes of the movie is social oppression, and it even concludes on a fairly foreboding note — that such attempts at censorship could be even more successful in today’s political climate. Do you think things would seem as grim, or that this would be as big an issue, if the outcome of the 2004 presidential election had been different?

A. Possibly. But it isn’t really simply a red state-blue state issue. I know that’s the way the culture wars are typified. In the course of making the film, we saw the two sides emerging as a bully culture vs. a curious culture. The bully culture is in the ascendant at the moment in America, and has been for some years — I was going to say, even generations. … The occasional Democratic president really doesn’t make much difference to that fundamental shift away from that experimental exploration.

Q. Did you ever consider not including the original hardcore footage from Deep Throat in your film?

A. We did think about it. But it really felt necessary to give the audience that experience of what it was like to watch hardcore in a kind of a public context. I think everybody is familiar with the concept of hardcore as something you consume privately — and I think so familiar with it that we accept it as second nature.

The exchange of ideas surrounding sex has been exiled in favor of these other representations of sex: namely, innuendo in advertising and hardcore consumed in private. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with those, except they are not the complete experience of sex.

You do have this kind of paradox where, on the one hand, we’re surrounded by sex, but on the other hand, it’s nowhere. And that’s why, that aspect of sex that’s part of people’s lives, that’s why we felt we had to put a bit of the original film in our film.

Q. How do you think things are different now, if at all, than they were in 1972?

A. In 1972, there was this culture of experimentation and exploration. It’s hard to imagine from today’s perspective what the original message of the movie was. And that was that we all have a unique sexual DNA, and the challenge is to go out and find that sexual identity that belongs to each and every one of us uniquely — Linda Lovelace was a kind of everyman, standing for everybody, male and female. That’s kind of the message of the film, which has somewhat been overshadowed by Linda’s tragic real-life story, and a whole bunch of other things, including an incredible sort of retrenchment and conservative reaction.

Q. Did you find it difficult to balance those darker aspects of the story, like Linda Lovelace’s eventual insistence that her performance in Deep Throat amounted to rape, with the lighter tone of the movie?

A. It’s very difficult to balance those two things. We wondered once or twice if it was even possible. But actually I think we managed to do it. And I think one of the most interesting things about Linda herself is that she is a kind of mystery, and a mystery to herself, as well. By that I mean she watched the film herself a few weeks before she died and she called her friend the next day and said — this was kind of like her last word on the subject — she said, “What was the big deal?” I think it’s really interesting that Linda’s final pronouncement about this whole thing is a question rather than an answer. I also think the interesting thing about that question is it kind of suggests she’s backing away from the idea that every time you watch the film she’s being raped.

Q. Producer Brian Grazer has said that one of the reasons he wanted you to direct this project was because you’ve mastered this challenge of being both “entertaining and authentic.” How do you think you manage to do that?

A. There has been a big change in documentaries in the last few years, a reinvention of the genre, and a recognition, I think, that there are many different ways to tell stories. In fact, there are almost as many different ways to tell stories as there are stories themselves. If we’ve had a principle, it’s always been that we should always let the story kind of tell us how to tell that story.

The other thing is that I think whether you’re a documentary filmmaker or an action-movie maker, you still are a storyteller. As a storyteller, you have a responsibility to engage your audience with your story from beginning, through the middle, to the end. So the responsibility of entertaining your audience is with you, whether you’re making a documentary or an action film. Simply because, if you don’t entertain your audience, you lose your audience, so you end up just talking to yourself. And as a storyteller, that’s not the goal.

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