One of the arguments in defense of pornography on the screen, perhaps disingenuous in retrospect, was the prognostication that once people had free access to the stuff, they would soon grow bored with it, and it would crawl back into its rightful hole. Time has not borne this out. Or not yet. Maybe we misunderstood the concept of "soon," and there will still come a day, in the vast scheme of things, when pornography shrivels up of its own accord, followed "soon" thereafter by the day when cell phones vanish from public view and the spectacle of the solitary pedestrian talking out loud will again be confined to the certifiable lunatic. To date, no matter how boring pornography has become, there seems little sign of people getting bored with it. The new documentary, Inside Deep Throat, cites the statistic that in the year 2002, or thirty years after the production of Deep Throat itself, the total number of Hollywood films cranked out in relation to "adult" films was 467 to 11,303. This, despite the melancholy analysis espoused therein that while the movie pornographers of the early Seventies were motivated by things like freedom and rebellion and bold experimentation, those of today are motivated by money and money and money. The notion of a Good Old Days in the triple-X industry, way back when it was still simply single-X, surely provides some strong evidence for the truism that everything's relative.
However all that may be, the aforesaid documentary revisits, in memory-jogging detail, the advent and aftermath of what we might call, with more literal meaning than usual, the seminal work in adult films of the modern era, or what Camille Paglia calls, with her characteristic amount of self-restraint, "an epochal moment in the history of human sexuality." I myself recall it but dimly, inasmuch as I fall, along with Dick Cavett, into "the handful of people that never saw it." That didn't stop Cavett from hosting his share of televised discourses on the subject, and indeed the clip of Susan Brownmiller mopping the floor with Hugh Hefner on Cavett's stage is one of the more entertaining bits in this chopped salad of a film, assembled from archival footage and talking-head reminiscences, by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the documentary team of The Eyes of Tammy Faye as well as the docudrama team of Party Monster.
A good deal of nonsense gets talked by those heads: "Men want to believe that the clitoris is in a woman's throat," affirms Erica Jong, swallowing in toto the silly premise of Deep Throat. Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, meanwhile, who have always had a lot to say about a lot of things, come off as intellectual giants in the rotation of commentators that encompasses John Waters, Wes Craven, Hugh Hefner (rationalizing his befuddlement on the Cavett show by explaining that he had theretofore regarded the feminists as his allies in the Sexual Revolution), Larry Flynt, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Helen Gurley Brown (attesting to the benefits of semen as a facial treatment), Deep Throat's director, Gerard Damiano (a former hairdresser whose roadkill toupee is resignedly gray in the present day and fancifully dark in the past), its male star, Harry Reems, and the Memphis prosecutor, Larry Parrish, who hauled Reems into court to answer for his sins: "Deep Throat attacks the very core of our being."
The female star, Linda Lovelace, abused and manipulated by her lover and manager at the time, is unavailable as a talking head, having been killed in a car wreck in 2002. But she talks from the archives, first as a proponent of pornography ("The last person that started censorship was Adolf Hitler, and look what happened there"), then as an opponent of it and a self-styled "rape" victim (letting Gloria Steinem do the talking for her to a remarkably thick-skulled Tom Snyder), before she switches sides again and attempts a pornographic comeback at the age of fifty-one. She is not an inspiring figure, unless maybe inspiring of pity. She is also, to be sure, represented in excerpts from her immortalizing performance, showing off the hard-core skill celebrated in the title, and possibly, with that, inspiring something else as well, something between awe and asphyxiation: Deep Throttle. The documentary, when all is said and done, tells an interesting story, or stories: a cultural story, a character story, a courtroom story, a commerce story, an organized crime story. (The original film, costing $25,000 to manufacture, $1200 of it going to Lovelace and $250 to Reems, is calculated as the most profitable motion picture in history, although the profits didn't go to the people who made it.) All of the interest of it, however, is in the story, not in the telling. The chopped salad is hackwork.
Imaginary Heroes, the feature-film debut of director Dan Harris, is a coping-with-suicide comedy, or dramedy at the very most, and lukewarm either way, about the aftershocks of an Olympic hopeful's abrupt exit. Those left behind include Emile Hirsch, a sort of cross between Leo DiCaprio and Clea DuVall, as the unathletic younger brother who discovers the body ("That kind of thing can fuck you up for life," remarks one of his contemporaries); Jeff Daniels as the withdrawn and bordering-on-catatonic father; Sigourney Weaver as the neglected wife and mother who harbors an unspoken grudge against her next-door neighbor, and revives a long-ago interest in pot; and, hardly worth mentioning, Michelle Williams as the older sister who has already left home. Weaver, commanding a broad spectrum of light and shade, is always worth watching. She brings the full Voice of Experience to her topper of her teenager's lament, "People are so stupid I can't bear to live around them anymore." Weaver: "And it only gets worse." And her reaction to her husband's offer of cosmetic surgery for her birthday present is priceless, even if the actress, to be frank, looks as though she can no longer afford to be sniffy on that subject. Viewers these days are required to suspend their disbelief at least above eye-level. The film, originally set to open this Friday at one of the Landmarks, is now set to open Friday next.