The Complicated Legacy Of "Deep Throat"

With the release of Lovelace, the first big hit porn movie has come back into the spotlight. The film’s directors on Linda Lovelace and porn today. posted on

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Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have spent the last several decades making movies about timely issues and figures on the fringe of society that ended up changing history. From Epstein’s Oscar-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk to the The Celluloid Closet and then narrative docudrama Milk, the pair have a lock on socially relevant.

With Lovelace, the duo have taken on the sexual revolution, and the porn film that launched the blue movie underworld into the mainstream. Amanda Seyfried stars as the film’s namesake, Linda Lovelace, who thanks to an unnaturally subdued gag reflex went from repressed girl living under the thumb of religious, conservative parents to the world’s most famous adult movie star in 1972. The movie depicts the 70’s as a time of shattered taboos, when sex — and sex on film — went from a forbidden subject to the subject of jokes in Johnny Carson’s monologue.

For Lovelace, the fame came fast and with a bitter, bitter aftertaste; she was a reluctant porn star, forced into the movie by her abusive husband, Chuck Traynor (played by Peter Sarsgaard). Epstein and Friedman show her ascent as a fun, swinging rush in the first half of the cameo-filled film — James Franco, Hank Azaria, Bobby Canavale, Juno Temple, Adam Brody, and Sharon Stone have roles of varying length — while the second half rewinds to examine the tragedy behind the landmark act of oral sex.

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The interviews that Linda Lovelace gave at the time of Deep Throat’s release, and the truth of her experience, were so different.

Jeffrey Friedman: The fact that she told her story in such different ways at different times was part of what intrigued us and challenged us as filmmakers.

Rob Epstein: It also just seemed like an interesting moment given what the culture is now on porn, where it’s ubiquitous and free and kids grow up with it, to look at a pivotal moment historically when it was just becoming mainstream, and she being this central figure, unwittingly, in making that happen.

Deep Throat presented a big free speech/First Amendment fight, so you could get behind it as an important cause, but for her, it was a horrible situation.

RE: Well, for her it was very mixed, because her experience of it was tied to being married to Chuck Traynor and being in an abusive relationship, and those became conflated for her. But in fact, she really didn’t have anything bad to say about the experience of making Deep Throat; it was really the circumstance her marriage. She was forced to do it, but she didn’t have anything bad to say about the people.

What are your thoughts on porn today?

JF: It’s such a different world. As part of our research, we went to a porn set in San Francisco, just to observe what it’s like to be on a porn set, which it turns out is just as dull as being on any other set if you’re not involved. The shoot that we were watching was directing by a woman. There was a woman — a “model” she was called — featured in the video, who was basically organizing everything that went on with the director. It’s such a totally different world than anything Linda knew or probably could imagine. Porn has become such a part of the world around us. It’s seeped into advertising—

RE: Politicians’ texting.

JF: It’s hard, I think especially for younger people, to imagine a time when it was really special.

RE: When a blowjob was a huge deal. Which was a challenge for us to figure out how to contextualize that so a younger audience could understand what’s the big whoop? It was then.

How old were you when Deep Throat come out?

RE: I was in college. I saw it at a college campus midnight screening.

What was the atmosphere of that screening like?

RE: Everyone was high on pot and it was a big party.

And there was no sense that you were doing something nefarious?

RE: I think at that point there was a sense that it was cartoony. And the film is kind of cartoony. It really is almost a parody of a porn film.

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Your documentaries and now, narrative movies, tackle big subjects. How much do you think films and TV shows make a difference on social opinion on things like gay rights?

JF: I don’t know how much a difference our films have made — I hope the have — but I’m convinced that the whole changing atmosphere for gay people now has a direct relationship to Will & Grace and Six Feet Under and shows that are going into peoples’ living rooms.

RE: Probably not a week goes by that I don’t hear about someone about The Times of Harvey Milk and what that film meant, so I know that Harvey, for years has lived in that film and that has made a real difference. And I think The Celluloid Closet really had an effect in Hollywood. I think it did resonate. But when you’re making the film, you’re not thinking about that. You’re just thinking about what’s the story and how to tell the story and hope you end up with something that people want to see. I think there’s something that attracts us to situations and stories that are on the margins and are making their way further into the mainstream. We’ve been lucky to kind of be at the right point at that zeitgeist when those margins are moving toward the mainstream.

Even your narrative films, Howl and now Lovelace, are about real people.

RE: With our documentary background, we’re always thinking in the social context. We’re thinking about documentarians, and we’re thinking about within the frame of the story we’re telling, we have to figure out a way to make that social context alive and present. With Lovelace, we had to give the context of the sexual revolution going on and this whole aspect of sexual liberation was new and something Linda was embracing, but it got bastardized and taken advantage of.

JF: One of the things that was so excited about her story is that her evolution as a woman really tracked things that were going on in the culture at the time. She was very much the poster girl for the sexual revolution, and then became a feminist spokesperson. So it’s kind of this great way to track the culture through a human story.

After she came out with the book, she started protesting porn.

RE: It was complicated, because for her, her whole relationship to porn was connected to domestic violence. So she was certainly against sexual enslavement.

A good thing to be against.

RE: And her experience of being on a porn set was not with people who were doing it unwillingly; they were there willingly. So it was very complicated for her. I think in her later years it got a little more nuanced. She was so young. She was only 22-years-old when she became internationally famous for doing this one movie. And then spent the rest of her life trying to overcome that.

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