HomeFilmmakersDeep Throat : Exclusive Interview with Gerard Damiano Jr., Christar Damiano and Robin Leonardi...

Deep Throat : Exclusive Interview with Gerard Damiano Jr., Christar Damiano and Robin Leonardi on the 50th Anniversary of a Sexual Revolutionized Film

An iconic zeitgeist of the sexual revolution and the first adult film to debut in mainstream theatrical cinema, breaking box office records in 1972, filmmaker Gerard Damiano Sr.’s controversial film Deep Throat (still considered to be the most profitable film of all time)  will have a global event cinema experience celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the film.

Synopsis : Linda, frustrated that her hugely energetic sex life leaves her unsatisfied, seeks medical help. The doctor informs her that the reason for her problem is that her clitoris is mistakenly located at the back of her throat – but there is a very simple remedy, which the doctor, and various other men, proceed to demonstrate.

Exclusive Interview with Gerard Damiano Jr., son of director; Christar Damiano, the director’s daughter; and Robin Leonardi, Damiano Films principal & daughter of acclaimed Freedom of Speech/First Amendment Rights activist Gloria Leonardi)

Q: In the 1970s, a lot of porn movies were made prior to “Deep Throat”, but what made this particular film so successful? Was it because of Linda Lovelace, or was it this film’s storyline, compared to other porn films at that time? Was it the climate of sexual freedom in the 1970s? 

GD: Well, I want to jump in and see if I can share my father’s opinion a little more. We were all very close and he spoke a lot about this, and he felt that it was like a perfect storm. People said — and when we went to Japan, people asked us “Did you set out to change the world with “Deep Throat”? How did you know that this was going to be such an important film?” He would laugh, and he’d say he had no idea. It was the right place at the right time.

Because this happened at a time when the laws were changing about what could be shown onscreen. So no, there were not a lot of full-length feature films with hardcore sex in them. There were lots of sex films that came prior: the exploitation, sexploitation, “nudie cuties”, volleyball films, white-coaters and so forth. But having hardcore sex in a film was relatively new, and having it presented in the context of a full-length feature film with a story and character development and so forth, with real production values, was rare. So there wasn’t a lot of films out there. 

But this happened at a time in history where we’re coming, in the United States, out of the 1960s which was a time of real social change and cultural advancement and people were opening their minds. Yet what was depicted onscreen and on television was falling behind. There was the Summer of Love in San Francisco, yet if you turned on the TV you couldn’t show a couple together in the same bed. You would see them sleeping in twin beds. If you watched “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, they’re sleeping in two different beds. 

So when “Deep Throat” came out, it was very refreshing because it spoke to the reality of sexuality that was happening, and because it was a comedy — I mean it wasn’t a documentary, it was very lighthearted, very campy, comedy — it was accessible to people. They weren’t put off by it. So it brought a lot of people that normally wouldn’t go to an adult film to the movies. And especially women, couples together, would go to a theater where in the past it was just what we would call the “raincoat crowd” — men alone that were basically putting newspapers in their laps and throughout the movie you would just hear newspapers rustling. So that all changed with “Deep Throat”. 

Q: This film was being watched by celebrities, politicians, at-home moms, it was a news segment, and on talks shows. Even Roger Ebert reviewed the film. Could you talk about the phenomenon back then, even among the entertainment industry? 

GD: Well, interestingly, we were all out shopping with our mother and our father — and our father hated shopping and he would get coffee. He would go get coffee for two hours. We would just shop, he didn’t even want to go. So we were at Bloomingdale’s, and our father said, “No, I’ll just wait outside and get coffee.” 

So he goes to get coffee, and who should recognize him in the coffee shop but Roger Ebert! Roger said “Hey, Gerry Damiano! What are you doing here?” and he sat down and they had a conversation. And then [Ebert] wrote about the film. 

My father, all he ever wanted was to be taken seriously as a filmmaker. So after “Deep Throat”, he was able to make more serious films. They weren’t all well-received, but they were definitely received. And the critics had a lot to say about them. He was very proud that his films were reviewed in the New York Times, not as pornography but as film — as film that had sex in it. 

So after “Deep Throat”, he followed that up with “The Devil in Miss Jones”, that was critically acclaimed, and proved that “Deep Throat” wasn’t a fluke, that our father was now cemented as a force as a filmmaker and so people were paying attention. His films that came out after, people were lined up to see them because now he had such a reputation, they wanted to see what happened next. 

It was like the new Scorsese film. I love Scorsese, so I’ll see anything that he makes, just to see where he’s going with it. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, I’m just curious to see what he has to say. 

So our father, for that time — which we now refer to as the Golden Age of Porn — he had people that wanted to see what he would say next. Because he was always breaking new ground and trying to make more ambitious films, and tell more important stories. He kindof left “Deep Throat” behind in that after the door was opened — you know, cute campy comedy — he wanted to make more serious films that were more thought-provoking. 

It wasn’t til the end of his career that he returned to the cute films and the funny comedies, and that was because video had basically — I don’t want to say “destroyed the film industry”, but it destroyed film. So now there was an adult film industry, the market was glutted with cheap product, and at the end of his career, instead of shooting for a week or longer on 35 millimeter film, they were shooting on video and they wanted him to make a movie in a day. And if he could get three days to shoot, that was a big deal because he was a big director. 

But even still, it wasn’t satisfying to him. On a one-day wonder, or even three days, you can’t really film all the things that you need to do to really tell a story. Filming the sex, that’s the cheap part. Filming the buildup to it is very expensive. So he started writing the kind of scripts with his own corny sense of humor that he exhibited back in “Deep Throat”, just to make himself laugh, just to keep it light. If you look at the videos that he made, they’re very funny but they’re not great films. 

Q: There were laws and regulations declaring sexually explicit content was only allowed to be shown in an educational manner back then. It was a struggle to put those things in film. Was there a negative campaign against it by ordinary people?

GD: Well, my father would often quote this. There was very famously a study done by, I believe it was the Johnson administration and later it was finished under Nixon. They sought to study pornography in order to wage a war on it. So first they wanted to find all the ills and all the evils in porn. But unfortunately, after all of the studies that they did, what they found was that, not only was porn not unhealthy, the opposite was true. It was actually very healthy. People that had some kind of sexual outlet were much less likely to commit violent crimes, and a healthy attitude of sex made people happier. 

So my father said because the study didn’t find the answers that they were looking for, they had to throw the whole thing away. Because it was really slanted, they wanted to use this to show how bad porn was. And this happened again later, with the Meese Commission under Ronald Reagan — they tried to do the same thing. 

When I say “Were you surprised about Nixon”, what happened during the Nixon administration is something that repeats itself over and over, and is happening today in America. It’s the people that are quick to point a finger and say “Look how bad, how evil this is” that are really trying to divert attention away from their own crimes. 

My father was dogged throughout the early 70s by Nixon and the administration. He had the feds, the FBI tailing him, surveilling him, tapping our phones. He was dragged across the country to appear in court in different states, where they really tried to make a very public case. They wanted to crucify him on television. Not only to stop him, but to discourage others. 

But in the end, my father was very proud to say that Nixon tried to take down “Deep Throat”, but in the end it was Deep Throat to take down Nixon. Of course, he was referring to the double meaning of “Deep Throat” by that point. He was proud of inventing the term “Deep Throat” when he wrote the script. He came up with “Deep Throat”. 

And where he wasn’t as proud of the movie as film because it was an early effort and was the best they could do at the time, he was very proud of getting a word in the dictionary. He would say, “How many people do you know that have done that? Invented a brand new word and now people are using it.” And within a couple of years, since the informant took the name “Deep Throat” and then very famously in the Watergate case, helped to indict Richard Nixon. Now that word has two meanings So now when people say “Deep Throat” they are really talking about informants and whistleblowers and like that. 

Q: “Deep Throat” was shown to juries across the United States to determine if the film was obscene or not. “Deep Throat” was banned in 23 states. 

GD: I don’t want to monopolize this interview, it’s not all about me. It’s about our father and his film. But I grew up as my father’s son and was very aware about what was going on with him at the time. 

But I’ve since done a lot of research to help to put it all into context. Because when we were on the set at seven years old, we knew what was going on but we didn’t really understand the bigger picture. But now, it’s a bit easier to see how that goes. 

So what happened with Deep Throat is that shortly after it came out, it was shut down in New York City. The NYPD were sent by the mayor, they confiscated the print, they arrested the people at the theater, and then came back again a few weeks later with a big show for the cameras. Fifty uniformed officers to shut down the film and started a court case that went on and was very well publicized. Every single day, in all the New York newspapers, there were developments in the case. It was a very public thing. 

Now what happened after that is that “Deep Throat” started to open up across America because there was a lot of attention that came to it because of the prosecution. So the film opened then in California, and then it started to open across America. And in different places, again, there was protest, there were legal actions taken against the film, it was shut down in different places, and there were battles fought all the way to the Supreme Court. 

But when it got to the Supreme Court, what they realized was that it really wasn’t “Deep Throat” that was on trial here, it was the definition of “obscenity” and what that means. Because you know, two different people can watch the same film and walk away with a very different idea. Some of them are shocked and offended; but some of them might be enlightened, or amused or entertained, or turned on. So who’s to say what is obscene and what is not obscene? 

So what they determined in that court is what you’ve just touched on yourself in your question: they could not legislate national laws about obscenity because the communities were so very different across America that what was perfectly acceptable in New York City would shock and offend people in Nebraska or in Alabama. And what was just another day in the park in San Francisco would have people up in arms with torches and pitchforks in Indiana. So what they decided is that the definition of obscenity had to be left to community standards. That is, that each individual community had to decide for itself what is and what isn’t obscene.

Following that, you had counties where “Deep Throat” was banned, like you had counties where alcohol was banned — yet in the next county, you can drink. So you got everybody on a Saturday night driving to the next county, or across state lines, just to get a beer. The same thing happened with “Deep Throat”: you had people who weren’t allowed to see it in their own community now lining up in another community to see the movie. So that made it even more confusing about what is and what is not acceptable, what is and should be legal. Because who’s to really say what you can or cannot watch? 

Q: [Asking both Gerry and Christar]: What was it like for you back then growing up during the “Deep Throat” phenomenon as a child? 

CD: Well, to see our dad put on trial, since we really didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. Because growing up, we thought sex was something natural, it’s something you have to do as a society to move forward. 

I didn’t quite understand the big deal about it. To me sex was natural, the human body was beautiful. We were only six and seven, so I didn’t quite understand what the big deal was about. But then it became more of a big deal because then, again, everybody wanted to see it, and they wanted to figure out, why is it making headlines? 

GD: Well, again, we grew up with our father as a filmmaker. We knew that he was making movies, we thought of him as an artist. We were never subjected to hardcore sex as children — nothing like that. But he often took us to the set, out on location, location scouting. 

We were very friendly. Cast and crew members were friends of the family, were in and out of our house. Our mother was always typing up scripts. Harry Reems was our “Uncle Herbie”. So we felt very close to some of these people. 

It flies in the face of some of the stereotypes that people think about when they talk about adult films or porn films. Like, it’s all a bunch of criminals and mobsters that are taking advantage of women and forcing them against their will, and all that. And sure, that does exist. I don’t want to say that it doesn’t. But that’s not the way the entire industry works. When people talk about “porn stars”, nobody ever says “porn actress” or “porn actor” – you make one movie and you’re a “star”. When people make statements about porn stars, they paint everyone with the same brush. 

So if you look at Linda Lovelace, she had a very rough go of it just in her personal life, and her story is very different than Robin’s mother, who was a “porn star”. Or someone like Annie Sprinkle or Nina Hartley have very, very different experiences. They’re not victims and they made their own choices, and they had no regrets about it, and were very outspoken about what they did and why. 

But that’s not the case for everyone. There are some porn stars that famously committed suicide; that became addicted to drugs or to alcohol; or had horrendous stories just trying to come to terms with the hypocrisy, with the morality. Everyone has a very different story. I think it does a disservice to anyone that’s participated in an adult film, to just treat them all as if they were the same person. 

Q: Speaking of Linda Lovelace (Linda Borman, she later wrote in her autobiography Ordeal that the porn industry back then was filled with abuse and violence. She wrote that many of the acts depicted in the film are not consensual and her abusive ex-husband would threaten her with guns if she refused. Later she became an activist against the adult entertainment industry. Please talk about the changes in the industry. 

RL: Well, really, I would love to. But the pre-eminent source of every question that you have, Gerard Junior, is the one to answer. So for you to get the clearest, most concise, most accurate answer to your questions, I’m just going to run that right over to Gerard. 

GD: Thank you for the compliment, Robin. I’ll answer this as best I can, because certainly there’s a lot of controversy surrounding Linda Lovelace. 

She did have a rough go of it, she suffered tremendous abuse by her own husband. And then even later, she remarried and was abused by her husband. She wrote four autobiographies – not one, but four – all that were actually written by men. She didn’t write them herself, but she co-authored with different people. 

Her husband at the time, who was really her pimp – making “Deep Throat” was really a step up because he was literally selling her as a prostitute before that. So she did suffer greatly under him. Making “Deep Throat” – contrary to popular belief – was not her downfall, it actually liberated her. Because once she made the film and started getting a lot of attention, people started surrounding her saying, “What are you doing with this asshole?” And it was after that that she was able to get away from him. It could have even saved her life, because he did beat her and he did hold a gun to her head, and he did all kinds of things. 

But I think the greatest misconception is that she was forced to do sex in the film. And that is just patently untrue. My father – and I’m not saying it as the seven-year-old that was ushered off the set, I’m saying this after hearing my father talk about it for years, for everybody that was on the set talk about it for years – is that Linda was a very sexual and sexually liberated being.

If you see all her interviews before and shortly after the success of Deep Throat”, she’s very matter-of-fact about that. She had no problem performing on camera, having sex and so forth. Her real issue was that her husband was jealous. 

She had a thing for Harry Reems, he was very handsome and very charming. According to her “Svengali”, Chuck [Traynor], she was supposed to do the film, but she wasn’t supposed to enjoy it so much. He started to get really jealous, and she was uncomfortable with him around then. So the only way they were able to do the deep-throat scene was to get him off the set. Then she was comfortable enough and she could do it. It wasn’t he was there forcing her to do it, it was, again, he wanted her to not enjoy it, to just follow his orders. 

I don’t know if that answers your question. But later she came out with other books; her story evolved as her life evolved. Sadly, she died at a very young age. I wish that she was alive today. I would love to hear what she has to say now, after all this has happened and all this has past. Because she was, for a time, a spokesperson for anti-porn feminists; later, she said that they used her worse than the people in porn used her. They had their own agenda. She was in a place in her life where she had gone through some rough times and that there they were, to take her in. When you hear her talking a lot, you hear their talking points coming through her. 

So I’m sorry that she’s not alive because we would love to have her at the 50th anniversary and celebrate her. But also hear her own story about it now, because she said things over the years. I’d be curious, looking back fifty years later, what she might have to say. 

Q: There were a lot of changes happening in society. At the end, how much do you think this film made an impact on film industry afterwards? Could you talk about the after-effect of the film? 

GD: I want to say, just quickly, that when “Deep Throat” was made, there was no “adult film industry” as we know it today. There were these independent films. Our father was part of this group of “underground filmmakers”, they would call themselves. 

So after “Deep Throat”’ helped to take porn mainstream, suddenly there was a huge market that opened up. It gave opportunity to a lot of filmmakers of the time, talented filmmakers, who came forward to start making these full-length feature films. But then when video came out, the market increased even more. So now if there were ten or twelve films made in 1972, by 19992 there were 12,000 films made, or more. Don’t quote me on the numbers, but it is probably even more than that. Because a huge industry was created based on the mainstream appeal of these early films. So it definitely had an effect there. 

But then also, Hollywood looked differently at the way they were making films, because in the 1970s, the Hollywood studio system was losing money. The old model that was working in the Thirties and Forties was no longer working, because they were producing these big-budget movies that people weren’t going to see, yet you had smaller films like “Deep Throat” that for $24,000 was making hundreds of millions. 

The Hollywood system wanted to get a piece of that. So they started loosening up, and changing the way they made their films to capture back part of that audience. 

Q: Back around the Seventies and early Eighties, a lot of Japanese studios had the same problem. Many talented directors making a feature film would make a Japanese porn film, “Nikkatsu roman porno” back in the Eighties. Even the director making a popular feature film would make a roman porno. Are there any well-known feature film directors who have made a porn film after the studio system collapsed in the U.S.? 

GD: Well, there’s a lot of examples of big name directors – Coppola, Abel Ferrara, I think even Wes Craven made a porn film. There are people that found, as our father did, that the only place where they could hone their skills without going to school. Now, Coppola went to school, don’t get me wrong. But there was a lot to be said for learning on the job, and there was a lot of opportunity in New York City — and other places as well — where you could work on a film. And there was a lot of opportunity in adult film where somebody who was just honing their skills and just coming up could be involved. So a lot of names crop up. I’m not the authority, but after people are famous, then it often comes out, “Oh, look at this old film” – I can’t even remember the real name of the film because it was just a meaningless porn film. But after Sylvester Stallone became famous from the “Rocky” films, then somebody dragged out this movie that he made and retitled it “The Italian Stallion”. 

PL: It was called “Kitty and the Party Studs”. 

GD: Okay, yes, thank you. I thought it was something kitties or something like that, but it would have been lost to history if Sylvester Stallone had not [become] famous in another genre. So there is a bit of cross-over. But in saying that, there is a lot of stuff that we might not ever know because there was such a stigma. There were a lot of people in front of and behind the cameras that were very afraid of being found out. 

RL: Tarnishing their careers, yes.

GD: People used pseudonyms. Even the cinematographer for “Deep Throat” [João Fernandes, as “Harry Flecks”] went on to have a great career in Hollywood, shooting big-budget Hollywood movies. But my father kept [the DP’s] identity secret at his request, he was very protective of [the DP’s] real name because he felt, and rightly so, that it would affect his ability to get work in Hollywood. 

And very famously, Harry Reems, who was a talented actor — who had gone to acting school, was working off-Broadway and doing different theatrical projects and other films before he made “Deep Throat” – thought that it might open doors for him. When he was originally cast in “Grease” it was as if his dream was about to finally come true. Now he’s got a role in a major Hollywood picture 

But when someone in the studio found out “Oh, it’s Harry Reems from “Deep Throat”, they fired him and replaced him with Sid Caesar because they feared the bad press and the stigma of adult film. And that was a terrible blow to Harry Reems. He became an alcoholic after that and struggled quite a lot, because he realized he made it to Hollywood but now he couldn’t get work and he couldn’t escape the “celebrity” that “Deep Throat” had afforded him. 

Q: In this 50th years anniversary, seeing this film in a regular theater, what do you want audiences to take away from this film? 

CD: I can say we want people to be able to enjoy the film and see it the way that our father intended [them] to see it. We’re doing what we call the “event cinema” because we want people to come and be able to see it together, as a community, with other people that see the film and enjoy it that way. That was why we decided to restore it – so people could see it as our dad intended. 

GD: Yes, our intention is to preserve the film, so that it can be shared for future generations. We believe that it’s an important film. Again, our father would say, it’s not a good film, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it has a place in history, it changed a lot of things. So we feel it’s important that you should be able to see it. 

How people will receive it, we have absolutely no idea. I don’t even dare guess what people might think of the film fifty years later. But we hope some people will enjoy it, and we can only hope that it will spark the same kind of discussion that it did back in the Seventies and get people talking openly about sex again, and reopen that dialogue. 

Because as our First Amendment rights are being quickly taken away, it’s important to revisit this conversation about what is obscene – and really, who is to say? Who is to decide what you can and cannot see? This is very important and “Deep Throat” became a symbol for that. So it’s important moving forward, where other things are being banned, that we remember the lessons that were learned back then. 

Q: Thank you. 

Nobuhiro Hosokihttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Nobuhiro Hosoki grew up watching American films since he was a kid; he decided to go to the United States thanks to seeing the artistry of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange.” After graduating from film school, he worked as an assistant director on TV Tokyo’s program called "Morning Satellite" at the New York branch office but he didn’t give up on his interest in cinema. He became a film reporter for via Yahoo Japan News. In that role, he writes news articles, picks out headliners for Yahoo News, as well as interviewing Hollywood film directors, actors, and producers working in the domestic circuit in the USA. He also does production interviews for Japanese distributors of American films and for in-theater on-sale programs. He is now the editor-in-chief of Cinemadailyus.com while continuing his work for Japan.

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