Monday, October 27, 2008

DEEP THROAT Director Damiano Dies

Director Gerard Damiano as seen in the 2005 documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT.

One of my favorite cultural blogs, Jahsonic, is reporting the death of Gerard Damiano, the notorious director of DEEP THROAT, at the age of 80. Further online research shows that he died Saturday night, October 25, of complications from a stroke.
To call Damiano a writer-producer-director would be cutting him short: he was also an editor-production designer-actor-composer-cable carrier and special effects guy. He wasn't the most polished filmmaker of his generation, as he freely admitted, but no one could accuse him of being uninventive within his means. While most other adult filmmakers were thinking exclusively about different ways to showcase the sexual act, Damiano brought a wealth of imagination to a genre that didn't require it. In the process, he extended the possibilities of sex onscreen and underscored the value of fantasy and imagination in the meeting of two (or more) bodies.
As the prime mover behind DEEP THROAT, he created the most famous adult film of all time, a picture that scored regular mentions in its day on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON and ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN, later lent its name to a significant supporting player in the uncovering of the Watergate scandal, and continues to be a subject of interest and controversy almost forty years later. I'm reminded that my "Throat Sprockets," the graphic novel chapter that appeared in the debut issue of Stephen R. Bissette's TABOO, was bootlegged in Spanish under the title "Garganta Profunda" -- meaning "Deep Throat." (This annoyed me because it suggested to Spanish readers that my storyline was about a protagonist having a vampiric reaction to seeing Damiano's film!) I don't know that Jerry Damiano can be said to have changed the world, but his work certainly had an impact that is still being felt.
Damiano isn't often credited as a fantasy director, but his XXX cinema was pregnant, shall we say, with fantasy: THE MAGICAL RING (1971), THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1973), MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE (1974, which featured a ghost), LET MY PUPPETS COME (1976, which is exactly what it sounds like), ODYSSEY: THE ULTIMATE TRIP (1977), the sf diptych THE SATISFIERS OF ALPHA BLUE (1980) and RETURN TO ALPHA BLUE (1984), NIGHT HUNGER (1983) and, of course, DEEP THROAT (1972) itself. Just before working with Linda Lovelace changed his life, Damiano also took a stab at a "legitimate" (non-porn) horror film, LEGACY OF SATAN (1972, released 1974).
In 2005, Damiano was interviewed for the Brian Glazer-produced INSIDE DEEP THROAT, a major studio documentary about the phenomenon of that film's original release. For reasons that are now hard to fathom, DEEP THROAT briefly captured America's imagination and made hardcore pornography not only acceptable but chic. I remember this period particularly well because, in the mid-1970s, at a time when the film could not be screened here in Cincinnati (as indeed it probably still can't), a 16mm collecting friend loaned a print of DEEP THROAT to Donna and me -- yes, the first and last time I saw the film was on the living room wall of our first apartment. Donna was working a day job at a local hospital at the time, and the film was such a tantalizing part of the zeitgeist that she had no problem with inviting a select group of female co-workers to a private screening at our apartment. Sadly, my presence at this gathering was not welcome, but Donna gave me a very entertaining recap of everyone's comments during the screening after her guests went home. Within the last couple of years, we confided this story to a couple of other local friends, who surprised us by admitting that they, too, once had possession of a 16mm print and used to screen it for their friends!
While I don't think DEEP THROAT itself is anything to "write home about" (and neither did Damiano, apparently), what was written home about it makes for a fascinating time capsule, and this makes INSIDE DEEP THROAT is well worth seeing. It's also a humbling... nay, devastating exposé of the illusory nature of fame and the personal costs that are all too frequently paid for even a fleeting taste of the limelight.
The most inspired title of Damiano's zany career: 1989's SPLENDOR IN THE ASS.

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