Why the re-release of iconic porn film 'Deep Throat' fizzled

In 1972, “Deep Throat,” a feature-length porn film directed by Gerard Damiano, was hailed for moving pornography into the mainstream and beginning a golden age of theatrical porn.

To mark the 50th anniversary of its release, a restored high-resolution version was released earlier this year. Yet outside of a few screenings in New York City, most U.S. theaters expressed little interest in showing the film.

As the editor of the essay collection “Pornography: Film and Culture,” I’m not surprised by the relatively muted fanfare to the re-release.

To me, it’s a sign of how much pornography has changed during the past 50 years.

‘Stag’ shorts in ‘smokers’

Film pornography has a long underground history, going back to “stag” shorts in the silent film era, which for decades were screened in “smokers” – named after the all-male audience that gathered to watch the films together and smoke cigars.

In the late 1960s, pornography moved into theaters in porn districts in cities like New York, and these places remained male-dominated settings. The films initially were feature length and while they lacked traditional narratives, many of them had various forms of narrative structure. The 1970 documentary “Sexual Freedom in Denmark,” for example, used educating the public about Denmark’s liberal censorship laws and red light districts as a pretext to screen explicit scenes featuring hardcore sex.

Films such as “He & She,” also released in 1970, featured a young, attractive heterosexual couple. Similarly, this film fashioned itself as instructive in the tradition of marriage manual books but used erotic hardcore pornography to teach the ins and outs of various sexual techniques.

Many other films with now-forgotten titles from the 1970s featured different couples simply having sex. But even those productions often had a loose narrative structure.

The rise of ‘porno chic’

“Deep Throat,” which stars pornographic actress Linda Lovelace, tells the story of a woman whose clitoris is in her throat. Because it was a feature film centered on female sexual pleasure, porn started being seen as somewhat respectable.