There are at least a dozen fine documentaries swirling in the margins of Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's Inside Deep Throat, a sweeping account of the movie that briefly introduced "porno chic" into the mainstream. And given the film's seismic impact, perhaps that's how it should be: In a breathless 90 minutes, Bailey and Barbato touch on the making of the film, its role in the sexual revolution and the culture wars, the tug of war between obscenity laws and First Amendment rights, the feminist backlash, and the sorry state of the adult-entertainment business today. On top of that, there are all the mini-profiles of Deep Throat's motley cast of characters, including a director who hasn't seen a penny of the reported $600 million it eventually generated, a starlet who wound up testifying against the film in court, and a scapegoat actor who was sentenced to five years in prison for his performance. (Had it been for aesthetic reasons, his hammy turn might have deserved the rap.) With such a wealth of material, Bailey and Barbato can only scratch the Boogie Nights-influenced surface, but they cover the ABCs of pornography with undeniable zip.

Narrated by Dennis Hopper, himself a peculiar figure in the counterculture and counter-counterculture, Inside Deep Throat works better as behind-the-scenes production history than broad sociopolitical essay, which means it starts better than it ends. Now a mild-mannered retiree in Florida, Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano never profited from "the most profitable movie ever made," but he happily reminisces on the Ed Wood production values and the film's outrageous conception of a clitoris at the back of a woman's throat. The uniquely talented throat in question belonged to the late Linda Lovelace, a sad and impressionable woman who was driven into the business by a domineering husband and later coaxed into testifying at the film's obscenity trial. And poor Harry Reems, who starred in the film for $250, suffered an absurd conviction in 1976 before sinking into alcohol and drug addiction, though the now-reformed Christian seems to have emerged happily on the other side.

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Flush with commentary from a long list of big-name authors, celebrities, and social critics—some involved directly with the Deep Throat affair, others just blowing hot gas—Inside Deep Throat starts small and keeps expanding outward until there's seemingly no facet of American life the phenomenon hasn't touched. Bailey and Barbato present the overload of information with enough raw energy to get most of their key points across, and they cool off on some of the jokey touches that marred their spastic documentary The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. But in their determination to bring the lessons of Deep Throat to this present era of cultural conservatism and unprogressive sexual politics, they nearly lose the thread.