dir. Gerard Damiano, “Deep Throat”

1972

Among the most successful feature-length pornographic films of all time, Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat is the hour-long tale of Linda Lovelace (Linda Boreman) “as herself,” a sexually frustrated young woman who fails to achieve orgasm during sex. She feels “tingles all over,” but “no bells, no fireworks, no bomb going off.” The doctor who “cures” her does so by locating her clitoris in her throat, teaching her to suppress her gag reflex, and sending her on “physiotherapy” rounds to treat a variety of patients (potential suitors).

Linda Williams has argued that the film finds a way to thematize the “invisibility” of female sexuality and to show male and female orgasm at once. It is, however, problematically an endorsement of an act that physiologically real females do not find pleasurable, and in that sense, it’s not much better than “the money shot” to me. The film seems to know this, however – its extradiegetic musical score includes schmultzy tunes with literal lyrics written for the plot, as well as bizarre “bubble sounds” within the music when “normal” women experience orgasm. When Linda does, we get a rapid montage of – you guessed it – bells and bombs and fireworks.

This tension between literal and figurative visuality actually begins when Linda’s friend is receiving oral sex in the first scene of the film while smoking a cigarette; when she finishes, she flicks the white stub in a high arc across the room. In other scenes, she opens her mouth to signify orgasm, but the extradiegetic music gives her bubble sounds, not a voice in these moments (the joke of the bubbles is literalized later when the Dr. gives Linda a bottle of bubbles to blow in the office). Linda’s orgasm, on the other hand, is visually represented figuratively by the montage and (more) literally by the man’s orgasm, which she shares – it becomes hers by visual equanimity. Thus the film draws attention to psychological ideas of “lack” in women, but doesn’t altogether seem to “solve” them.

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