Throat Culture

Two Accounts of How Porn Went Pop

 

How 'Deep Throat' Went Down in Minnesota

By Rob Nelson

Three days after President Nixon brought a halt to military operations in Vietnam, another offensive maneuver was just beginning in Minneapolis. More than 100 people queued up outside the Rialto Theater at Lake and Chicago to catch the long-awaited Minnesota premiere of Deep Throat...at 9:00 a.m. By noon the same day, more than a thousand tickets to the X-rated movie had been sold at three bucks a pop. Even the Minneapolis Tribune's critic Will Jones was moved to acknowledge the film's "rather remarkably staged scene of simutaneous gential, anal, and oral passion."

One of the many Minnesotans who attended Throat's opening on January 18, 1973, was an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department's "morals squad," sent by the city attorney's office to take notes on the film. Those notes, like Nixon's uncut Watergate tapes, weren't revealed to the public, although the general direction of the watchdog's thumb wouldn't remain a mystery for long. Less than a week after opening day, Municipal Judge Edwin P. Chapman ordered Deep Throat's Midwest distributors to appear at a court hearing on obscenity the following month. The judge also requested a print of the film--presumably for use in his private chambers. The corner of Lake and Chicago was no place for a judge. And the lines at the Rialto were long. And it was cold in January.

The story of Deep Throat in Minnesota, as in many other states, is one in which only a few of those connected with the film could be said to have, you know, gotten off easy. Minnesota Cinema Society president Jim Nelson, a junior at the U of M in '73, did manage to secure free tickets for himself and nearly 200 law school students. (Score!) But that was only after Nelson had gotten the shaft from Paul Cashman, the U's vice president for student affairs, who had forced the film society to replace its two scheduled screenings of Deep Throat at the West Bank Auditorium with a quartet of W. C. Fields shorts. "The fact that the film [Deep Throat] has been done in color and is considered professionally excellent does not matter," argued Cashman. "It would not serve an educational purpose." Nelson, perhaps sensing class prejudice in the university, complained to the Minneapolis Star that a rival film society hadn't had any trouble selling Cashman on campus screenings of The Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival.

Competition between local exhibitors may have played a part in how Deep Throat went down. Though the U would eventually lift its ban on the film, Nelson told the newspapers that it didn't much matter by that point, since the Rialto's exclusive run--ten screenings a day, seven days a week--had proven too successful for anyone but the cops to disrupt. (A Trib article speculated that Throat's staying power could exceed even that of Sexual Freedom in Denmark, which lasted more than a year at the Empress on West Broadway before petering out.) Still, the Rialto was feeling the heat. The theater's attorney Robert Milavetz, whose federal petition had succeeded in postponing the city's obscenity hearing, accused the police department of harassing the independently owned venue. Theater management went further, claiming that exhibitor chains were behind the city's effort to have the Rialto's success literally taken away.

In March, after Federal Court Judge Miles Lord remanded the Throat case to the municipal level, officers of the police department's morals division did manage to confiscate the Rialto's print with the help of a warrant from Hennepin County Municipal Court Judge Eugene Farrell. But the theater--owned, like three other adult cinemas, by New Brighton's Benedict J. Jochim--hardly took the Deep matter lying down. Two replacement prints were successively screened--and seized--after Farrell watched the first one and deemed it "hardcore" (in the pejorative sense). Milavetz somehow won a temporary restraining order against the cops and kept the movie open through mid-April, when the Minneapolis City Council voted 9 to 2 in favor of denying Jochim's application for a theater license. Jochim was able to obtain another temporary restraining order to prevent the city from closing his theater until the end of the month. And he had at least one supporter in Alderman John Cairns, who not only voted against the denial, but told the St. Paul Dispatch, "All we're really doing is giving our friends on the morals squad another opportunity for an infamous midnight raid and a cheap shot at publicity."

Cheap or not, those shots appeared to be winning the war. In Duluth, where a member of the city attorney's office, along with two cops, decided that Deep Throat was beyond the pale, a print of the film was confiscated, and the projectionist at the Strand Theater was arrested and booked. Not even elected officials were safe from the cleanliness crusade. Benjamin Berger, a member of both the Minneapolis Park Board and the state Parole Board, saw his company's Aster Art Theater at Sixth and Hennepin come in for bad publicity when two dozen kids in town for the state high school basketball tournament were busted for entering the cinema to watch a double bill of Love Toy and It's Not My Body. For allowing the juveniles into the theater, the Aster's elderly employee Michael Wainstock was put behind bars.

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