George Carlin had his seven words you can’t
say on TV. Lenny Bruce showed us that taboo words
are just collections of sounds and fury, signifying not so much
They say that repeating words over and over will dilute their
power. Couldn’t prove it by me, judging from the attendance
at the screening. The theatre was packed 30 minutes before showtime,
showing that naughty words still have the power to draw quite a
crowd. Okay, it’s not that simple. More than the words themselves,
there’s the creative—some might say degenerate—ways
the words would be strung together and the acts that would be described.
And the chance to hear the unspeakable spoken repeatedly. What,
really, can one write about a movie that so gleefully embraces its
inner adolescent? And what, really, can be said about The Aristocrats
that the filmmakers haven’t already said themselves in the
scads of interviews they’ve done?
Yes, it was damn funny, but not because of the joke. As many comics
pointed out during the film, the joke itself just ain’t that
funny. Many contributors made the point that The Aristocrats
is all about the opportunity for improvisation and play, and that
it’s actually the most fun when one performs it for other
comedians. It’s the teller and the telling, not the tale.
Standout tellings include one by a card trick artist, who illustrated
his version by having appropriate cards leap out of the deck; Kevin
Pollak’s piss-yourself-funny imitation of Christopher
Walken telling The Aristocrats; and a perfectly
understandable version done by a mime. A couple of folks blow the
joke, which is actually much funnier than the joke itself. Many
viewers will find the “talents” of Bob Saget
to be a revelation. I didn’t know who he was going in; apparently
the juxtaposition of the nicey-nice guy he played on a TV show and
the maestro of filth we see here is mind-blowing.
Needless to say, a joke of this sort brings to the audience a
dimension of personal psychology that may be well beyond what you
want to know about these comedians. As one contributor said, “This
joke holds a mirror up to itself.” But there’s also
some quasi-scholarly comedic musing on why and how the joke works.
Particularly interesting is the discovery that the joke works much
much better in its negative form, where… well I’ll say
no more. But really, it’s the varied tellings that amuse,
not the material, and Penn Gillette has assembled
an amazing retinue of jokesters. Also, we discover (perhaps) the
origins of Teller’s muteness!
Overall, The Aristocrats is recommended, but… I
don’t think it is caviling to ask whether this movie needs
the big screen, and I don’t think the answer can be anything
but “No.” The Aristocrats is more like an HBO
special than a full-blown movie. It would be perfect in some comedy
series, with stuff like 1999’s Get Bruce. It doesn’t pass
the “real movie” test, as in you’d buy the DVD
and watch it over and over. Even if you enjoy The Aristocrats,
and I did, I can’t feature repeat viewings. I saw it again
so that I could properly review it (good thing too—this cut
seems shorter than the one I saw at SXSW), and I found it wearing
on me well before the end.