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THE ARISTOCRATS (unrateably filthy) (2005)


Official Site

Director: Paul Provenza

Producer: Peter Adam Golden

Featuring: George Carlin, Paul Reiser, Bob Saget, Sarah Silverman, and a host of other comics


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 after all.

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.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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