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Hamish McKenzie - film critic, Boston, USA

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Pull the other one

Oh paradox, how beautiful you are. Just when I thought the USA was so irrevocably entangled in a mess of moral fervour, you raise your pretty, pretty head to remind me that, really, it's not as simple as that. Thank you, paradox, for bestowing upon us The Aristocrats, a film that reveals the complexity of America and some of the many layers of humanity. And all despicably filthy layers at that.

Until today I thought Bob Saget should have been buried prematurely beneath many tons of soil. After watching The Aristocrats, however, I think he should be embalmed and glass-entombed to be displayed like Mao as an object of worship. Saget manages to undo all the grisly mistakes of Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos in just a few minutes of Penn and Teller's grainy documentary about an unfunny in-joke.

The story of the unfunny in-joke, told by a great wad of comedic talent, is bloody hilarious. It's a joke that always starts and ends the same: a man visits a talent agent and says "I've got this new act...". He goes on to describe the act, which usually involves incest, golden showers, rimming, child masturbation, beastiality and anything else the dirtiest minds can imagine. The joke ends with the talent agent asking, "So, what's the act called?" The actor responds, "The Aristocrats". The most lurid versions of the joke -- until now only really spoken of backstage and between friends -- are truly hilarious, if only for their utter ridiculousness. The comedians put their personal stamps on the joke as they riff on the filthy themes to create truly memorable, regrettably vivid scenes of unforgivable depravity.

And, I'm pleased to announce, Bob Saget has perhaps the most depraved mind of any of the comedians featured in the film. Worse than Drew Carey; worse than George Carlin; worse than the South Park boys; worse than, ah, Paul Reiser (from the popular sitcom with Helen Hunt, Mad About You); and, yes, even worse than Robin Williams. And by "worse," of course, I mean "better".

The film, which I guess is on the film festival circuit in NZ by now, is a great counterpoint to the FCC-inspired moral righteousness that permeates much of America's entertainment industry at the moment. And I was delighted to observe that most people remained in the cinema for the entire course of the movie. One man left after ten minutes, by which stage comedians were talking of children getting fisted; and the only other casualty at least waited until he had finished his popcorn. The rest of the crowd laughed their way in disbelief through the rest of the show.

Everyone's been raving about Gilbert Gottfried's performance of the joke just three weeks after September 11. It was a great moment -- it had Rob Schneider falling off his seat with laughter -- but not the best. The best was when the joke was told in complete silence by a mime. You can imagine how such circumstances might be acted out.