Sunday, November 19, 2006

F*ck, Shut Up and Sing, For Your Consideration

Words, words, words and the power people give to them...

"Fuck" (dir. Steve Anderson, USA, 2005, 93 mins.) is an overly typical talking-heads-documentary about the history, etymology, sociology and cultural effect of the word "fuck". (No, it does NOT mean "Fornicating Under the Command of the King.") It is a nearly exhausting 90 minutes of chatter, to be quite frank. However, Anderson gathered together an exceptionally inclusive group of interviewees, ranging from Kevin ("Clerks") Smith and Bill Maher, to Pat Boone and Alan Keyes, to Janeane Garofalo and Ice-T. Out of the collection of 3 dozen or so voices, it is Ice-T who steals the show with some exceptional insight into why the word faces such cultural opposition, along with some really inspired ribbing of Pat Boone. As one might expect, the 'conservative voices' have no real humor about the word, and thus shoot their own cause in the foot by being so dull. Whereas, extended clips from routines by Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, as well as historical quotes by literary figures dating back to the 17th century, only reinforce the right, if not the necessity, to be able to express oneself in such antagonistic terms. In fact, if there is any lesson to be taken from "Fuck" it is that the word is not obscene because of the act which it refers to, but because of the emotional impact that social and religious authorities have assigned it.

The documentary is divided into a series of chapters, including some nifty little animated cuts by Bill Plympton. It is here that it begins to feel too long. In his attempt to thoroughly analyze the word, the film becomes a bit over winded. For instance, though I refer to Ice-T's brilliant comments, I can NOT for the life of me remember what made that BELL ring in my head, as his words were lost on me by the time we reached the end. I think Anderson could have cut it down by a good 20 minutes. The chapter regarding the F.C.C.'s penalties against broadcast obscenity is interesting, however becomes filled with so much trivial statistics that the power of the words we heard before it become lost. If you REALLY want to see something about REAL OBSCENITY, I'd buy "The Aristocrats"! If you want to see MORE about the power of words, then see...

"Shut Up and Sing" (dirs. Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck, 2006, US, 93 mins.) This was a bit more fascinating as a documentary than I expected. Focusing upon the UPROAR that the Dixie Chicks created when singer Natailie Maines expressed her shame of President Bush in a concert in the U.K., the film goes beyond the controversy and reveals the relationship that the three girls have with each other, their families, band mates and, eventually, fans. So, what is on the surface as a political documentary, it actually transforms into a documentary about relationships under enormous personal, public and professional stress. Maines comes off as a true gem. Her strength of will and vision appears to be what has pulled the women through this period, along with the steadfast support of their manager. It is not so much a 'rise-and-fall-and-rebirth' story as it is an examination of how a band dealt with a controversy and fought against corporate and political powers that would want to control them.

This is on the 'short list' for an Academy Award nomination. Though it is a GOOD documentary, the editing and format is a bit off. Instead of a linear narrative, the directors attempt non-sequential chapters. The film continually bounces back and forth between 2003 and 2006, for reasons that are not exactly clear. One on hand, it is a reminder of what ugliness they faced and were fighting against. However, the continual cross-referencing for the audience becomes a bit redundant. We know what the reaction was, we just want to see how they overcame it. The flashbacks seem more like filler to what is a relatively simple story: they sang, they said, they fell and they survived better than ever. The final screening of the past weekend about 'surviving words' was...

"For Your Consideration" (dir. Christopher Guest, US, 2006, 86 mins.) Christopher Guest and Company (ala "Best of Show" "Waiting for Guffman" "A Mighty Wind") gather again for a slightly different format. Though it is still improvised, it is not a mock-umentary. It is the linear narrative of the behind-the-scenes filming of a production that just happens to catch 'Oscar buzz' before it's even wrapped, and the consequences for its cast as the film premieres and continues to sail on. One could consider this as being Guest's "The Player", though it isn't played as cool. In fact, it is pretty harsh.

Catherine O'Hara is simply brilliant as the leading lady who is the subject of the Oscar Buzz rumor mill. O'Hara encapsulates nearly a half dozen actresses that have gone through this at that period of their career, i.e. Ellyn Burstyn, Diane Ladd. I found her to be the heart of the piece. Her struggles and hopes are all laid painfully bare, yet O'Hara masterfully maintains a certain pathos that keeps her in check with the absurdity of the situation. Amongst the rest of this HUGE CAST, it is O'Hara and, oh so painfully, Fred Willard who provide the conflict in the piece. Willard is simply allowed to go to inhuman and over-the-top extremes as the host of an "Entertainment Tonight" format program, co-hosted by an obviously annoyed Jane Lynch. Though it is without doubt Guest's intention to portray the Hollywood Publicity Mill as a heartless machine, it becomes so uncomfortable to watch Willard at times, as he is so mean spirited, that it left a bitterness by the end.

This is a much darker film for Guest & Company than their previous efforts. It not only drips with cynicism, but it nearly drowns in it. They only give their characters a glimmer of hope and hardly any redemption from the egotistical roller coasters they ride. As wonderfully performed as it is (gawd I LOVE Jennifer Coolidge! Parker Posey! Harry Shearer! Michael Hitchcock!), it felt incomplete, or at best unresolved. Perhaps that was his point. However dramatically, the film needs a hero(ine), not to mention something completely DIFFERENT for the end-credit music than that dirge!

2 comments:

Maxxxxx said...

re "Fuck": "Fuck you!" (yes, Maxxxxx's first words to me were, "Fuck you"... sigh...)

re "Shut Up and Sing": "doobie doobie doo-ooo!"

re "For Your Consideration": "Such a cranky bird!"

JimmyD said...

I wanna see these!! OH! I did. I did see all three!! I rock. I FUCKIN' rock!