Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Why Are People Like Jellybeans?

The Aristocrats
2005, USA
Paul Provenza

Wow. It’s amazing what you can do with a hi-8 camera, a few funny friends, and a good joke. Absolutely fucking nothing. This documentary looks like it was made with spare change picked out of phone booth coin return slots by a wedding video cinematographer. Granted, The Aristocrats is funnier than if I filmed my friends and I telling jokes, because essentially that would involve me telling that racist one about everyone hating black jellybeans and a whole lot of uncomfortable silence from the imaginary cast of Star Trek I hang out with. And it’s funnier than if it were your friends, because these guys are actually talented and don’t just quote lines from The Simpsons while fighting over the last roach tokes. In fact, the film is hysterically funny. It’s just that it’s terribly made, shoddily edited, and cheap, which, like a bootlegged porn blooper tape, interferes with the humor. In fact, the adult film analogy is a good one, as this film looks like amateur pornography uploaded to a gateway website, only the performers are somehow uglier than the pimply and bruised nymphets we see pumping away on a futon lit by a desk lamp. Phyllis Diller looks like a sagging skin road map with all the major highways marked in varicose veins and red creases, and Don Rickles looks more and more like a pimple the closer he gets to his second century.

Seriously, that looks infected.

The performers in question, for those who haven’t heard about this notorious documentary, are some of the brightest stars in the comedy world and Howie Mandel, who all tell the same legendary dirty joke. The joke isn’t funny, in any way, but between the genteel introduction and the flat, titular punch line lies, in this case, about 87 minutes of absolute filth of the worst kind. And I do mean worst. I like shock humor as much as the next guy who makes a living twisting anti-Semitic slurs into Godzilla reviews, but the endless repetition of the same dirty work tends to be less shocking and more like an annoying younger sibling blowing spit bubbles on your arm in the backseat of your parents car, saying “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you” over and over again until you can’t take it anymore and gouge out his left eye with a Bic ballpoint pen cap and spend the next three years in the Denton County Juvenile Detention Center doing nothing but reading Sight and Sound magazine until you become such a film snob you can’t enjoy anything other than reruns of Cops on TBS. OK. Where was I? Oh, yes, the joke. The repetition of scatological references and descriptions of incestuous sex acts becomes so tiresome that the only real highlights of the film come when the comedians flip your expectations and say something that doesn’t involve fecal matter. This does happen with some regularity, like Wendy Liebeman’s polite spin on the joke, or the weird racial elements that slide in to replace the violent sexuality sometimes, the best instance of which comes from Andy Richter, who manages to make everything all the more shocking by telling the joke to his two year old child. The rest of the film floats by numbly for the most part, though listening to Bob Saget curse is still funny, even years after Dirty Work came out. The rest of it though, is a few bong hits away from being truly genius.

The onyl reason Pauly Shore is famous. Also God hates us.

Actually, that’s a misstatement. This film isn’t about pot humour. Pot humour is all sight gags and references to TV shows from when you were younger and stupider, which roughly approximates the mental state of most pot-heads. Beer humour, on the other hand, revolves around passing gas and the word ‘dick’, putting it slightly below Jackass and above the American Pie series. The Aristocrats, however, is all cocaine comedy, manic and full of enamel chips from teeth ground down to their roots. It’s sweaty, twitchy, and the only state of mind in which Gilbert Gottfried is actually funny, instead of a twisted vision of terror born of the Leprechaun movies and the scene from Jaws when Quint draws his nails across a chalkboard. He even makes Rob Schneider laugh so hard he falls off his chair, which I guess is not surprising, since a dirty joke about fisting is probably the closest Rob Schneider has ever gotten to funny in his miserable life. I miss cocaine comedy. It was big in the seventies, obviously, but it died out with Club 54, leaving a void of low-brow humour based upon jokes aimed at the lowest common denominator, which explains why the Farrelly brothers are so successful. If you’re writing your film so it will make fans of professional wrestling laugh, I don’t want to see it. If the jokes come a mile a minute, however, and require at least a semi-conscious state to appreciate them, then you might have something worth shooting. Just try not to film it on a Camcorder.


Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Why do you think the editing was shoddy? I thought the film flowed rather well.

4:29 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

No, you're right, the film flowed well, or rather, as well as it could. My problem was the structure. The thing was clearly shot with no idea of what the final product we be like, other than a bunch of comedians saying 'fuck', so the movie is limp and structure less. There's a bit of a rough introduction, then no build and no conclusion. There's a bit of an interesting big that centres around Bob Saget, but other than that, it's formless. Which is a shame, because the beauty of the joke is that it seems like just a bunch of profanity, but when you really analyze it, each comedian (or the good ones at least) inject a structure, or a build, or a twist, or some sort of writerly flourish, to distinguish themselves from the pact. The editors did as best they could, I imagine, but the lack of structure really hurts the film. As you can see, that took way too long to say, so I just wrote that the editing sucks so I could get back to making fun of Rob Schneider.

7:07 p.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

Hey "ash" can I link you?

I dig your stuff, and I love/hate movies.

What's the sternum tattoo?
It's not a "smiley-face" is it?
I'll lose all respect for you if it's someting stupid.

Well....maybe if it's REALLY stupid I might GAIN respect for you.

1:37 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Sweet Jesus please do. I have exactly two readers, and I'm pretty sure they're both getting sick of me. I shall, of course, return the favor, because your site is angry and funny.

As for the tattoo, don't worry, it's almost cataclysmically stupid. How do I say it's an enormous pentagram without sounding like a Marilyn Manson freak gone batty from waiting three days in the rain outside a bookstore for the latest Vampire Lestat novel to come out? Ah, fuck it. It's a smiley face. There's a actually a picture somewhere on this site where you can kind of see it, maybe in the Rock School review, if you're interested in seeing me with my shirt off. Hope you come back after.

2:47 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sooooo gay.

4:40 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Jesus, Derek, don't you anything better to do at work?

4:45 p.m.  
Anonymous Jody Tresidder said...

"There's a bit of an interesting big that centres around Bob Saget, but other than that, it's formless. Which is a shame, because the beauty of the joke is that it seems like just a bunch of profanity, but when you really analyze it, each comedian (or the good ones at least) inject a structure, or a build, or a twist, or some sort of writerly flourish, to distinguish themselves from the pact"
A snippy but generally admiring comment based on your quote above. You complain about the lack of structure but state that "when you really analyze it" the discrete spins in each retelling are apparent. So doesn't that imply a higher level of editing artifice than you are willing to admit? That it wasn't quite the free-for-all smorgasbord you mark up as a flaw? (Overstating your position here for simplicity). Not sure I could make a thesis out of this, but I thought at the time that the pacing and selection of the clips was at least an argument for Intelligent Design. As it were.

8:59 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Ha! I wish I'd written that Intelligent Design bit. What I was referring to is that their's great craft and structure within each clip, which is due to the talent of the comedians, but that the general structure of the piece felt sort of thrown together. There was a flow, to be sure, but not one that indicated either God or a talented editor.

9:48 a.m.  
Blogger batturtle said...

I liked the part where the cats sang.

11:15 p.m.  
Anonymous ash karreau said...


11:07 a.m.  

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