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Overall Rating

Awesome: 25.53%
Worth A Look55.32%
Average: 12.77%
Pretty Bad: 2.13%
Total Crap: 4.26%

5 reviews, 17 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"The anatomy of a word."
4 stars

It begins with a voiceless labiodental fricative, like a whisper, like someone trying to get into your pants. That's followed by an almost sexual near-open central vowel. And it's sealed with the brusque finality of the unaspirated voiceless velar plosive. Beautiful, isn't it? Ffffffff ... uhhhh ... cccckkkkk.

So there's a whole movie about it, unsurprisingly named after it, and there's a good deal of amusement to be had from knowing that people like Alan Keyes, Michael Medved, Pat Boone, Judith "Miss Manners" Martin, and various other prissy cultural watchdogs had to go home and tell their significant others what they did that day: "Oh, I was interviewed for this new documentary called..." Well, of course they wouldn't say it.

Many others do. Billy Connolly enunciates it with guttural relish, claiming it as the first word ever to emerge from the primordial slime. Alanis Morissette tosses it off casually. Kevin Smith talks about saying it in front of his daughter (and the film uses examples from two of his flicks). The word is heard in one form or another more than 800 times in 90 minutes, and after a while it becomes abstract. Then again, if you're going to be horrified by hearing it that many times, chances are you're not watching this movie.

This isn't really a documentary so much as a celebration of one word's power to twist people in knots. Lenny Bruce is represented as the guru of free dirty speech; George Carlin rates a segment devoted to his act, particularly the iconic "Seven Dirty Words" bit, but oddly he doesn't participate in the documentary proper (perhaps because, in the clips of him in concert, he says pretty much everything he has to say on the matter). The word has a long lineage, and Drew Carey pretty much nails it when he says it's a word only the lower-class people use you know, those people. Permutations of it arose from the ghetto, adopted widely by soldiers in various wars and then brought home, like shrapnel lodged in their vocabularies. Carey and other commentators like Ice-T and Chuck D. make the case that objection to the word can be classist and racist. And of course women aren't supposed to say it so you've got sexism in there as well. If not for Lenny Bruce there wouldn't be The Vagina Monologues (excuse me, The Hoo-Haa Monologues).

The movie traces the slow insinuation of street language into prime time; Steven Bochco talks about the frank vocab in NYPD Blue (I always pegged Bochco as someone who was all about what he could get away with, though), and David Milch defends the incessant cussing on Deadwood as a signifier that the usual rules don't apply here. (What he doesn't say is that nobody actually talked like that in the Wild West; they stuck to "blasphemous" things like, y'know, taking the Lord's name in vain, but Milch had to find an equivalent to make the point that the outbursts of those outlaws, considered quaint today, would've been foul and shocking back then hence the hammering use of modern profanity. Janeane Garofalo by the way, she's looking alarmingly skinny these days amuses with her yeah-whatever response to Deadwood's verbal violence: "You're not TV, you're HBO, okay, we get it.")

Is the word destructive or creative? The movie clearly falls on the free-speech side. If you go after Larry Flynt, you go after all of us; that was Flynt's argument when Jerry Falwell tried to take him to the cleaners. Well, the movie makes the case that this word is the Larry Flynt of the English language. You may not like it, you may not say it, you may actually be a little tired of hearing it used in movies out of sheer laziness (if you're going to cuss, do it with style and a point), but if it gets banished, what word is next? The culture has coarsened quite a bit over the last forty years, and, as with everything else, sometimes it's liberating and fun, and sometimes it's just coarse junk.

The movie favors expression over repression, suppression, and oppression. It's an easy position to take, and again the only people likely to watch the film are those predisposed to agree with it. That's what makes the movie fun for the converted but not, I think, as important as it would like to be. Besides, in a world where our president and vice-president use the word freely, and practice it figuratively on our country and others, there are bigger fish to fry.

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originally posted: 03/24/07 14:14:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 San Francisco Independent Film Festival For more in the 2006 San Francisco Independent Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2006 Florida Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

4/03/12 Fuck Don't wear it out boys. 4 stars
5/06/09 encorespanish Not much of a documentary, but funny nevertheless 4 stars
12/06/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome Film. 5 stars
9/18/08 jbnpro This is the real thing! 5 stars
11/01/07 Total Crap How can you go wrong with a movie title like that? 4 stars
3/11/07 Ryan_A Surprisingly thoughtful and funny. 4 stars
2/03/07 Lawrence Skarin The word is not to be avoided but shouldn't be overused. Janeann Garofalo said it best. 4 stars
12/10/06 David Pollastrini I like the title 4 stars
11/20/06 aaron spitz hilarious. There is one particular scene that is truly mind blowingly funny!! 5 stars
11/20/06 michael worth checking out 4 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Milks an awful lot out of a single word, to moderate effect. 4 stars
6/26/06 David S. if I was 12 I might have liked it 2 stars
5/30/06 mukhtiyar lubnag 5 stars
4/28/06 David Kleane Not my thing at all. Is this what docs have become? Sad. 1 stars
4/01/06 poo poo 1 stars
2/16/06 Rob Rodrigue Awesome and obscene 5 stars
2/10/06 Roger Andrews The best, funniest doc in years 5 stars
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  DVD: 13-Feb-2007



Directed by
  Steve Anderson

Written by

  Steven Bochco
  Pat Boone
  Drew Carey
  Billy Connolly
  Chuck D.
  Janeane Garofalo

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