Flickhead
DVD Review
By Ray Young

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F U C K

A documentary by Steve Anderson

With Drew Carey, Billy Connolly, Janeane Garofalo, Sam Donaldson, Ron Jeremy, Bill Maher, Tera Patrick, Alanis Morissette, Kevin Smith, Hunter S. Thompson, Ice-T, Pat Boone, Alan Keyes, Benjamin Bradlee. 93 minutes. Released by THINKFilm in 2006.

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    In 2005, THINKFilm released The Aristocrats, an exploration of an archaic but potentially effective blue joke. It was received as either engaging hilarity or repetitious vulgarity depending on one’s view. The company now offers what must be a publicist’s worst nightmare, a provocative and funny documentary titled Fuck. Yes, Fuck, pure and simple, and already it goes by several alternates: F*ck, Fu*k, and F**k, with **** plastered across the most cautious marquees—imagine the unsuspecting viewer who thinks that’s a star rating instead of a title. Whether by design or not, both of these films hold a mirror up to evolving trends in entertainment and our varying interpretations of humor.
    Fuck producer/director Steve Anderson interviews a cross section of scholars, journalists, entertainers and people on the street to survey what Bill Maher calls “the ultimate bad word.” A noun, verb and part-time adjective, fuck has survived the ages, though nobody seems to know when or where it began. (“Brooklyn!” claims musician/porn star Evan Seinfeld.) Anderson tiptoes down that long and winding path, with the help of historians who trace it back to Robert Burns’s poem, “Merry Muses” (written in the late 1700s, “You can f--k where’er you please”), and the anonymous verse “Flen Flyys” (dating back to 1475 it reads, “They are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of Ely”). Comedian Billy Connolly simply points to the beginning of time: was fuck the first word grunted at the dawn of civilization?
    There’s a lot of water under the bridge from Robert Burns to George W. Bush, and Fuck is chiefly concerned with the reactions and definitions of a country sharply divided in a Civil War over words, ethics and morality. It broaches the principles of the political right, whose stringent fear tactics have often been based on a jaundiced perception of cleanliness and Christianity. Interviewed in the film shortly before his death, Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson notes that George W. Bush makes Richard Nixon appear like a liberal by comparison, and part of the new right’s rigid conformity is an intolerance for fuck and other verbal no-nos. This, despite the President himself gleefully flipping the bird to television cameras, or Vice President Dick Cheney telling Patrick Leahy to “go fuck yourself ” right on the Senate floor.

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Would you buy a used car from this man?
(To watch the video, click here.)

    Such things make it easy to ridicule the right’s pompous and self-serving ambiguity, if not the sanitized idealism they preach in a world riddled with corruption and violence—a lot of it of their own making. Conservative extremists Dennis Prager and Alan Keyes are here to justify fuck as it rolls off the tongues of their preferred leaders (bullying role models for the young and impressionable), but otherwise remain opposed to it in public or the home. Is fuck only appropriate for the arrogant and moneyed elite? Prager reflects back on a time when the person who “cursed publicly was considered a lowlife,” opening the floor for a discussion on America’s insidious class problem (a topic kept carefully at bay by a corporate-funded media), the upper, the lower and the systematic division of the middle. Anderson doesn’t delve too deeply into this arena, as it’s a broad subject worthy of its own movie.
    He does, however, take a glimpse at the conditions levied on freedom of speech, and the efforts made over the years to suppress and ban offensive language, primarily on radio and television—back to Lenny Bruce, who was incarcerated for exercising his First Amendment rights in a nightclub act. Of course, what constitutes ‘offensive’ is in the mind of the beholder. It’s only been within the last twenty years that the safety of “the children” has been a nagging, overbearing concern for dubious associations such as the Parents Television Council, one of several “faith-based” organizations of fascists who’ve challenged networks, record labels and film studios. Prior to the mid-1980s, one rarely heard a peep from such groups, and Fuck reports the fines issued by the Federal Communications Commission who willingly kowtow to their whims, in dollar amounts that have taken an unprecedented rise throughout the Bu$h Administration.

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“…And what’s all this shit
about children nowadays?
‘Save the children!’
‘Help the children!’
‘What about the children?’
Well you know what I say?
FUCK the children!
Fuck ‘em!
They get entirely too much attention already.”
—George Carlin,
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    Can the word taint innocent minds? Is fuck another of history’s ongoing metaphors for Eve’s apple? Are concerned citizens attempting to forestall their children’s inevitable transformation into becoming…them? Does lofty morality stem from self-loathing? Movie reviewer and social commentator Michael Medved relates the debacle of Meet the Fockers (2004): the oily arbiter of decency had to utter that title, not only on national TV but to his kids to boot, albeit through the feeble camouflage of an alternate vowel. An otherwise average contemporary comedy (co-starring Barbra Streisand as Mother Focker), Meet the Fockers took in more than half of its cost on opening weekend alone, mostly on the power of that title, a clear indication that a lot of Americans are growing bored with the right’s high-minded virtue.
    How does a word like fuck puncture such integrity? Anderson elaborates on its sexual definition(s), comparing the puritan’s sacred act of copulation between husband and wife (“making love” for procreation), with the more base form of, well, fucking. A striking beauty in the adult film industry, Tera Patrick explains the rudimentary differences and makes a case for fucking as rougher, hotter and ultimately more satisfying and fun.
    Should fuck offend? To this writer’s way of thinking, there ought to be a handful of words in any language to accentuate moments of acute stress and anger. The problem we face today has less to do with the individual words than with their overuse in mainstream media: they lose their power when heard loudly and repeatedly. Janeane Garofalo remarks on the HBO series, Deadwood and its countless uses of fuck; soon the word becomes less an instrument for realism than a tedious distraction.
    Prior to Fuck, Steve Anderson directed The Big Empty (2003), an existential shaggy dog story concerned with the cohabitation of ordinariness with exotic dreams. In both films he seems intrigued by the subtle prods of fate which occasionally disrupt the everyday routine. Ignored or misunderstood upon its release, The Big Empty has a delicate grasp of irony and an awareness of the dark humor that can be found within alienation and isolation. Perhaps it’s the same brand of humor that enables some people to appreciate the various nuances of fuck and fucking, and separates them from the ones who take all of this shit way too seriously.

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The tricky job of advertising Fuck (click images to enlarge):

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