RECENTLY RATED MOVIES #15 & THE ARISTOCRATS

As I mentioned a couple days ago, I have watched The Aristocrats thrice over the past month. Now, most people would hear a statement like that, and with the barest knowledge of information regarding the film's subject matter: that is, the delineation, history and constant retelling of a very old, very worn-out joke of vaudevillian origins and disgusting comportment, one would guess that I found the movie amazingly hilarious. Well... no. Honestly, I didn't laugh a whole lot during the film, and especially not at the sections dealing with the telling of the joke, wherein a father goes to a talent agent, tells them that he has the most amazing family act, proceeds to outline to the agent the disgusting lengths that the family goes to impress the audience, all of it involving every form of bodily excretion, incestuous sexual combination and orifice prop insertion imaginable, and then tells the agent the name of the act, which, in most versions, turns out to be "The Aristocrats". Stunned silence? It's not that great a joke. On the surface.

The truth of the matter, while the film is so in your face with its outrageousness, most of the tellings of the joke by comedians both famous and infamous end up kind of flat, because the joke is really a sort of "you had to be there" experience. And the place you had to be is backstage at a comedy club, or the back room at Sardi's, or on the road with a group of riffing comedians taking a swing at stand-up's version of a jazz standard, blues jam, or tap dance challenge. It's an inside joke, or rather, a backstage joke, and whether comedians deny they know the joke or not, they all do, and with feigned reluctance on the part of some, they will then launch into a joke detailing the places where a crap-encrusted tampon should not go on a family member.

Now that I think about it, this film was hilarious; just not in the ways I expected, and not in the "laugh out loud" way. What is fascinating about the film is the way in which you get an idea of the true breadth of style in stand-up comedy. What is amazing is the sheer variety of ways that a person can tell the same joke, with each one adding their own unique personal style to the affair. The expectedly graphic and sadistic manner that you expect George Carlin to tell the joke is not the same as the rambling way Jake Johannsen tells it is not the same as the stuttering, almost apologetic way that Paul Reiser tells is not the same way that... well, you get it. And it's certainly not the same way that the street mime, in full view of an ignoring crowd, enacts every horrible act on a boardwalk. Or the way the ventriloquist keeps messing up the joke, so his dummy reprimands him with increasingly vulgar insults and tells the joke properly. Or the way Tim Conway tells the joke in a very clean fashion (his "old man" character falls asleep at the beginning after taking five minutes to walk towards the camera). Or the way... oh, see it for yourself.

Now, despite my reputation for saying the worst things at totally inappropriate times, on purpose and often for shock value (no sacred cows in my world, up to and including sacred cows), and despite the fact that I am the first and most unswervable proponent of the First Amendment, I need to make something clear here: just because you have the right to say unbelievably filthy words, doesn't mean that you should necessarily say those filthy words. Like many people, I can swear up a storm, but ideally, I like to pick and choose my moments. I like to say things when they are going to get the most impact. A few friends and colleagues are shocked by how "clean" my blogs have turned out to be (though some may have noticed that I did quote from Darkman yesterday, and that the quote describes something your father is saying to your mom right now. Yes, especially is she is dead...) This is out of choice, and the fact that I am writing for myself, and while decorum is not the standard here, it is just the way things are. Besides, I yell the "C-word" out loud between each and every paragraph...

Here in The Aristocrats, though, there is no valve that switches the blue language off and on, and if there is, it is obviously in need of some loving from some WD-40, because it's decidedly stuck in the on position. There are jokes that you share with everyone in your life: people at work by the water cooler, people at the bus stop, neighbors,whatever; and there are jokes that you share only with friends, people that you are secure enough with to be able to let loose and rip out whatever lame, filthy, disgusting joke and know that it is, most likely, given the circumstances, gonna kill. "The Aristocrats" is one of those jokes: a backstage between-the-comedians construct used to test the limits of other comedians, a jazz riff for the potty-mouthed. And in this film, we are given a look into that weird, backstage world; we are taken behind the scenes of bars, clubs, restaurants, and sometimes into the homes of the comedians themselves. Onstage, where the joke is perpertrated very rarely, it decidedly does not kill. But backstage? Half of them deny the power of this "awful" shaggy dog joke, but they all have a version of it lurking in the wings, ready to pounce, full of excretion, eager to burst upon the unsuspecting and willing alike.

Just be warned: if you are at all insulted by ANYTHING IN THE WORLD, you will find it in this movie. If you are sensitive to dead baby jokes, this movie is not for you. If you are even a smidgeon of what I like to call "a pussy", you will not be able to get through this film. Now, when I told this caveat to my co-workers, all of them very nice, seemingly normal people, the general reaction was "What? I've gotta see that!"

Which is precisely the reaction for which I hoped. My evil work continues unabated...

The List:
V for Vendetta (2006) - 7; The Aristocrats (2005) (DVD) - 7; Thank You For Smoking (2006) - 7; Mammoth (2005) (Sci-Fi Channel) - 4; The Invisible Boy (1957) (TCM) - 5; Mule Skinner Blues (2001) (Sundance) - 6; The Odyssey (1997) (Sci-Fi Channel) - 6; Jason and the Argonauts (2002) (Sci-Fi Channel) - 6; Shallow Grave (1994) (IFC) - 7.

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