There’s no going back. After decades of incensed debate over the socio-linguistic value or the noxious ills of everyone’s favourite expletive, “fuck” has now achieved a permanent place in our everyday lexicon. As vocabularies shrink and sentence lengths contract, the word has become a conversational cure-all, a word to throw in whenever we get lost. It’s peppered throughout our movies, cable TV and video games. It is even slowly gaining acceptance in that most conservative of mediums, the newspaper. You can’t walk down the street (regardless of what neighbourhood you’re in) without hearing it. It’s on the tip of my tongue whether I’m frustrated or exhilarated. “Fuck” has arrived.
When I initially heard about Chris Anderson’s documentary, Fuck, I had high hopes. If done right, a doc examining what the expletive means today—and what it says about us and our language given the way we use it—would have been very welcome indeed. Unfortunately, Anderson’s film, as funny as it is, seems content to deal with the debate around “fuck” as though we were still in the late ’70s.
Anderson solicits comment from everyone from Billy Connolly, Drew Carey, Ice T, Bill Maher and the late Hunter S. Thompson (to whom the film is dedicated) to their adversaries in the great culture war: Alan Keyes, Michael Medved and Pat Boone. Anderson then cuts between interview segments so as to give the ridiculous impression that these folks are actually debating each other (at one point, the film’s editing suggests that that “Miss Manners” columnist Judith Mathers has torn her microphone off and walked out in response to comments made by runty porn star Ron Jeremy). While the effect is often humorous, it’s clearly manipulative. Moreover, it makes us wish that Anderson had really assembled his “experts” in the same room, so that we could witness them genuinely slinging oaths at each other.
While the film does a decent job of providing the history of the expletive in question, it never really brings us to the present day. Too much of it seems like an ode to the likes of free-speaking George Carlin and Lenny Bruce. I’m not suggesting these comics don’t deserve any laurels, but we’ve heard all this before. A frank look at “fuck” requires more than an extended argument over free speech. Late in the game, Anderson briefly discusses the word’s incursions into the executive branch of US government: the “fucks” batted about by the likes of Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Dick Cheney. His point—”See, you idiotic, fuck-quashing critics, even they say it!”—is not quite enough, however.
But maybe the doc (or book) that I’m waiting for needs more time to brew. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a laugh—and not a lot of thinking—Fuck is worth checking out. The Bill Plympton animated sequences that tie the film together are worth the price of admission alone.
Fuck opens on Dec. 1 at the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor St. W.).
For the little ones, this month’s Sprockets’ selection is German director Peter Trimm’s My Brother is a Dog. This delightful little flick tells the story of Marietta, a young girl with an obnoxious younger brother and quarreling granola-crunching parents. Mom sells clothes and trinkets to support their African foster child while Dad slaves away at improving the aerodynamics on his eco-car. What Marietta wants more than anything is a dog. She hordes her pocket change, but her parents refuse to let such a fleabag anywhere near the house. On her birthday, a package arrives from her foster brother. Marietta frantically peels back the wrapping to find only a rock. This rock, however, has magical powers. If you rub it just the right way, it will grant your deepest wish. When Marietta wishes for a dog, she could never have imagined that the lovable little Westie that appears at her door is her metamorphosed brat of a brother. Luckily, her parents are away and she’s able to convince her gullible, authoritarian grandmother that the rascal has gone with them. But what’s gonna happen when they get back? Though the film can’t possibly compete with the visuals on display in big budget American films of a similar ilk, My Brother is a Dog more than compensates for its cheap aesthetics with several spoonfuls of charm.
My Brother is a Dog screens as part of the Sprockets Globetrotter Series (Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Centre Grande Cinema, 4861 Yonge St.) on Dec. 3 at 12:30 p.m.