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Friday, Nov. 2, 2007
Rhymes with duck
There's a great scene in "The Big Lebowski" where Sam Elliott leans over a bar counter next to Jeff Bridges and asks: "Just one thing, Dude. Do you have to use s'many cuss words?" To which The Dude replies, "What the f**k are you talkin' about, man?" That was but one of 281 times the F-word was used in that film, a pace only rivaled by "Pulp Fiction," which also clocks in at 281.
Those figures sound remarkable until you stop and think about the fact that people actually talk like that in the States — unless they're religious or running for public office. How exactly did the F-word, ahem, penetrate our speech patterns and become the intensifier of choice?
Well, along comes a new documentary — called, simply, "F**k" — to examine the origins and usage of one of the most common verbs and adjectives in English. There's Bill Maher, of the TV program "Politically Incorrect," saying "it's so good to say it, it feels so good coming out of your mouth," and you'll get no better explanation over the course of this film.
So why the f**k (excuse me) should you go see this flick? Well, for one, where else will you find a movie that cuts between goody two-shoes 1950s entertainer Pat Boone and original gangsta rapper Ice-T? Pat Boone, offering a Christian alternative to the oh-so-useful phrase "go f**k yourself," suggests we should all try, "would you please impregnate yourself as you exit?" (Ice T, well, I'd just love to hear this on his next record.)
This is a playful doc, and you will find yourself laughing a lot, even if the entire affair seems rather pointless. Director Steve Anderson has assembled a huge cast of characters to pontificate — everyone from the late Hunter S. Thompson to Judith "Miss Manners" Martin, from porn star Tera Patrick to conservative talk-show host Alan Keyes. He's also got a lot of clips to document the emergence of the F-word in modern America. There's comedian Lenny Bruce, of course, whose filthy monologues in the '50s were groundbreaking and quite illegal, and landed him in jail. Others took up the cause, however, and we see comedian George Carlin's classic "Seven Words You Can't Say On T.V." routine, and finally Eddie Murphy, by which time all taboos have disappeared.
The film is adept at picking up on certain critical cultural points in time: Country Joe & The Fish at Woodstock, yelling "Gimme an 'F.' Gimme a "U,' " or Robert Altman's "M.A.S.H." being the first film ever to feature the F-word in its dialogue. And yet it seems to drift into other subjects just to fill out its running time: the controversy over Janet Jackson's bared nipple at the Super Bowl in 2005 seems to have little relation to the subject at hand, though the film does try halfheartedly to relate the struggle over swear words and censorship to the wider cultural wars over obscenity.
Some of the doc's tangents are just mystifying, though: An entire segment is spent explaining that the word does not stand for "Fornication Under Command of the King." Having never heard of that in my life, I thought it was just me, so I asked a bunch of North American friends — not one had heard of it.
More informative is a lesson on the many grammatical uses this all-purpose wonder word has, ending with that marvelous adjective "fugly." Essential viewing for any of this paper's Japanese readers who've ever wanted to truly understand a Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino film.