2006, NR, 90 min. Directed by Steve Anderson.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 1, 2006
Like the very word on which this documentary sheds light, F*ck is all over the place – sometimes a verb, sometimes a noun, adjective, or expletive, a word with fascinating ramifications in the realms of history, culture, politics, religion, and linguistics. Anderson's documentary attempts to marshall the far-flung uses, abuses, excuses, and muses of this loaded word, and present his findings for our edification. Some viewers are bound to find his film a means to cheap exploitation, titillation, or gratuitous smut. Be advised, this film is not for those who are offended by the word "fuck": This profanity is uttered more than 800 times throughout the course of the film. However, everyone else is likely to take away some revelatory nuggets of historical information, cultural perspective, and political ammunition. Commentators as varied as Hunter S. Thompson, Miss Manners, Steven Bochco, Sam Donaldson, Bill Maher, Alan Keyes, Kevin Smith, Pat Boone, Ice-T, Alanis Morissette, various linguistics scholars, and many more, weigh in with their thoughts on the subject. Some, obviously, are more enlightening or entertaining than others. Deft editing frequently creates the illusion that one speaker is responding to the comments of another – as when it appears as though Judith Martin (Miss Manners) has taken off her microphone and walked off in response to something said by porn star Ron Jeremy. The "profaners" definitely outnumber the "prudes," who nevertheless maintain a good-natured attitude toward the film. Animated sequences by Bill Plympton also help keep the presentation lively, as does footage of the patron saints of profanity's freedom of expression: Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. F*ck divides its survey into sections which examine the word's impact in various segments of our culture. The organization ebbs and flows in its content and focus, and viewer interest is likely to wax and wane in response. Anderson's sections on politics and movies are the strongest. He shows the distance our culture has traveled from the first use of the word in a Hollywood studio film in 1970 in MASH to its use 182 times in Scarface just 13 years later. By 2001, Kevin Smith can brag of using the word 228 times in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, while HBO's Deadwood can count 861 mentions in its first season. F*ck works best when it directs its focus to the hypocrisies engendered by the word: the prevalence of near-smut titles such as Meet the Fockers and Fuddruckers restaurant chain, and the inconsistencies of the Federal Communications Commission rulings and its former chief Michael Powell. F*ck manages to strip some of the mystique from the forbidden word, and in the end, despite some road bumps, is a satisfying f*lm. (Plays Monday-Wednesday only.)