The Aristocrats (2005)
Audio Commentary-by Paul Provensza and Penn Jillette
Featurette-More from the comedians
Featurette-For Johnny Carson
Featurette-Behind the Green Door : Comedians Tell Us Some of their Favo
Featurette-"Be an Aristocrat" Contest Winner
|Year Of Production||2005|
|Running Time||84:47 (Case: 89)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Paul Provenza|
Magna Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Hollywood is capable of producing a one-joke movie.
What is surprising is that The Aristocrats is not a one-joke movie but a movie about one joke. Even more surprising is that it is a joke very few people have ever heard. If you consider yourself a comedy buff but haven't heard of it don't be embarrassed - the Aristocrats joke is an insider gag known only to comedians.
To explain - the Aristocrats joke is a joke comedians sometimes tell when they are amongst their own. Like a rap battle it is a competitive joke-sport with the winner being the one who can out-laugh and often out-gross the competition.
The joke is actually not a joke. The beginning and the end are pretty much standard. A man and his wife (sometimes their family and often the pet dog!) walk into a talent agency asking if he will manage their act. Fighting the agents indifference the family proceed to present the act. At the end the stunned talent agent says : that was amazing - what do you call it? The man says "The Aristocrats!" and the joke ends.
It is in the middle that the improvisation and genius occurs. The Aristocrats, the movie, is not so much about the joke itself but about the telling of the joke and the nature of comedy and comedians. The movie is a documentary with no narration and 100 different comedians talking about the joke and telling parts of it. Of course, the ending is only funny as an ironic counterpoint to the foulness that proceeded it. The film is rated R for good reason (leaving out the debate about whether kids need to be protected from swearing more than violence) as the joke traditionally includes all combinations of the most bestial acts known ( and some unknown!) to man.
The comedians on show here, including Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Drew Carey, Bob Saget, Paul Reiser and a host of stand up legends, delight in the profanity of the joke and even the broadminded may feel compelled to take offence at some point. My wife stormed out of the room after 5 minutes saying "This is not funny!" . "It's not supposed to be funny" I yelled after her, wondering if I was right.
As the documentary progresses the comedians muse on whether the standards of acceptable discussion have changed so much that the joke has lost the power to offend. Each comedian gets a chance to throw a few lines of the joke around and some get to tell it in full - well, sort of. There is a scary mime version, a card trick version, a physical comedy version and even a live version or two.
The standout is a live version from the Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner in 2001, held only a few weeks after the September 11 tragedy. The house was difficult to get laughing that night. Even Rob Schneider hit the rocks. Gilbert Gottfried, the "comedians comedian", stepped up to the mike and drew boos when he made a joke about his plane being routed through the Empire State Building. Dead on his feet Gottfried pulled out the Aristocrats joke and had them rolling in the aisles. It remains a legendary moment in comedy.
The film is funny in parts although it would be a mistake to consider it a gross out movie. Even though the language and descriptions are appalling the movie tells us more about the nature of comedy and those who practice it than it strikes for the funny bone. After all, being reliant entirely on mood and performance, the Aristocrats joke is the ultimate "had to be there" moment.
Interestingly, what will stay with you is probably the thought of the joke - that secret giggle when you think what will happen next time you are in a group of people and someone tells a lame joke. After a moments pause consider saying " I have a joke. A family walks into a talent agency ..."!!!
The Aristocrats is presented on DVD in a 4x3 full frame presentation. IMDB and other sources suggest that the film was originally shot in 1.85:1 and the Region 2 UK version has a 16x9 enhanced presentation. I can't really imagine why as the whole film consists of tight close-ups and midrange shots of the comedians. There is really no need to have any further information in the frame. In the directors commentary Penn Jillette mentions how much work went into fixing up the raw video footage in the film. He also says how he was sacked as a cameraman after recording some of the footage and draws attention to his failings in a few scenes.
This is a raw documentary which is really suited for the small screen. It was filmed over the course of a few years so the quality and look of the footage varies considerably. What is consistent is the presence of video noise although the precise amount does vary. THere is also a good deal of aliasing.
The film is not about beautiful images which is just as well because there aren't any. The flesh tones vary from shiny to sickly but there are no artefacts in the film.
The Aristocrats has a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix running at 448 Kb/s. Sound for the film is adequate because it is all spoken word.
There is no music nor is there any voice-over narration. The voices are clear and easy to understand. The audio sync is fine.
The surround sound encoding is unnecessary and rarely used.
|Surround Channel Use|
The opening menu is pretty special, although it does tend to grate after a while. The screen consists of a wall of paintings each featuring a different comedian speaking about the joke or giving a monologue. It only grates because after seeing the same joke 5 times over you want to get things moving!
The audio commentary is a pretty interesting affair as both men give the viewer a bit of background to the comedians. Sometimes it is as funny as the film itself as they describe the way the film was put together. What is foremost, however, is the respect they have for the assembled comics not just for their funniness but more for their abilities to approach humour in a variety of ways.
Essentially this is the major interviews that became incorporated into the movie. It is an enjoyable insight into about 20 of the artists. There is nothing particularly startling here although it does give a better idea of the nature of the various comics. It is also the only place to see Terry Gilliam , who was interviewed for the film but, as the narrator reveals in a voice over, was recorded silent. It is also one of the last places to see Richard Jeni who took his own life a week ago as he constantly (deliberately) messes up the joke.
This is a brief tribute to Johnny Carson the mentor of so many comics, who died before the film was released.
Some of these jokes have been told before but there were a few laugh out loud moments including the Bavarian Cream Cake gag.
This is a montage of comics doing a group aristocrats joke. Fun to watch once.
This features two amateur winners of a contest to tell the joke. The winner, Flapjack, is one seriously messed up dude. Wearing tails and Mickey Mouse gloves as well as KISS make-up he tells variants of the joke to unsuspecting young people. Although weird he is actually pretty funny and this rough video is definitely worth a watch.
The animation winner of the joke contest is a short violent take on the joke.
The Aristocrats trailer is quite cute. It has various comedians cut just short of saying something offensive.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 2 version has an 1.85:1 transfer which is 16x9 enhanced although the extras are edited. For example the Bob Saget piece is a full 10 minutes shorter on the UK release. If you are watching on a big screen the widescreen version would be preferable but I do think that this film lends itself to small screen viewing.
The Aristocrats is a bit like a documentary about a nudist colony. The dirty bits may get you in but the quality of the film is what will keep you watching.
The transfer reflects the average quality of the original footage.
The extras are lengthy and interesting.
|DVD||Pioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output|
|Display||Panasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Onkyo TX - SR603|
|Speakers||Onkyo 6.1 Surround|