ⓘ Fuck (film)
Fuck is a 2005 American documentary film by director Steve Anderson about the word "fuck". The film argues that the word is an integral part of societal discussions about freedom of speech and censorship. It examines the term from perspectives which include art, linguistics, society and comedy, and begins with a segment from the 1965 propaganda film Perversion for Profit. Scholars and celebrities analyze perceptions of the word from differing perspectives. Journalist Sam Donaldson talks about the versatility of the word, and comedian Billy Connolly states it can be understood despite ones language or location. Musician Alanis Morissette comments that the word contains power because of its taboo nature. The film features the last recorded interview of author Hunter S. Thompson before his suicide. Scholars, including linguist Reinhold Aman, journalism analyst David Shaw and Oxford English Dictionary editor Jesse Sheidlower, explain the history and evolution of the word. Language professor Geoffrey Nunberg observes that the words treatment by society reflects changes in our culture during the 20th century.
Anderson was exposed to public conceptions surrounding the word "fuck" by comedian George Carlins monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". He named the film Fuck despite anticipating problems with marketing. Animator Bill Plympton provided sequences illustrating key concepts in the film. The documentary was first shown at the AFI Film Festival on November 7, 2005, at ArcLight Hollywood in Hollywood.
Fuck s reviews were generally mixed. Film critic A. O. Scott called the documentary a battle between advocates of morality and supporters of freedom of expression. The Washington Post and the New York Daily News criticized its length and other reviewers disliked its repetitiveness – the word "fuck" is used 857 times in the film. In his 2009 book Fuck: Word Taboo and Protecting Our First Amendment Liberties, law professor Christopher M. Fairman called the movie "the most important film using fuck".
1. Content summary
Fuck begins with a segment from the 1965 propaganda film Perversion for Profit, followed by a clip from SpongeBob SquarePants specifically, from the episode "Sailor Mouth" which states that the word can be used as a "sentence enhancer". The documentary includes commentary from film and television writers Kevin Smith and Steven Bochco; comedians Janeane Garofalo, Bill Maher, Drew Carey and Billy Connolly; musicians Chuck D, Alanis Morissette and Ice-T; political commentators Alan Keyes and Pat Boone; and journalists and Judith Martin. The word "fuck" is used 857 times during the film.
Scholarly analysis is provided by Maledicta publisher Reinhold Aman, journalism analyst David Shaw and Oxford English Dictionary editor Jesse Sheidlower. Language professor Geoffrey Nunberg says, "You could think of that as standing in for most of the changes that happened in the 20th century, at least many of the important ones".
The film next features author Hunter S. Thompson in his final documented interview. Fuck later includes archival footage of comedians Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, and analysis of the words use in popular culture, from MASH 1970 to Scarface 1983 and Clerks 1994. Carlins 1972 monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" is excerpted in the film. Journalist Sam Donaldson comments on the versatility of "fuck": "Its one of those all-purpose words." Bill Maher comments, "Its the ultimate bad word", observing that thanks to Lenny Bruce, comedy clubs have become "the freest free-speech zone" in the United States.
Connolly states that "fuck" "sounds exactly like what it is", noting that the emotional impact of saying "fuck off" cannot be translated. He says that if you are in Lhasa airport and someone is fiddling with your luggage, yelling "fuck off" will effectively communicate that they should stop and leave. Morissette says, "The f-word is special. Everybody uses the word breakfast, but not everyone feels comfortable using the word fuck so theres an extra power behind it." Boone argues for less use of the word, saying that he uses his surname instead. Radio talk show host Dennis Prager says that it is acceptable for youths to hear the word on television and film, but not from their family members. In the film, opponents of the word "fuck" use an argument commonly known as "Think of the children".
Fuck observes that the original use of the word is unknown to scholars, noting that its earliest written appearance was in the 1475 poem "Flen flyys". It was not, as is often claimed, originally an acronym "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" or "Fornication Under Consent of the King". The word has been used by authors including Robert Burns, D. H. Lawrence in his 1928 Lady Chatterleys Lover and James Joyce. The film explains that "fuck" established its current usage during the First and Second World Wars, and was used by General George S. Patton in a speech to his forces who were about to enter France.
Fuck states that the first use of the word in a large-studio film was in M*A*S*H 1970, and it entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1972. That year, the word was also recorded during the Apollo 16 United States mission to land on the Moon. The film includes a segment from the 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles with actor Steve Martin, in which "fuck" is repeated for comedic effect. Fuck states that the most financially successful live action comedy film to date had the suggestive title of Meet the Fockers 2004. The director analyzes the uses and connotations of "fuck" and the feelings it evokes on several levels. Bruce is quoted as saying, "If you cant say fuck, you cant say fuck the government". Steve Anderson argues that "fuck" is an integral part of societal discussions about freedom of speech and censorship.
Fuck includes songs with similarly themed titles, including "Shut Up and Fuck" by American hard rock band Betty Blowtorch, "Fucking Fuck" by Splatpattern and "I Love to Say Fuck" by American horror punk supergroup Murderdolls. Journalist Sam Peczek of Culture Wars compared the films music to that in softcore pornography, and observed that the soundtrack was broad in scope and helped accentuate the films content.
3.1. Production Inspiration
Anderson made his directorial debut in 2003 with the film The Big Empty, starring actors Daryl Hannah and Jon Favreau, and became fascinated by the usage of the word "fuck". In an interview with the Democrat and Chronicle, Anderson suggested he cursed a lot more than he used to after the films production. He decided to research the films topic due to the words versatility and his interest in language as a writer. Early exposure by Anderson to public perception of the word "fuck" came from Class Clown by comedian George Carlin, which included his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television".
The director explained in an interview that he was fascinated with the word "fuck" because of its different uses. He originally proposed the idea of a film about the word in jest, later realizing that the topic could fuel a documentary. The Observer quoted him as saying that he was entertained by the word "fuck", and intrigued with the idea of examining how the word had been incorporated into popular culture. He wanted to analyze why some people were offended by its use and others enjoyed it, noting that the word sharpened debate about taboo language in society.
Anderson explained to the Los Angeles Times the confusing, forbidden nature of the word "fuck" in the face of the increased pervasiveness of euphemisms for it. He commented on its taboo nature and demonstrated how it can be indirectly referred to, so youth understand the reference without using the word itself. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Anderson said that film directors should fight against censorship, because it can block their true message.
The director told CanWest News Service that he hoped the documentary would provoke a wider discussion about freedom of speech, sexual slang and its media use. Anderson questioned whether the word should be used on NYPD Blue, and how parents should discuss its use with their children. He emphasized that artists and filmmakers should be free to express their views without censorship, deferring to public opinion on the appropriateness of his documentarys title.
Anderson stated in an interview with IndieWire that freedom of speech was not guaranteed, but a concept requiring discussion and monitoring so it is not lost. He classified the word "fuck" as being at the core of discussion about freedom of speech. He acknowledged that there are terms considered by society more vulgar than "fuck", but said that this particular word creates controversy and dialogue. Anderson said that its title alone distinguished his documentary from others, in terms of promotional difficulty. During production, Fuck was known as The Untitled F-Word Film.
3.2. Production Title and marketing
In an interview about the film on his website, Anderson discussed problems he encountered in naming his film Fuck instead of a censored version of the word. Anderson always wanted to call it Fuck, because it succinctly described the films contents. There were inherent problems with this approach, including an inability to advertise the true title in mainstream media such as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times they used four asterisks instead, although the real title might be permitted in alternative newspapers such as LA Weekly. Anderson also anticipated problems displaying the films title during film festivals on theatre marquees.
Anderson explained that although the title of his documentary was Fuck, he allowed alternate designations using an asterisk. The film and content he controlled would refer to the title as Fuck, including theatrical and DVD editions. He concluded that his struggle reflected the debate alluded to by the documentary, and this realization motivated him to stand firm on the films title. Because the film is about how a taboo word can impact culture, it was important to keep Fuck as its title.
3.3. Production Filming and distribution
The film features animation by American graphic designer and cartoonist Bill Plympton. To illustrate key concepts, Fuck uses sound bites, music, video clips and archival film footage; Anderson combined excerpts from five television series and twenty-two films in the documentary. The interviews were cut so that different subjects appear to be talking to each other; the interviewees in question generally had opposite views on the subject. The film was unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Rainstorm Entertainment was confirmed in November 2003 to produce and finance the documentary, with production scheduled to begin in January 2004. The film was completed in 2005 by Andersons company, Mudflap Films, and produced by Rainstorm Entertainment co-founders Steven Kaplan and Gregg Daniel, and Bruce Leiserowitz, Jory Weitz and Richard Ardi. Financial assistance was provided by Bad Apple Films of Spokane, Washington.
Thirty-five media commentators were interviewed for the film. Jory Weitz helped obtain interviews; he had cast Andersons previous film, The Big Empty, and had industry credibility as executive producer of Napoleon Dynamite. Anderson said he intended to select interviewees with a variety of perspectives, conservative as well as liberal. He described how, as confirmations of interview subjects came in, he was surprised when Pat Boone was among the first to confirm his participation. Anderson had previously worked as a cameraman on a piece with Boone about eight years before starting work on Fuck. After confirming Boone, Bill Maher and Janeane Garofalo on Fuck, it became easier for Anderson to confirm other interviewees. The film included the final video interview with Hunter S. Thompson before his suicide, and Anderson dedicated it to Thompson for his contributions to journalism.
Distribution rights to Fuck were obtained by THINKFilm in 2006. Movie chains did not use the films title in their promotion, instead using references such as The Four-Letter Word Film. Mark Urman, chief of the theatrical division of THINKFilm, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that it was especially difficult as an independent film distributor to promote a film with a title media outlets did not wish to print. Urman told Variety that the intent of the production staff during promotion was a creative, original marketing campaign. THINKFilm marketed the documentary as a comprehensive, humorous look at the dichotomy between the taboo nature and cultural universality of the word "fuck".
4.1. Reception Release
Fuck was shown for the first time on November 7, 2005, at the American Film Institute Film Festival at the ArcLight Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. On March 10, 2006, interest increased after the opening night of the 20th South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. At the 30th Cleveland International Film Festival, it sold out two screenings which were standing-room only events.
Fuck was featured on March 31 and April 2, 2006, at the Florida Film Festival. It was screened in April 2006 during the Philadelphia Film Festival at Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia. It had its Washington, D.C. premiere in June 2006, and was shown on June 15 at the Nantucket Film Festival.
Fuck opened in Los Angeles on August 23, 2006 and in New York on November 10. It made its Canadian debut at the 2006 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, and began regular showings at the Bloor Cinema on December 1. The documentary began screening at the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago on November 17, 2006. Fuck had two screenings in April 2007 during the Hong Kong International Film Festival in Tsim Sha Tsui. According to a 2011 interview with Anderson in the Santa Barbara Independent, the documentary was shown in about 100 film festivals worldwide and was screened in about 65 cities during its theatrical release.
4.2. Reception Critical response
Fuck received mixed reviews. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 56% approval rating with an average rating of 5.8/10 based on 72 reviews. The websites consensus reads, "A documentary that sets out to explore a lingual taboo but cant escape its own naughty posturing." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted-mean rating from 0–100 based on reviews by film critics, the film has a rating score of 58 based on 23 reviews. The American Film Institute wrote, "Ultimately, Fuck is a movie about free speech. Freedom of expression must extend to words that offend. Love it or hate it, fuck is here to stay".
Jack Garner of the Democrat and Chronicle gave the film a rating of 8 out of 10, concluding that he was pleasantly surprised at the documentarys entertainment value. He described it as educational, despite Fuck s repetitive use of the word. In The Boston Globe Wesley Morris commented that the directors flippant style was beneficial, enabling him to make serious educational points to the audience. Sally Foster of Film Threat said that the crux of the film was the debate about freedom of speech, and that the film was funny and thought-provoking. A. O. Scott wrote in The New York Times: "Mr. Andersons movie is staged as a talking-head culture-war skirmish between embattled upholders of propriety or repression, if you prefer and proponents of free expression or filth, but its real lesson is that the two sides depend upon each other. Or rather, that the continued vitality of the word - its unique ability to convey emphasis, relieve stress, shock grown-ups and function as adverb, noun, verb, intensifier and what linguists call infix - rests on its ability to mark an edge between the permissible and the profane". In the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that the documentary was an amusing film and an educational commentary on the word. According to Glenn Garvin of The Miami Herald, the film was an expansive merging of perspectives from politics, history and culture.
In a review for The Austin Chronicle Marjorie Baumgarten gave the film a rating of 4.5 out of five stars, concluding that it helped unravel myths surrounding the word and describing it as captivating and educational. Steve Schneider reviewed the film for the Orlando Weekly, comparing it to an academic thesis despite its repeated use of off-color humor. Noel Murray of The A.V. Club gave the film a grade of B-minus, stating that Fuck succeeded where Kirby Dicks This Film Is Not Yet Rated did not, by providing viewpoints from multiple perspectives. Karl French wrote in a review for the Financial Times that the documentary was unique and reasonably entertaining. Moira MacDonald asked, in a review for The Seattle Times, if viewers could embrace the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and still be leery of the words omnipresence in society. Mick LaSalle wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that the commentators seemed monotonous and formulaic in debating freedom of speech, and criticized the films repetition of the word "fuck".
Peter Keough reviewed the film for the Boston Phoenix ; giving it a rating of two out of four stars, he also said that the repeated use of "fuck" grew tiresome. In a critical review for The Observer Philip French wrote that the film had low comedic value, calling it arrogant, puerile and tedious. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film two out of five stars, criticizing its lack of originality. In a review for Empire magazine, David Parkinson also gave the film a rating of two out of five stars and was frustrated that arguments by the director seemed guarded; he said that the films scope was not comedic, amusing or provoking enough. In Time Out London David Jenkins gave the film one star out of six, writing that it lacked depth on the issues of linguistics, media, and censorship. A critical review by Noah Sanders of The Stranger concluded that the film was watchable and amusing, but poorly edited and organized. The St. Paul Pioneer Press criticized the films length, which was echoed by The Washington Post, the Deseret News, The Herald and the New York Daily News. In a review for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Bill White gave the film a grade C, calling it a dull compilation of childish observations and a failed attempt to spark a discussion about freedom of speech. Mike Pinsky of DVD Verdict concluded that the films main arguments were achieved by the beginning of the documentary, and criticized its lack of subsequent structure and light tone overall.
4.3. Reception Home media
THINKFilm reached an agreement to screen the documentary on the American premium cable channel Showtime in 2007, and it aired on the Documentary Channel on May 28, 2011. The DVD for Fuck was released by THINKFilm on February 13, 2007, and a United Kingdom DVD edition was released in 2009. For the DVDs, THINKFilm remastered the video for Fuck ; it was optimized for home viewing with 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer to a 16:9 anamorphic full-frame presentation and Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 audio.
Trailers for Shortbus, Farce of the Penguins and The Aristocrats appear on the DVD before the documentary. Special features include a commentary track by Steve Anderson, interviews with Anderson and Bill Plympton, the films theatrical trailer, a gallery for the introductory trailers, deleted scenes and interviews with Hunter S. Thompson and Tera Patrick. The disc includes an optional on-screen counter, giving viewers a running total of utterances and appearances of the word "fuck" during play.
4.4. Reception Impact
Fuck has been a resource for several university courses. Christopher M. Fairman discussed the documentary in his article, "Fuck", published in February 2007 in the Cardozo Law Review. Fairman cited Andersons decision to call his film Fuck and the marketing problems this entailed, saying that he and Anderson both found the title of their works helped spur debate on word taboos in society.
In an interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, Anderson said that a schoolteacher in Philadelphia had been fired for showing the documentary to his students. The teacher had researched the documentary, and wanted to teach his students the history of the word because of its frequent use in his class. Anderson said it was not the use of the word "fuck" in the film that cost the teacher his job, but a 38-second scene from a Fuck for Forest concert in Europe where a couple engaged in sexual intercourse onstage as environmental advocacy. The teacher showed the DVD to his 11th-grade journalism class at William Penn High School without previewing it or sending permission slips home to parents. He told the Philadelphia Daily News that before showing the documentary, he was unaware that it contained the clip showing sexual intercourse. He was dismissed from his position by the school principal, and his termination was upheld by the regional superintendent. The teacher did not appeal the decision, instead retiring. An analysis of the incident by the Philadelphia Daily News concluded that the school districts decision to fire the teacher was appropriate, but also agreed with the teachers position that showing a 90-minute DVD should not have obliterated his 19 years as an educator.
Fuck was featured in a 2012 analysis in the academic journal Communication Teacher, "Do You Talk to Your Teacher with That Mouth? F*ck: A Documentary and Profanity as a Teaching Tool in the Communication Classroom", by Miriam Sobre-Denton of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Jana Simonis. Sobre-Denton and Simonis discussed the documentarys use for communication studies students studying university-level intercultural relations. Their research incorporated interviews with Steve Anderson, students and data from graduate-level classes in language and culture. Sobre-Denton and Simonis conclusions correlated taboo words with social forms of power, rebelliousness, professionalism and gender roles.
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