The Aristocrats

Paul Provenza’s The Aristrocrats is so unspeakably filthy and offensive that only pre-pubescent kids or sophisticated scholars of obscene cinema may be able to appreciate it. Otherwise, those not titillated by a nonstop feces-and-incest talk orgy would profit by letting it find its proper level of ignominy in private.

The film’s title is the punch line to a variable old burlesque routine about a family trying to sell an incredibly depraved variety act, involving sexual acts within the family and descriptions of inventive defecation. "And what do you call the act," asks the talent agent after listening to detailed descriptions of egregious perversions. "The Aristocrats."

A rare collection of top comedians – including Eric Idle, Kevin Pollack, Steven Wright, George Carlin, Robin Williams, and Billy Connelly – parades by for 90 minutes, vying for telling the most foul-mouthed version of the "joke." Most of them seem to enjoy the contest for the most twisted ideas (none of which could you possibly see in any review or studio advertising), showing either the defiant grin of a little kid using certain words for the first time or the hysterical laughter of a drunken brawl.

Why is the punch line supposed to be funny? Fred Willard’s "analysis" in the film is that it’s a gag about "a lack of self-understanding." The way it applies to the movie itself is that there is nothing noble about an ongoing attempt "to shock beyond shock." Didn’t that kind of thing go out of fashion in the early ’60s?

– Janos Gereben

Born in Hungary, Janos Gereben landed his first newspaper job (back when there were still such) at age 15 in Budapest. After the Soviet revenge against the revolution in his country, he escaped, and learned English on refuge scholarship in Helena, Montana, and Atchison, Kansas. Starting as a copy boy at the NY Herald-Tribune, he worked his way up to the copy desk, later worked for TIME-LIFE, UPI, then switched coasts, published the Kona Torch, was a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and taught journalism at UH-Manoa. In 1970, he received an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship, reporting from the European political and cultural scene for a year. Gereben was arts editor of the Post Newspaper Group/East Bay for 20 years, wrote about performing arts and films for the SF Examiner, still is writing for the SF Classical Voice which he joined when Robert Commanday established this first professional online publication about music and dance. He also participated in the work of CultureVulture in the publication's first years.