By Antonio Dileo
A Documentary That Breaks Down and Examines the Big Daddy of All Curse Word’s Impact (and You Will Never Look at Pat Boone the Same Way Again)!
WARNING: This review contains references to the F-word. The video links contain adult language.
F*ck is a documentary that in some ways acknowledges the big elephant in the room. In this case, the pachyderm is the ing of all swear words (after which the film is blatantly named). Director Steve Anderson breaks down the word’s permeation throughout history and the sociocultural impression it has had. From Hollywood, your playlist, the street corner, the sports stadium, to even the solemn halls of the White House and U.S. Capitol, no place has immunity from this word is immune from. Anderson does such a fine job of showing this in the documentary. A who’s who of people from music, film, religion, politics, journalism, and academia gather to give their truthful (and sometimes hilarious) insight on this (for better or worse) impactful word, looking at both sides of its use.
Some of those who are interviewed include rapper Ice-T, Alanis Morrisette, porn legend Ron Jeremy, Bill Maher, former ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson (who says that the word is “one of those all-purpose words,” proclaiming “I’ve used the F-word in my life before, of course! I’m proud to say so.”), former presidential candidate and conservative firebrand Alan Keyes, and Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners.
Released in 2005, the film does a very good job of balancing between both those who have no qualms about using the word, those in-between, and those who feel the word—whether used as a noun, verb, or adjective—threatens the moral fiber of our society. The film opens up with footage of a 1965 propaganda film titled Perversion For Profit, which argued at that time that sexually explicit materials corrupt young viewers and readers, leading to acts of violence and “perverted” attitudes regarding sex. It then cuts away to a segment from SpongeBob SquarePants, where the already controversial animated sea critter states the word can be used as a “sentence enhancer.”
This sets off the flow of an in-depth examination of a word that, let’s face it, has been given a lot of power. The informational research and commentary from scholars and linguists help shed a lot of light on its use and the history behind it. Editor-at-Large of the Oxford English Dictionary Jesse Shiedlower states that “it is a word of Germanic origin.” However, while the F-word has been around for over hundreds of years, the actual origins of the word are unknown. Linguist Reinhold Aman says the word became taboo during the Elizabethan Period.
F*ck also pulls back the veil, showing that the word crosses all socioeconomic lines and has been used everywhere, including politics and within the space program. You will hear audio footage of Apollo 16 astronaut John Young complaining of stomach issues caused by fruit eaten from his food pack. Also George W. Bush (Presidential candidate at the time), not knowing a TV camera is on, makes a gesture that is considered the F-word.
Anderson does a fine job showing how “f*ck” has tested our 1st Amendment rights throughout time and continues to generate debate on censorship. The best examples used are comedian George Carlin, who did the infamous monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television”, and Lenny Bruce, the late legendary comedian who was arrested and convicted in 1964 while performing on stage for using profanity (later posthumously pardoned by then-New York Governor George Pataki). Anderson set out to do this project to show how freedom of speech has been taken for granted. In an interview (reposted on Ironwolf blog), Anderson says:
“I think Freedom of Speech is often taken for granted. When incidents happen that seem to infringe upon it, however, you realize that it’s literally this living thing that you have to continue to fight for. There are some who want less Freedom of Speech. They want to impose more rules and restrictions. Freedom of Speech means exactly that: Freedom of Speech. I use the F-word to examine that issue.”
While the visual quality is decent (definitely not what you would find on a PBS Frontline or a History Channel documentary), the documentary does a good job combining commentaries, “man-on-the street” interviews, film and news footage, and cute cutaway animation by Academy Award-nominated animator Bill Plympton. The humorous soundtrack also helps move the film along.
If there was an award for “standout interview,” and what could be considered the most humorous, it would be awarded to legendary crooner and conservative commentator Pat Boone, known for hits like “Love Letters in the Sand.” If you want or need an alternative cuss, Pat has one for you (and Ice-T looks like he took him up on it)!
F*ck is highly insightful, informative, and humorous. It will get you thinking about whether you are pro, in-between, or con, regarding the usage of the word, about issues surrounding free speech, and the power words can be given.