If I may borrow the words of Oscar Hammerstein --- or maybe it was Susan B. Anthony --- I enjoy being a girl. Sure, the discrimination, objectification, and foundation garments can all be quite infuriating, but I'm certain that if I were a man, I wouldn't be able to get away with half of what I'm able to perpetrate.
And I'm not the only female who capitalizes on this fact, although admitting to it probably bombs the women's movement back to the Stone Age. I just thought you deserved an explanation for the puzzling palatability of envelope-pushing comedian Sarah Silverman.
If you saw The Aristocrats a couple months back then you probably remember the lovely, raven-haired Silverman, who delivered the titular chestnut in a hilariously unnerving way. Now she's got a movie of her own entitled Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, which takes her polarizing stage act and peppers it with equally edgy musical numbers. But her nice Jewish girl shtick and "Did I just say that?" approach allows her to coyly go where no white man could in this occasionally stifling cultural climate.
Is she clever? Absolutely. Offensive? Well, that depends on whether you believe the power lies with the words or the wordsmith.
The premise of Jesus is Magic stems from the film's opening skit in which Silverman, desperate to one-up her successful friends, brags that she's going to put on a show "about the Holocaust and AIDS, but it's funny and it's a musical." So it's off to a packed house at LA's El Portal Theatre, where Silverman riffs on a compendium of subjects, even ones that may not yet be ready for satire (her suggestion for an American Airlines ad campaign: "First through the Towers!"). And she gets great comedic mileage out of her shrewd tweaking of ethnic stereotypes, especially her own (on the fallout after using the word "chink" in a televised joke: "As a member of the Jewish community, I was totally concerned we were losing control of the media").
Not all of Silverman's jokes succeed, and her musical interludes can get tiring. But like any form of art, appreciation of Silverman comes down to your individual taste. You might be outraged when she discusses the punishment her sister leveled against her 7-year-old niece for coming out as a lesbian ("No pussy for a week. And you know how long a week is to a 7-year-old") or you might giggle at its bizarre silliness. But Silverman ain't stupid. Firstly, everyone's talking about her.
Secondly, her dual minority status enables her to say things that the majority is afraid to say. Granted, it's not like Silverman is changing the world, but it's impossible to confront issues by ignoring them.
Then again, what do I know? I'm merely a girl.
Winter Soldier, a 1972 documentary culled from footage filmed at hearings in Detroit sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, basically consists of well over 90 minutes of shell-shocked vets detailing the torture that they participated in during their tours of duty in Southeast Asia. Relentless descriptions of Viet Cong POWs tossed from planes and farmers being gutted are positively brutal and no one's idea of enjoyable entertainment. I wanted to stop watching but couldn't --- not because I'm a sadistic glutton, but because I felt I owed these men the right to be heard.
The former soldiers recount inhumane treatment by higher-ups at boot camp that made their atrocities in country sadly inexorable. They're not making excuses, however, instead bravely owning up to cowardly actions that seemed justifiable in the heat of combat. By 1971 the once gung-ho GIs had morphed into beautiful and melancholy young men coming to grips with the damage they did to a people half a world away and ultimately to themselves.
All of the soldiers give heartbreaking testimony, but the most pointed remarks in Soldier came courtesy of an African American who astutely identifies the butchery as little more than racism, and from a Native American who movingly parallels the treatment of the Vietnamese with the crimes against his forebears.
Soldier opens with Founding Brother Thomas Paine's most famous sentiments, written at Valley Forge during the vicious winter of 1776 and still notable because history, unfortunately, repeats itself: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (R), directed by Liam Lynch, is opening Friday, December 16, at Little Theatres | Winter Soldier (NR), directed by the Winterfilm Collective, is showing Friday, December 9, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, December 10, at 5 p.m., at the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre.