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"F*ck", "Old Joy" 

Two films tackle taboo subjects

Taboo subjects


A woman once told me that only dumb people swear because they can't think of a more intelligent way to convey their feelings. This same woman would go on to helpfully mention that if I were taller, skinnier, and prettier, I could be a model. Now, the restrictive space-time continuum doesn't allow for verification of Mom's later opinion, but I can confirm that although I am way smart --- and this lessens the sting of my catwalk-free life --- I fucking love to cuss.

As a rule, we here at City avoid printing the word "fuck" --- almost all obscenities, actually --- unless we're quoting someone. Does this mean that others are allowed to swear while journalists must pretend they don't? That smacks of hypocrisy. Most likely it's just a respectful concession to those who might be offended by expressions that some anonymous ancestor has deemed obscene. But how did that happen? I could offer up many different words with the same meaning as any of the F-bomb's myriad incarnations and no one would bat an eyelash. Once you string those four particular letters together, however, hands get clapped over young ears, sides materialize, and heated debate begins, as evidenced by director Steve Anderson's entertainingly trifling documentary Fuck.

A fairly typical mishmash of lefties, righties, and middle-of-the-roadies weigh in throughout the course of Fuck with their thoughts on the film's title, as well as censorship in general. Famous interviewees include the feisty Sam Donaldson ("It's a grand word!"), the self-important JaneaneGarofalo (she explains the fuss as "the enlightened vs. the unenlightened"), and movie-critic-turned-condescending-conservative-commentator Michael Medved. A clown on the street analogizes the occurrence of dirty words in society to unwanted cigarette smoke, while some ordinary joe simply states, "I feel better after I say it."

Anderson also chronicles the F-word's evolution to the present, dating its first printed appearance to 1475 and debunking the many myths concerning its origin. Comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested in the mid '60s on nine occasions for "word crimes" and 1970 saw the first use of the word "fuck" in a film (Altman's M*A*S*H), but as the 21st century hit its stride the FCC had found a way to make millions of dollars in fines with its changing interpretations of an already nebulous morality. Parental watchdog groups bemoan profanity's growing prevalence and the liberal interpretation of the phrase "freedom of speech," though rock critic Dave Marsh succinctly points out, "Without the First Amendment, society's really fucked."

Bill Plympton's recognizable animation punctuates the various chapters in Fuck devoted to subjects like politics, religion, and the media, but the whole exercise, while fun and semi-informative, is quite slight, offering nothing new to the debate about censorship. Besides, as Drew Carey observes, "fuck" isn't the tabooiest utterance in the English language anyway. Only women are allowed to use that expression (on very special occasions), and if a man trots it out, he'd better have an airtight reason for doing so. Hopefully you understand what he's referring to, because I can't get away with printing it here... even though it's just a word.

In writer-director Kelly Reichardt's lovely and elegiac Old Joy, a scruffy father-to-be and the stoner buddy with whom he'd lost touch take a camping trip through the wild grace of Oregon's Cascade Mountains. There's an easy familiarity between Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (musician Will Oldham) despite the divergence of their respective paths, and as the weekend unfolds, the two men will skirt, often wordlessly, the topic of their unacknowledged rift, although only the aimless Kurt seems to be troubled by it.

A meditation on the nature of male friendships, Old Joy refrains from any volcanic epiphanies or other emotional outbursts, with most of the affection leveled at the dog. These are guys, after all, and they have their own way of opening up, whether it's through Kurt's recollection of his dream about neglect or Mark's silent reactions to his friend, almost as though for a flickering moment he remembers what drew them together in the first place.

The natural performances and lo-fi action in Old Joy makes you feel as though you're spying on people, and the film --- Reichardt's second feature --- wound up on a number of Top 10 lists for 2006. Old Joy, along with Andrew Bujalski'sMutual Appreciation, signals an exciting direction for the indie aesthetic and makes DIY filmmaking look totally accessible to anyone with the passion and inspiration to attempt it. Truth and beauty are not costly special effects.

Fuck (R), directed by Steve Anderson, opens Friday, January 5, at Little Theatres; Anderson leads a talkback Saturday after the 7 p.m. showing | Old Joy (R), written and directed by visiting guest artist Kelly Reichardt, plays the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre Saturday, January 6, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 7, at 5 p.m.

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