In 10 Words or Less
The last angry hippie unleashes another hard-edged set
Loves: George Carlin, stand-up comedy
Likes: Social commentary, bashing the establishment
Dislikes: Being depressed
Hates: My mortality
George Carlin used to be the funniest stand-up comic in America. I'm dead certain of that, because I remember staying up late and watching his HBO specials, giggling at the dirty words and laughing quietly at the observational comedy (hoping I wouldn't wake my parents.) For most of my life, each new year meant new Carlin and new hilarity.
Then something happened.
Perhaps it was simply age. Perhaps it was his addictions. Most likely, it was the loss of his wife of 34 years. No matter the reason, Carlin's shows, which are much rarer these days, became darker and less "fun." Carlin remains funny, but it's not the kind of funny that grows from the goofy things in life. It's the kind of funny yhat makes you laugh because otherwise you'd have to cry. There's no longer a look at the strange language of the airport or a comparison of baseball and football.
In their place, in this show, his first in four years and first since rehab, are lighthearted topics like suicide, the collapse of civilization and the hopeless masses. There are times during his show where the audience is practically silent, as Carlin depresses them with reality. Smart? Absolutely. Funny? Depends on your definition.
At some points in this set, Carlin's technique is amazing, especially during the opening beat-style poem "A Modern Man," which features wordy lyrics that would tongue-tie The Barenaked Ladies. But if you listen to the words, they are essentially meaningless. Some of Carlin's best bits over the years have been about examining the meanings of words, but here he just spits out an impressive stream of buzz words without much context. Carlin's good at these lists, as he shows later with the pyramid of the hopeless and dumb-Americans segments, but there, they mean something.
There are still some vestiges of the old George sprinkled throughout the show, especially in the sections about autoerotic asphyxia and posthumous female transplants. These moments serve as welcome respites from the black comedy, which is needed just before the avalanche that is the final two segments. Starting with people you live in the path of regular natural disasters, a shocker following shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Carlin paints an extraordinary picture of the destruction and rebirth of the universe as only he can. It's a philosophical, introspective finale his fans have come to expect from him, and it brings hope that another "Jammin' in New York" is still in him.
The one-disc release is packed in a standard keepcase, and features a full-frame animated main menu, with options to watch the show, select scenes and adjust subtitles. There are no audio options or closed captioning, but there are English subtitles available.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD is a bit below the quality of the show's high-definition broadcast on HBO, but that just means it's got a sharp picture, with quality color and a complete lack of dirt, damage or digital artifacts.
The audio is presented as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track but it is what it is: a stand-up act. He speaks, the audience responds. Nothing too complex and nothing handled incorrectly.
There are no extras...as is usually the case on a Carlin DVD.
The Bottom Line
This isn't a laugh-out-loud Carlin show, unless you're nihilistic. It's more like Carlin as stand-up philosopher, pointing out the bizarre nature of our existence and throwing in the occasional zinger to lighten up the mood. Though he's been doing this for forever, he's as smart as he's ever been, and funny as hell when he wants to be. The DVD looks and sounds good, but you don't get anything more than the main show. Carlin fans will be divided on this one, so give it a rental first if you've never seen this darker version of Carlin before.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.