In 10 Words or Less
A last hurrah for the legendary comedian
Loves: George Carlin, stand-up
Likes: Social commentary
Dislikes: Stupid people, aging
Hates: My mortality, Carlin's mortality
In June, I saw an ad in my local paper for an upcoming George Carlin performance at the Westbury Music Fair (it's named after some bank now, but it will always be the Music Fair to me, mainly because the name has changed so often and I have a bad memory when it comes to corporate crap.) I made a note to get tickets, thinking it would probably be my last chance to see him live. Sadly, it never happened, as Carlin quit this plane a few days later, leaving the world much less funny. It was shocking, as, to me, he never looked or sounded "old," despite having watched him for three decades and knowing he had been laid up after a heart attack and addiction. His death didn't really hit me, because it didn't seem possible.
Honestly, I should have seen it coming though, since it felt like Carlin saw it coming. In reviewing the previous Carlin release, the positively-titled "Life is Worth Losing," what struck me was the bleak, depressing tone of his material, as he talked about death, suicide and the end of the world. I expressed the hope that he had another funny special in him and fortunately, he left the stage on a high note with his final special, a return to form for a legend.
It's not that he's talking about sunshine and rainbows, as the majority of the special is about getting old, death and the overall stupidity of the American public. But unlike last time, when it felt like Carlin was an angry prophet handing down brutal truths to the masses, here, his ruminations on the oddities and annoyances of our human existence have more of the bemused tone and impish glee that marked the performances of his prime. So when he talks about the power of crossing dead friends of your phone book or what your grandmother is doing in Hell, it'll make you laugh instead of cringe.
In some ways, this 70-minute show is a best-of for Carlin, as he does cover some similar ground from previous specials (but not repeating himself,) as he talks about how people overrate their children and steal their childhoods, the awful awkward conversations you get trapped in, and the odd religious traditions society accepts without questioning. The only negative I could even come up with is the way it ends, as the show peters out with a bit about what rights are. You'd expect Carlin to go out with a bang, not a whimper.
A one-disc release, this DVD is packed in a standard keepcase, without any inserts, and features an animated anamorphic widescreen menu offering options to play the special, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. There are no audio options and no closed captioning, but subtitles are available in English.
Presented with an anamorphic widescreen transfer, this special boasts a very crisp, detailed image with rich, bold color, and not a hint of trouble with compression or issues with noise. The only bugaboo is some odd "humming" along hard edges on the stage set, but it's not a big deal.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is your usual stand-up comedy presentation, with clear strong voice from Carlin and appropriate applause and laughter from the audience. It's an evenly-distributed mix that does just the job it needs to.
After several releases free of bonus material, his final performance arrives with two excellent extras. First up is "Too Hip for the Room," a 30-minute portion of a three-hour interview Carlin recorded with the Archive of American Television in December of 2007. It's a pretty open chat that lets Carlin talk about why he became the comedian he is known as, the inspirations that shaped him as a person and the importance of HBO to his career and his understanding of himself.
While the interview is great, the second extra is the one that most intrigued me, an eight-minute clip of Carlin doing his act on "The Jackie Gleason Show," from January of 1969. It's not so much the material, which is OK, including a lengthy bit about what an FBI late-night show would be like, but it's seeing a young Carlin at work that's so interesting. Clean-cut, wearing a suit, looking like a businessman fresh on the job, he's almost unrecognizable, save for that deep, signature voice. It's unlike any Carlin performance I've seen, and while it's fascinating to watch, it's also sad, since this young man on the verge of greatness is now gone.
The Bottom Line
So this is it. Unless someone has some lost tapes, a la the Beatles, this is the last George Carlin performance we'll ever have to enjoy. Thankfully, he went out with a special worthy of his name, a show full of material that's thoughtful and funny. The DVD looks and sounds great, and for the first time on a single-show Carlin release, there are extras and they are good one's at that. Sure, it's not the work of genius some of his earlier shows are, but it's still Carlin, and good Carlin at that, the last we'll see of a man who made us laugh and think more than anyone in a long time.
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 his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*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.