In The Gutter:
When exactly did DVD start turning into the AV equivalent of junk mail? If ever there were a more compelling argument for Blu-ray over DVD, it's probably the fact that few would dare spend money on or clutter up the shelves with Blu versions of stuff like Starz Originals cable TV documentary In The Gutter, a slight yet truly offensive traipse through the fields of gross-out humor.
I'm not offended by gross-out humor, I just don't go out of my way for it (not all the time anyway). I've enjoyed me some Farrelly Brothers, and I'm a huge horror fan, so nastiness doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the idea of tossing an hour's-worth of nasty clips, stills and minced interviews - that do little to illuminate the appeal of gross-out humor - on an extras-free DVD and expect people to buy it. What feels like an opportunistic adjunct to The Aristocrats (a movie examining the comedian's ne plus ultra gross-out joke) does little more than make it obvious that scatological humor sells, while calling out some high points, mostly from the '70s on.
Flounder and Boon from Animal House, critic David Ansen, pop-culture mavens Frangela, American Pie-f*cker Jason Biggs and director John Waters are among many who talk about their part in, and experiences with, nastiness. Minus actual examples, we're told about Wm. Shakespeare's fart and puke jokes, then we're rocketed through the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges, with later stops at Mondo movies and gore movies before landing with a juicy blatt in Blazing Saddles, and it's on. John Waters, Animal House, Porky's, Kentucky Fried Movie, Dumb and Dumber, American Pie, Jackass and a lot of 21st Century stuff that no-one's ever heard of - these and many more movies are lauded for raising the bar on humanist hurl-humor. And where have all these shining examples of shinola's partner lead us? For now, to 2 Girls 1 Cup, (and if you don't know what that is consider yourself blessed) but the point is made that just out-grossing the last gross-out isn't enough if it doesn't have heart.
It's a truth missing from In The Gutter. Sure, you need the human story to make a scrotum caught in a zipper truly resonant, but then what do you make of the Jackass crew kicking each other in the nuts until they puke on camera? How about stringing together a bunch of YouTube clips featuring anonymous people vomiting, as In The Gutter does for its finale? Gross, yes, funny, no - just like this documentary. Biggs is annoyingly coasting, even here, on his one role of note, boobs stand proud in an '80s focus segment, (but are boobs gross?) and though our experts struggle mightily to impart some gravitas to the reality that farts are funny, parading only the scurrilous bits from innumerable movies in front of our faces is ultimately just revolting.
I've come away from In The Gutter with three revelations. 1) The fact that we've come to the point where watching people puke and shit in each others mouths is entertainment proves our civilization is closer to collapse than we think. 2) Watching In The Gutter will make you queasy and cause you to perceive a fetid odor emanating from your TV. (I'm serious, I literally hallucinated a noxious smell during the latter half of this smeary mess.) 3) John Waters (despite his ushering in an era of anus amusement and doggie-doo-delicacies) is a true hero, and looked truly badass with his long, stringy '70s hippy hair and pencil-thin mustache. (On a side note, Waters mentioning that he made Pink Flamingos and other movies to appeal to 'angry hippies' is the funniest thing on this DVD.) Gross-out humor is OK, but unless you're looking at this doc as a checklist of movies to check out, leave it in the gutter.
This 1.78:1 ratio presentation is anything but gross, from an AV standpoint. Clips and stills are a mixed bag, from pixilated puke on the Internet to contemporary DVD clips. Interview segments are clear, sharp and crisp, with eye-popping colors and nothing in the way of transfer problems or compression artifacts. But of course, how clearly do you want to see wasabi vomit?
Dolby Digital Stereo Audio pulses out of your speakers like Don Vito's 50 shots of booze (check out that YouTube sensation, not seen on this documentary, if you want to see some real hurling). The point is that there's some variability in the flow of the audio here, with lengthy segments of strong sound punctuated with odd occasional drops in volume, as if the floodgates were occasionally clamping down, if you get my drift.
Q: What's gross but not funny? A: A one-hour DVD with no extras. Well, English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired are offered, but those should be standard.
In The Gutter takes a brief and breezy trip through the history of gross-out humor, spending most of its time looking at movies like American Pie and clips of the Jackass crew shooting bottle rockets out of their asses. The doc gets the gross part down pat, but removing the corn from the context just leaves a nasty taste. Furthermore, even the lightest form of critical inquiry is mostly ignored, with only John Waters making much of an effort. The true tenor of this trauma is left to Frangela, who drop insight like this; "Gross us out quick - 'cause that is America." Skip It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com