SO LET'S GET the Consumer Reports shit out of the way right up front, m'kay?
1. Is it funny?
Yes. It is very, very funny.
South Park: Bigger, Longer &
playing at Meridian, Varsity, others
2. Is it as dirty as I've heard it is?
It is dirtier than you've heard it is. It is probably dirtier than you could even imagine it is, no matter what you've heard, and if it isn't, you are probably in the wrong line of work and living in the wrong part of the country and should move to Hollywood where people with your kind of imagination are appreciated.
3. Is it as good as the TV show?
No. An 11-year-old friend of mine named Rupert nailed it when he said: "The same things are wrong with it as are wrong with [Star Wars] Episode One."
4. What did he mean by that?
Too long, mostly; too predictable, too much unimaginative recycling of preexisting material. Continuing his thought in the same vein, you could also say that the same things are wrong with it as with the Muppet movies. You can't just take a formula that works perfectly at 22 minutes and blow it up to four or five times as long.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone knew that (just as Jim Henson did) when they set out to turn their notorious animated Comedy Central series into a feature film. But they also made the same mistake Henson did: for a large structure to frame their highly idiosyncratic material, they chose a preexisting genre—the Hollywood show-biz musical—that is so used up it's not even fit for parody anymore. One fake-chipper-Disney number you can get away with. A whole movie full of them sucks. The New York Times' Stephen Holden says there are 25 songs in the movie. That can't be right; but it feels like there are that many. By halfway through, every time the band strikes up, the audience stops even trying to laugh.
5. So if I'm not already a South Park fan, I won't be missing much if I skip the movie, right?
Right. Unless you are the parent or guardian of South Park fans under 17 who need an adult to get them past the R rating, in which case resistance is useless, unless you are prepared to suffer through several months in hell until the video comes out.
6. And if I love South Park the series, I don't have to see the movie, either, right?
Right. But you're going to, anyway, aren't you? So why don't you stop bothering me with your silly questions, m'kay?
MANY PEOPLE WHO are so into South Park that they can win T-shirts in a radio-station quiz by knowing the name of Stan's gay dog (Sparky) or the periodical on the cover of which Cartman's cookie-pushing mom was featured (Crack Whore Magazine) don't fully realize just how bizarre the story behind the show is.
Five years ago, Parker, fresh out of U ColoradoBoulder, where he collaborated with math student Stone on several crude (in every sense) short films, shot a no-budget feature about the life and time of the noted Colorado pioneer and anthropophage Alfred Packer.
Cannibal: The Musical was seen by a Fox executive (and pretty much nobody else) who liked its sassy attitude and gave Parker $1,200 to put together a video he could send as a Christmas card to friends in the business. Basing their work on a joint school project called Frosty vs. Santa Claus, Parker and Stone whomped up a five-minute animation in which Jesus and Santa Claus wrassle in front of an audience of dirty-mouthed sub-teen boys to see who's going to dominate the Yuletide holiday.
Once the video made its rounds, Stone and Parker, who had been living on Fritos, found themselves the hottest property in Tinsel Town. Comedy Central came in first in the ensuing bidding war for their services, and before you could say, "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!" the first of six half-hour animations based on the setting and characters of the video premiered on August 13, 1997. Wednesdays at 10pm almost immediately became the place to be on cable.
In less than two years, South Park: The Franchise has grossed hundreds of millions, most of it from sales of videos (there are now about 20 episodes in the can), T-shirts, stuffed toys, and the like. A movie was inevitable.
Given the fact that much of the humor of the series is rooted in scatology, blasphemy, perversity, and A-level political incorrectness, all of it floating in a bubble bath of barely disguised gay camp, controversy was bound to accompany the opening of the film. Controversy there has already been (the editorialists of the tabloid New York Post are particularly upset) and more there surely will be. So enough of public service and neutral exposition: To paraphrase the Thing, it's pop-culture pontificatin' time!
THE THING THAT'S going to upset most people most about the South Park movie is the language. You don't have to be under any illusions about how 10-year-old boys talk among themselves to be taken aback by the flood of creative cursing that pours over you in the first 15 minutes. That's the point of it: to take you aback, overwhelm you, and break down your defenses—including those constructed by any rational standard of good taste, appropriateness, or redeeming social value.
And for the most part, the strategy works. The sharpest ears won't be able to pick up on more than a fraction of what the kids in Mr. Garrison's third-grade class say after sneaking into the R-rated movie Asses of Fire, starring fartmeisters Terrence and Philip—Canada's answer to Beavis and Butt-head. The people around you are laughing so loud—maybe in disbelief, maybe embarrassment, maybe even contempt, but laughing—that they drown out the soundtrack. There hasn't been such effective artistic use of coprolalia since Alfred Jarry's Père Ubu hit the stage in 1896.
And Jarry hardly invented the technique. In the Western world it goes back at least to the fifth century B.C., as recorded in the subversively scatological comedies Aristophanes wrote to celebrate the mysteries of Dionysus in ancient Athens. Throughout later ages we hear of festivals of fools and lords of misrule (Mardi Gras is a sadly commercialized survivor), when excess of every kind was licensed by the authorities in return for strict obedience to propriety the rest of the year.
When it comes to offense beyond plain and fancy cussin', Parker and Stone have been remarkably, even disappointingly, discreet. Jesus Christ, who turns up often in the series as the host of a South Park cable-access call-in show, barely makes an appearance in the movie. Apart from a mutual interest in anal penetration, the film's nominal villains (the Prince of Darkness and Saddam Hussein) are about as threatening as the obligatory Disney bad-guy-and-comic-sidekick pair.
The most disturbing thing about the movie is that the filmmakers actually seem to want people to believe that South Park is "about" free speech. This is bullshit. Up until now, Parker and Stone have never felt the need to hide behind principle: misrule for them has always been its own justification. By trying to preempt the moral high ground, they implicitly give points to their enemies, who can't distinguish between anarchy and nihilism and would try to deny the distinction if they could.