PictureThe Aristocrats comes with a 1.85:1 image that has been anamorphically enhanced into a picture that, blissfully, reveals no major defects or errors at all. But it has been captured from a variety of on-the-hoof cameras, in a multitude of often-rushed backstage locations, cafes or street corners by a couple of completely novice filmmakers, so the end result can sometimes appear jerky, ill-lit and unfocussed. But, this is the medium that best captures the spirit of the enterprise - caught on the hop and improvised. As such, it is clean and clear and fairly bright and easy on the eye.
Colours are pretty good a lot of the time and detail can, on occasion, be surprisingly well-rendered. The closer to the camera the performer is, the better the results though, with backgrounds, unsurprisingly, losing a degree of definition. I noticed nothing in the way of digital gremlins fouling up the works as the transfer reproduces the documentary exactly as it was shown theatrically, without the comical intervention of smearing, blocking or dot crawl. On a much larger screen, via a projector, say, I could imagine The Aristocrats losing a lot of clarity, but on a 44 inch screen I was quite pleased with it.
SoundSome reviews have made reference to a Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this release, but I can assure you that this PR disc has only a DD 2.0 track. And, all things considered, this is more than adequate for a feature that would hardly make use of surround channels. The comics, with the one exception of Gilbert Gottfried in his infamous “Roast” performance, are all being interviewed in relatively lonely areas, without the cause for capturing audience response or ambience. That said though, there is some degree of separation with the voices when, for instance, those behind the camera have input or begin to giggle. So, projected from a firm, frontal base and with the only distortion coming when the comics move around a bit - or fail to have their microphone switched on properly, Mr. Terry Gilliam - I think there is little to complain about.
ExtrasFirst up is the Commentary Track from Directors Paul Provenza and Penn Gillette. Now, this is what chat-tracks should be. The pair are enthusiastic, garrulous and, for a lot of the time, far funnier than the feature, itself. Managing to combine background info on all the contributors with production trivia, the track is a ceaseless barrage of crazy anecdotes, anarchic observations and yet more gags. The genesis of the documentary is covered in a patchwork delivery scattered throughout the track, and it is genuinely amusing to hear how inept the pair actually were at setting up cameras and microphones - especially Gillette - but then the power of the show comes from the performances by the comics in front of the camera and the mechanics behind the scenes need not have been as accomplished as Spielberg. It's also quite relevant to hear how they cut and spliced the how the whole thing together to give thematic weight to some interpretations of the joke - be it philosophical, ironic or absurd. Although, to be honest, such grand intentions are largely rendered redundant by having an over-reliance on the same sick, sordid details in the joke, time and time again, which tends to derail the spin each comic may be attempting to give the gag. I really enjoyed this track, folks, and if you could stick with the main feature then you owe it to yourself to hear the views of the men behind it all.
Behind The Green Room Door (16.00 mins) is a slight piece of the comics from the feature telling us how they got into comedy and why they tell funny stories ... they're not jokes, they're funny stories, ok? Very good in places.
The Easter Egg is very easy to find on the main menu page and is called The Aristocrats Do The Aristocrats (5.16 mins) and features the entire cast each having a line in a full-on, start to finish rendition of the gag. Nice to get a full, uncut and unbroken version from the whole ensemble.
More From The Comedians (24.28 mins). This is a compilation of extra footage from the same interviews and is merely just an extension of what we have seen in the main feature. The comics discuss their own interpretations of the versions we have just seen them doing and, of course, we get lots more disgusting gags. Great stuff from Kevin Pollack ad-libbing in a café. Cool.
The Aristocrats Competition Winners features a couple of amateur spins on this fabled tale, one of which is a cartoon version. Erm, nowhere near as good as the professionals, I'm afraid. Don't try this at home, folks.
For Johnny Carson (2.06 mins) is just a snippet of the gag-merchants paying tribute to the legendary TV host.
And, finally, we get the Theatrical Trailer, lasting 1.21 mins. Overall, a great little set that just takes the gross-out gag-a-thon even further.
VerdictA true novelty. Avant-garde, performance art, arch satire ... call it what you will, The Aristocrats is certainly not for everyone. But, if you stick with it, you will be eminently rewarded to the most offensive barrage of sick-yet-entertaining filth that you can imagine. Dig a little deeper and be treated to a raucous dissection on what makes a joke funny and how intricate improvisation can be. In much the same way that Billy Connelly can tell the foulest of gags and still remain a hit with grannies the world over, the running joke here inevitably finds itself growing on you, losing its capacity to cause offence and actually becoming somewhat heart-warming in its much-loved, enthusiastic and varied renditions. Personally, I didn't think I'd take to this documentary, but I ended up becoming quite captivated by it and, strangely, discovered that I didn't really want the show to end. Perversely, the gag can simply run and run, proving once and for all that jokes aren't made by the punch-line, but the by way you tell them.
The Aristocrats makes a good DVD, as well. The AV quality isn't tremendous, but this is a documentary not a pixel-perfect blockbuster, and the extras are pretty well stocked with a great chat-track and yet more gags from the professionals (and the not-so-professional.) Top stuff, folks. Check it out.
Our Review Ethos