Arts Listings

Moving Pictures: Examining the Most Notorious Expletive

By Justin DeFreitas
Friday November 17, 2006

Steve Anderson’s new documentary Fuck takes a thorough look at the most multi-faceted of expletives—at its murky, myth-laden origins, its many conjugations, its cathartic, emotive power as well as its power to offend.  

While the film contains clips from controversial performances by comedians Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, as well as animations by Bill Plympton and excerpts from dozens of Hollywood films, it is essentially a talking-head documentary, a string of interviews examining the word from all sides. 

But what a collection of talking heads. From sociologists and linguists to comedians and porn stars, Fuck runs the gamut, for who can’t claim some level of expertise with the word and at least one of its myriad meanings? It’s one of the most democratic words in the English language. Television writer/producer Steven Bochco relates tales of clashes with censors over “NYPD Blue”; 1950s wholesome heartthrob Pat Boone shares his G-rated alternative expletive (“Boone!”), while Ice T consequently ridicules it; moralists like Judith “Miss Manners” Martin and radio talk show hosts Alan Keyes and Dennis Prager rail against the prevalence of the word in popular culture, while Bill Maher decries the hypocrisy of the Christian right as he and other comedians and performers defend their right to use it; and Hunter S. Thompson … well, I’m not sure what the hell Thompson was mumbling about between swigs of whiskey and the compulsive adjusting of his transparent blue “Las Vegas” visor, but I’m sure it was fascinating.  

The movie is fun but ultimately it has little insight. Indeed there is more to learn about profanity, self-expression, censorship and the First Amendment by spending more time with the performances the film excerpts, namely those of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Bruce of course is the iconic image most associated with topic, having been arrested onstage nine times for his use of profanity and convicted twice, events which hastened the downward spiral which resulted in his death by drug overdose. If you want a better, more moving and insightful glimpse into the topic, check out Bruce’s recordings, or perhaps Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Bruce in Lenny and you’ll get a more compelling portrait of the power of language.  

Or try one of Carlin’s performances, either on video or on one of his old records. Occupation: Foole, his 1973 album, is excerpted in the documentary and it’s a good place to start, for not only do you get Carlin’s riff on the seven infamous words, you also get his comedic take specifically on the word fuck—its drama, its passion and its hurtfulness.  

Fuck provides an interesting and entertaining overview of the word but ultimately the film is far less insightful than its director probably hoped it to be. 



Directed by Steve Anderson. 93 minutes.  

Not rated. Playing at Shattuck Cinemas. 


Image: An array of experts weigh in: Musician Evan Seinfeld and adult film star Tera Patrick, singer Pat Boone, rapper Chuck D, newsman Sam Donaldson, radio talk show host Dennis Prager, late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, comedian Bill Maher, comedian Drew Carey and talk show host and political candidate Alan Keyes.