In the wake of last year’s smashes Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me, is it any wonder that some of summer’s best films are documentaries? Here are seven you won’t want to miss.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Among comedians, ”The Aristocrats” is a famous joke. There are infinite ways to tell it — the dirtier, the better. How you tell it says something about the kind of comic you are. One day in 2000, comedian Paul Provenza and magician Penn Jillette had the idea to make a doc about the joke, hoping it would say something larger about the creative process. ”When we called George Carlin and asked him if he would be a part of this, he was blown away,” recalls Provenza, who has spent nearly 30 years as an under-the-radar stand-up. ”He was like, ‘This is a snapshot of the art of comedy at the turn of the century.”’
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT Because starting with Carlin’s delivery of the first full X-rated ”tell,” The Aristocrats will have you doubling over in laughter and sputtering in disbelief. (It’s NC-17 material, but THINKFilm decided to release it unrated.) If that’s not reason enough, consider this: Out of the 101 comedians who appear on screen (including Robin Williams, Sarah Silverman, Eric Idle, and Lewis Black), no one is funnier — or more disgusting — than Bob Saget or Gilbert Gottfried, two comic kicking posts who deserve major career renaissances after this.
THINGS TO KNOW GOING IN If you don’t enjoy dirty humor, don’t go see it. In fact, Provenza and Jillette don’t want you to see it. ”Let me make it very clear,” says Jillette. ”We don’t want to do advertising that says ‘See Robin Williams! See Whoopi Goldberg!’ so that people go and see it who might be blindsided. This,” he booms, ”is the dirtiest movie ever made, in terms of language. Which is why I pushed very hard for the [marketing] slogan we’re using, which is ‘No nudity. No violence. Unspeakable obscenity.”’ He laughs. ”I think if you read that in the paper, and you go to see the movie, and the language offends you, it’s no longer my fault.” — Gregory Kirschling
WHAT IT’S ABOUT One of the hardest-hitting sports in the world, ”quad rugby” (or ”murderball”) features paralyzed men zooming around indoor courts in wheelchairs souped up like bumper cars, scoring points and, perhaps most importantly, inflicting as many beatdowns as possible on their opponents. (Yes, quadriplegics can play rugby — and, as the movie reveals, also do just about anything else.) At the center are the sport’s Michael Jordan and Larry Bird — Mark Zupan, a hunky heavy-metal Texan, and Joe Soares, a legendary player-cum-fiercely-competitive coach — who learn to overcome obstacles both on the court and off.
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT The filmmakers have no qualms about revealing anything and everything in the lives of their subjects — be it a painfully awkward wedding anniversary dinner Soares shares with his wife or, yep, a how-to sex video used by would-be lotharios who just happen to be quadriplegic. ”Guys in wheelchairs are usually dissed or ignored or humiliated because of ignorant comments,” says Henry Alex Rubin, who codirected the movie with Dana Adam Shapiro. ”So [it’s wonderful] to have all eyes trained on them positively.” Indeed, the movie may just be the most fun you’ll have at the movies this summer, plain and simple.
THINGS TO KNOW GOING IN Quad, or wheelchair, rugby is a hugely popular Paralympic sport, with teams fielded by nations from all over the world; players include folks paralyzed by injury (Zupan was in a car accident) and disease (Soares is a polio survivor). But Murderball — which won the Documentary Audience Award at January’s Sundance Film Festival — is the biggest exposure the game has gotten so far. Says Zupan, whose celebrity as a leader of the U.S. Paralympics team once won him an audience with President Bush: ”Even better than watching yourself on screen is to see the reactions from other people.” Sure enough, the frank and funny result underscores a basic human truth: Folks in wheelchairs are people too…and they can kick the crap out of you! — Joshua Rich