Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Flicked Off: "Jackass 3D" is the Most Important Documentary of Our Era

MAN VERSUS TECHNOLOGYIn the history of serious documentary film, there are two strains, it seems fair to say. One has been on the recent upswing: the advocacy documentary, propelled along by Michael Moore and that Al Gore-with-a-deadly-PowerPoint movie, which, TL;DW. (Really, I remember thinking when that came out: The planet's going bad? Just send me a position paper, and if I want to watch Al Gore I'll turn on C-Span 2 or whatever, and, no I probably won't, I'm just being polite.) The advocacy documentary is probably good for the world, as with all kinds of advocacy projects, whether they be litigation or burning cop cars on Rue d'Whatever in favor of not having to work for two more years into one's 60s. But at some point-that point likely being "about six years ago"-I joined my fellow Americans in not being willing to sit through another film that reminds me about how chickens in America grow up neck-deep in their own shit. I know that! I don't eat the shit-raised cannibal chickens! I'm not stupid. And if you are stupid enough to eat American commercially raised chickens, well you're probably not watching documentaries about food, are you now. So then there is the other, more noble strain of documentary.

That's depictive documentary, such as most Maysles films and "Jersey Shore" (yup, parent and child right there) and "Jackass" the TV show and Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two and Jackass 3D, which raced no less than Werner Herzog to the cinemas to be among the first to usher in the era of 3D documentary.

Herzog's film is about Chauvet cave art and so, just like Jackass 3D, it is also about mortality and what we value, fear and leave behind as a record of our time.

We are exiting-we're pretty sure, at least, that we're exiting!-ages of great repression and loathing. (It's not impossible however that things could suddenly turn more puritanical and bizarre, and if so, our apologies to people in the future reading this.) The proscription against exhibiting male genitalia, our great cultural loathing at basic bodily functions, our fear of public embarrassment and attention, our wrath at the inability of modern medicine to make us less mortal: these are what made the Jackass project so important and vital. Our time, the future should know, was obsessed with how we die. It is literally all we could think about, accidents and disasters and cancer and falling apart and always, always, our great horror at the unforeseeable.

That people get hit in the balls and fall down quite often is sort of secondarily wonderful.

For those of us who fear the coming of the future idiocracy (at least as much as we fear the rise of the police and robot states), we approach a project like the Jackass franchise with some trepidation. The question is, indeed, only how soon it will be until a farting butt wins the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and if you've seen the trailer for the new Gus Van Sant movie, Restless, you may think that the answer is conceivably PROBABLY REAL SOON.

And the Jackass franchise could have gone either way. In this strange world of theirs, almost always utterly woman-less, packs of boys-swiftly aging into old man-boys-live among the ruins of technology. There are things with motors, things with engines. It is possible, the boys decide, to use the power of these machines in ways unintended, and so they skip through a primer on the laws of inertia and gravity and physics as a test of what comedy is, and what bodies are, putting into practice the kinds of ideas that occur when we are waking up from a nap and have a strange and stupid idea. (You know how it is when you wake up suddenly: Why is all the furniture on the floor, you think-How shortsighted, there are walls and a ceiling too!)

When they are not looking outside, at things that are bouncy or blowy or exploding-ey, they are looking at themselves, in the manner of all boys in their bedrooms. What's most telling about the Jackass franchise to me is how they move without transition from issues of social embarrassment (dressing up as old people and ruining things) to technology-play (motors and engines) to bodies (specifically, barf and shit).

It's the barf and shit that does me in-I'm the great Victorian holdout when it comes to this. I am being left behind by our forward-looking times. In the near future, we'll all crap together. People will throw up in the streets and on the subways, and no one will think anything of it! Men will pee together in little pots in the streets of Berlin and Philadelphia!

I cannot at this time watch and listen to people really throwing up and crapping into the air (as one lad dramatically does in Jackass 3D) without an accompanying physical horror, obviously instilled in me by those, yes, etc., etc., outgoing and dated mores and outmoded fear-of-disease from a time past. It's my monkey brain, with Queen Victoria's superego. In short I cannot watch people throwing up and so I'll never know how this fine, terrific, entertaining motion picture ended. I held out as long as I could but I was going to hurl and if I started hurling, others would join me, and the theater would become a barf-a-thon and then… well, then what? Then I would be embarrassed.

And that's what the movie is about.

In any event, I'll assume that some more people fell down in funny ways and that some more guys put things in their butts, and that it was photographed very expensively and well.

But I do understand, at least, the legacy of this franchise. For one rare exciting moment in the history of the Cinema Industrial Complex, the box office and the artistic merit are aligned! Picture it: an important sociological documentary makes tens of millions at the box office. A testament to our time. This is what we were afraid of or afraid of being or afraid of being seen noticing: scorpions and farting and getting old and little people and fat people and being naked and, most of all, taking a tumble and crapping our pants, while everyone laughs at us.

45 Comments / Post A Comment

Matt (#26)

Here is the review of the person with whom I screened this film: "[Y]es, 3D ball taps are even funnier."

Matt (#26)

Also, what if I were to say the CKY videos were better? I mean, just to be a pedantic dick?

wb (#2,214)


wb (#2,214)

Not being a pedantic dick, that is.

joeks (#5,805)


Matt (#26)

Though, at the same time, if they were gonna bring all this to a mass audience they needed a Knoxville and a Spike Jonze and I have no problem with the original concept of Jackass. Especially because they introduced the Minutemen to a bunch of kids who never would have heard them otherwise.

Matt (#26)

Also also, people already do that in — specifically — the streets of Philadelphia and Berlin.

Matt (#26)

Why yes, I am live-blogging my reading of your piece while also trying to finish out this work day!

Are you done yet? I'm waiting.

Matt (#26)

You can all go home now. Nothing to see here.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Sigh. I remember attending nerd camp at a prep school in New Jersey the summer before senior year. Inspired by Jackass, one of the kids on my floor charged a quarter for the opportunity to drop a street hockey ball on his nuts from the second floor landing, while he laid at the bottom of the first floor steps. He'd made at least five bucks before our housemates started getting perilously close with their drops. We eventually had to pin down his knees and shoulders to keep him from flinching. Memories!

Dave Bry (#422)

I've sung every morning since I met this review.

mathnet (#27)

There were bells on the hill, but I never heard them puking.

Matt (#26)

I almost hurled, too, but it was the sweat part. I persevered!

Some of us just took Statics and Dynamics. p=mv F=ma I suppose that's the difference between getting laid and not.

blahblahblah (#8,052)

Dog, your schema of the history of documentary is pretty shallow. You could at least get up on 'the cinema of attractions', like everyone else who wrote a Jackass think piece: http://www.authenticsociety.com/article/19

It's glancing, darling! Issues of "space."


I totally don't go in for that jive.

6h057 (#1,914)

I'm rather glad I didn't see this movie. And by glad I mean ashamed. And by ashamed I mean I won't feel bad when I eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's later.

iwantyrskull (#1,706)

But the worst thing I ever done – I mixed a pot of fake puke at home and then I went to this movie theater, hid the puke in my jacket, climbed up to the balcony and then, t-t-then, I made a noise like this: hua-hua-hua-huaaaaaaa – and then I dumped it over the side, all over the people in the audience. And then, this was horrible, all the people started getting sick and throwing up all over each other. I never felt so bad in my entire life.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

CKY made my teens so incredibly interesting. I don't talk to people about the things my friends and I did motivated by CKY. Nothing in our butts, but I don't think that makes anything any less awful. I'm thrilled that this movie was at the tops of the box office. It means I'm not as depraved as I was sitting here thinking I am.

maebefunke (#154)

What if the movie theater was full of cats, and one cat vomited. Would all the other cats start vomiting too?

gumplr (#66)

Sounds like you and Ace have a matinee to attend.

Charlie (#4,250)

this is muah. i know a few chicks who wouldn't mind shitting in the wind tho. just sayin'.

David Cho (#3)

This is me testing something, sorry!

Excuse me, I'm a bit lost. Could someone please direct me to where I comment on the insufferable Alice Gregory?

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

The bits where Bam beats up his dad just…I don't know. They're majestic and seem to be the essence of something-or-other. Maybe someone can explain why?

Matt (#26)

No, they are pretty much the essence of everything in the universe. And I hate Bam! For personal reasons! But yes, these scenes make sense and made the entirety of his ill-conceived own show work.

@Matt: I also dislike Bam, because he is insufferable and really, really can't take a joke. On the other hand, this makes the inevitable "the rest of the guys do something terrible to Bam" my most anticipated part of any Jackass movie.

I still smile when I think about the sheer, panicked horror on his face when he's trapped in the trailer with that snake. And I don't even know him. It's inexplicable.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

Yes! That is majestic too!

Matt (#26)


Matt (#26)


Holy Shit

But no commenter #s! This Is An Outrage.

carpetblogger (#306)

How else are we supposed to judge the quality of the comment?

David Cho (#3)

You guys need to be patient, it takes time to move everything over.

garge (#736)

I get the flu shot and then a subsequent flu, and EVERYTHING CHANGES. Or did it? I have a fever–is this real?

Ed.: seems so real, I am going to have to go with \"real\"

Something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.

hman (#53)

The penises – what about the penises?

^That was me, sorry.^

KarenUhOh (#19)

Um. Whoa. Is this on.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Well. My "edit" time just ran out up there. I'm posteriorized.

Ahem. Well, II. Fred Wiseman did vomitus 40 years ago in Hospital and won all kinds of awards for it. Of course, he wasn't putting M80s in patients' butts, and he went for that grainy-sepia look that was supposed to pass the "real" smell test, so it didn't make enough $$ to fill the catbox.

If you're going to show barf and poop, you need to stay the heck away from Art to have a hoot in hell chance.

However, if you wanna show weenie, then you better Fellini it up and have talking foxes. And make sure it gets bashed to hamburger, because it was wrong to show it in the first place.

And. . .Action.

ericdeamer (#945)

Love this review. Best since Transformers 2.

BoHan (#29)

Sometimes Choire you see into my soul. My grating hatred of Michael Moore has achieved closure through a blog.

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