Fuck

Fuck

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Fuck is like Belgium. People fight over it. It doesn't really have anything to do with Belgium or with fuck. People need to fight over certain things that Belgium and fuck happen to be in the way of."

So says writer and rock critic Dave Marsh in one of the many memorable moments in this sharp-tongued documentary. If nothing else, its numerous erudite contributors illustrate that the old notion that people swear because they don't know how to express themselves is nonsense. There are plenty of good arguments against censorship here; and yet the film is unusually well balanced in that there are also some more intelligent ones for it than we usually hear. This isn't just an angry rant - there's a real sense of discussion.

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The right to open discussion is, of course, itself at the centre of debate. Should use of 'fuck' be covered by the US' first amendment? Many people think so, judges included. Interestingly, Ice-T argues "I don't set much store by the constitution. After free speech and the right to bear arms, the next thing those people said is that they had the right to own niggers... they were clearly insane." And yet he can think of a few good reasons for using words like 'fuck', which he articulates in one of the film's more unusual scenes.

It needs moments like this. For much of its length, it consists mostly of talking heads, which can soon become boring no matter how controversial the subject matter. But there are detours into classic old pro-censorship films and clips of the comedian Lenny Bruce, who was arrested seven times and actually went to prison twice just for his use of taboo words. George Carlin also shows off his act and talks about his brushes with the law. And Howard Stern is now taking his act to satellite radio because "it's not yet illegal to say 'fuck' in space". Indeed, as we discover, it has already been said on the moon.

British audiences may perhaps be put off by the fact that this film is so US-centric, and, indeed, there are uses of the word here that aren't on the radar over there (we also get to Meet The Fockers but we don't hear a single 'feck'), but by and large the political issues are the same. Most of the speakers are known on this side of the pond too, and it's a particular treat to see some of the last interview material ever recorded by the late great Hunter S Thompson.

Despite all this, it's unlikely you'll see the word 'Fuck' up on the billboards at your local cinema. In many places it's being promoted with an asterisk in the title, which rather defeats the point. If censorship like this fucks you off, this film is for you. As Bruce concludes, "If you can't say 'fuck', you can't say 'fuck the government'."

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2009
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A documentary looking at the history and social significance of the word 'fuck'.
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