Sundance 2015 Review: The Holy Fools Are DRUNK, STONED, BRILLIANT, DEAD
Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon thoroughly and effectively paints this picture, making evident the correlation of comedy and Rock & Roll. Both mediums were, at the time, received as somewhat lowbrow forms of entertainment: as far as high culture was concerned Rock & Roll played to the pelvis whereas the brand of comedy conceived by Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman in 1969, played to a puerile, delinquent desire to lampoon the grown-up world. Yet in disguising the work as 'entertainment', the insidious impact of rock & roll and comedy, is today felt in all its potent glory, in more ways than pop-culture fully understands.
That the aforementioned Lampoon editors established their piss-taking voices at Harvard, seemed in direct opposition to the nudity-friendly, low blow shooting publication that provided a home for more pivotal comedians than modern times gives credit. But the strength of Douglas Tirola's doc is far more involved than simply setting the record straight as to those truly responsible for reinventing the wheel of comedic genius.
The film does indeed correct the popular myth, which gives credit to Saturday Night Live for the birth of next level sketch comedy, but far more so, DSBD thrives as a passionate portrait of a ragtag crew of pissers with the balls to articulately point out the foibles of a society unaccustomed to being second guessed - at least in such a disrespectfully punk fashion. Again, while Rock & Roll was a pivotal force in turning on youth, hipping them to individuality, National Lampoon was critical in a way that mocked and belittled its political or societal adversaries without a thought paid to the maturity of its tactics. If anything, the lower the shot, the more direct its communication, and consequently, the wider its reach. The audience may initially have been pot-smoking, beer guzzling wasters, elated by the realization that even fuck-ups were entitled to a voice, but by and by, these were the voices that would inherit the world.
Through spot-on animation, archival materials, choice magazine clippings, and an assortment of insightful interviews from those present at the time of the revolution, Tirola thoroughly traces the evolution from formation to explosion, to its branching out into the world of radio sketches - featuring the soon-to-be hijacked cast of hystericals like Bill Murray and John Belushi - making apparent just how much we have to thank for the current comedic landscape. Take Lampoon's first feature film, Animal House, Universal Pictures' experiment - at the time of production, also known as its folly. Animal House was on the brink of being disowned before its mammoth box office set a precedent for the success of fringe comedy, which today is simply known as comedy.
But as with every rise and fall story, what goes up must come down, and especially in the volatile, high stakes decade that serves as the National Lampoon story's setting, it is indeed a truism that the harder they come, the harder they fall. It was quite a burn out for the Lampoon founders, and no one felt it worse than Doug Kenney. However, the tragic end only serves to illustrate what a unique heyday DSBD's cast came down from.
Though this review, perhaps, spends a bit too much time focusing on the doc's subject itself, take this as a testament to how respectfully the filmmakers approach the merry band of holy goofs, for it is very much sacred territory for the players who speak to it. Their trust in Tirola is far from misdirected. Now over 30 years after the death of Doug Kenney, National Lampoon may be gone - it may, to some degree, even be forgotten. But as anyone who sees DSBD can attest, the world was irrevocably changed for the better by their genius chutzpah, and I'm not sure I'd want to live in a culture without National Lampoon's profound impact.
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