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Steve Anderson on “Fuck”

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By Dan Persons

IFC News

[Photo: One of Bill Plympton’s animated interludes, ThinkFilm, 2006]

“What’s the big deal? It doesn’t hurt anybody. Fuck-fuckety-fuck-fuck-fuck.”

—Eric Cartman, as quoted in “Fuck”

Here’s one reason to become a film journalist: It’s not likely that Cat Fancy will be featuring the word “fuck” as often as you’re going to see below. The fact that this word — in its strictest definition a simple synonym for the act of sex, but in its broader usage a term that stands for so much more — still raises hackles, giggles and the occasional libido is very much the issue tackled by director Steve Anderson in his documentary, “Fuck.” To explore the social, sexual and just plain fun aspects of the term, Anderson gathered a broad range of experts, from comedians Billy Connolly and Drew Carey, to moral icons Miss Manners and Pat Boone, to a not-surprisingly uninhibited Hunter S. Thompson. What the director winds up with is a snapshot of a word trapped between the wave of growing sexual and artistic expression and an opposing tide of government-backed, social repression.

The reasons for doing a film about the word “fuck” are pretty self-evident. But what convinced you that a documentary could be built around any single word?

There were some real concerns. When I first thought of it, it literally came out of my mouth as an off-hand joke: “Hey, we should do a movie about the word ‘fuck.'” The second I said it, I realized that, hey, that could be a really good idea. We could use this word that’s still scandalous — it’s probably lost a little bit of its power to shock, but it’s still at the center of the debate about free speech — and it could be funny and entertaining, and at the same time we could talk about these issues.

I was concerned at the beginning: Are we going to have enough material? And I was also asking myself the question whether “fuck” was over. Was it shocking anymore, would this film be the least bit provocative, since it’s everywhere, now — it’s on TV, it’s in the movies, it’s in music, Dick Cheney uses it, Barbara Streisand uses it. I don’t think you can get two people on the farther ends of the spectrum than those two. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that the word really still does have power. And by the time the film was well into production, I realized I had to scale back, because there was so much stuff to talk about.

Despite all the fun that’s had with the word in this film, there is a serious context to the project: Confronting the growing dominance of government-sanctioned censorship in this country.

In its broadest context, the film is about something that divides us. I think, as good citizens and people of this country, we like to think of things that will bring us together. I don’t like divisions of society — in popular culture; Democrats and Republicans — I like to try to figure out ways that the country could come together. And oddly enough, this word that typically divides people, in this film they come together to talk about it. I think that’s important. I think that we can show that even if there are differences of opinion, people can come together in the same room to talk about things.

Freedom of speech is so important. It’s the First Amendment, it’s not the third or the fifth. And I think there’s a trend in this country right now, with Bush in office and the rise of the religious right and conservatives, they’re sort of having a heyday now. The Family Research Council, the Parents Television Council figured out a way to flood the FCC in-box with thousands, maybe millions, of complaints about the Janet Jackson incident. Suddenly, senators here on the floor of Congress are saying, “Hey, there are 500,000 complaints.” And if I were a senator, I’d sit up and take note of that, too. But it really bears out that it was really just one organization hijacking the process.

I don’t think that’s fair, so in a small way, this film is hopefully trying to combat that. It’s saying, “Look: Yes, you can be against ‘fuck’ and you might not want to say it and you might not want to hear it.” I can honestly respect that. But I do want to say it. I do want to hear it. I like Howard Stern; I love watching “Deadwood.” I don’t want those choices taken away from me.

Has the film been through the MPAA?

It has not. We decided to release it unrated. I honestly harbored a desire to let the MPAA see it — we did hear through some intermediaries that they wanted to rate it. I was kind of hopeful that it would get an NC-17, because it had a chance of getting an NC-17 for language, and it would have been the first film ever that got it specifically just for language. But cooler minds prevailed — it’s much more troublesome marketing a film that’s NC-17 than one called, “Fuck,” and I think if you have both on there, it would be very difficult.

Sorta throws a monkey-wrench into the fact that it’s all verbal.

In MPAA language, you get one “fuck” for a PG-13 film, and it has to be in a non-sexual way. We would’ve been rated R in the first thirty seconds. But our film goes on to talk about it, and in the first five minutes you’re very used to the word, and you’re talking about the word in the context of using the word, so I don’t really view it as obscene in any way. It’s a literate and hopefully entertaining discussion of a word that can be considered obscene, but I don’t think the film can be considered obscene.

It’s odd — at one point, Pat Boone rather proudly explains how he uses his own last name as a substitute swear word. Then you run a clip where Ice T turns it into “getting Booned,” and I sort of felt empathy for the fact that Pat never considered that possible permutation.

I actually have a lot of respect for Pat Boone — he was one of the first two people who signed on to do an interview. I don’t agree very often — almost never — with his points of view, but I do respect them for what they are. You know what you’re getting when he walks into the room, and the film really deserved to have that point of view in there.

What was it like getting Hunter S. Thompson to participate?

We got his phone number, one of my executive producers talked to him briefly, and I called him at his home phone number up in Woody Creek. I have to say it was a really wild experience even getting him on the phone. Hunter, in my mind, was almost a myth. He was kind of out there — I know he was a real person — but even when he appeared on media or the TV, he kind of embodied that. He liked the idea right away — it piqued his interest right away. The first thing he said was that he’d do it if I could bring Anne Coulter up to Woody Creek so he could debate her on-camera. I actually tried to get hold of her, tried to do it through intermediaries, but she politely declined.

Near the end of the film, there’s some conjecture about a possible sequel. So, can we be expecting “Cunt” in the near future?

I don’t think I’ll be making the “Cunt” documentary anytime soon. I don’t think you could make the same kind of movie. You can make a movie about anything, but “cunt” is not funny. It’s a word that’s worse, that’s more obscene, than “fuck.” Also, racial epithets are more obscene and hurtful than “fuck.” So I don’t think “Cunt” will be coming anytime soon. Maybe “Bullshit.” Bullshit’s fun.

“Fuck” opens in New York and Los Angeles on November 10, with additional cities starting November 17 (official site).

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