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DISPATCH FROM L.A.: Four-Letter Word Film Explores the Etymology of an Expletive

DISPATCH FROM L.A.: Four-Letter Word Film Explores the Etymology of an Expletive

A provocative new documentary premiering at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival this week has a title too racy to be listed on the large digital marquee inside Hollywood’s Arclight cinemas. Yet, movie tickets here at AFI Fest boldly proclaim its title: “Fuck.” The origins of the four-letter word, the prevalence of its usage in movies, on TV and in music, and the tightening of restrictions regarding free expression in this country are among the topics explored in Steve Anderson‘s new film. Through animated segments by Bill Plympton, and conversations with late author Hunter S. Thompson, filmmaker Kevin Smith, critic Michael Medved, columnist Judith Martin (aka “Miss Manners”), rapper Ice-T, porn figure Ron Jeremy, newsman Sam Donaldson, comedians Billy Connolly, Janeane Garofalo, and Drew Carey, and more, Anderson considers the history of the word and its role in popular culture and throughout history.

With the cleverness of recent docs like “Super Size Me” and “The Corporation,” and the raciness of such films as “The Aristocrats” and “Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic,” Anderson’s “Fuck” is an intriguing and entertaining exploration of the word that has struck a chord with audiences at AFI Fest; buyers are buzzing as well.

Answering questions from the audience at his first screening, just days after completing the movie, Anderson talked about his decision to make a documentary about a word. Explaining that he had often joked about the idea of making such a film, at some point Anderson said he simply decided, “Why the fuck not!”

An animated scene by Bill Plympton, from the film, “Fuck.” Image provided by the filmmakers.

“What really intrigued me at first was the word itself,” explained Anderson, director of the narrative feature film “The Big Empty” two years ago. Chatting with indieWIRE Thursday in the lobby of the Arclight in Hollywood, he added that in exploring the origin of the word, he realized that it offered a way to look at free speech. In the film, Anderson not only delves into the rumors surrounding its original meaning — some believe it is an acronym, “fornicate under command of the king” — but he also explores the work of comedians Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, the recent decision of Howard Stern to move to satellite radio, the controversial tenure of FCC chief Michael Powell, incidents such as U2’s Bono saying the word ‘Fuck’ on national television and Janet Jackson‘s breast being exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show, and the recent incident in which U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney told a U.S. Senator, “Go fuck yourself,” during a heated congressional session.

When all is said and done, the word “Fuck” is used 629 times in the film. It’s used as a verb, a noun, and adjective, and more — all explained in detail, often humorously.

After submitting an earlier version of the movie to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and being rejected, Anderson decided to bring this version of the movie to AFI Fest, where he screened “The Big Empty” two years ago. He hopes to travel to a few more festivals in the coming months, before ideally having the film released in the Spring.

Buyers have reacted well, Anderson says, and he is confident that he (and ICM‘s Sean Redick who is handling sales) can secure a deal that will guarantee a limited theatrical release and DVD distribution. Despite an array of movie clips, performance footage featuring comedians, and news footage, Anderson explained that he has top lawyers working with him to secure all necessary rights. “We are in really good shape as far as clips go,” he said Thursday, adding that the version of the film that is finally released in theaters and on DVD will be nearly identical to the one that screened this week.

“I expect that the very fact that there is a film about the F-word will create some controversy,” explained Anderson in comments on the film’s website, “I’m 100% sure the movie will be offensive to some precisely because of the language,” but he added, “I don’t personally believe that the content of the film, when you sit down to watch it from beginning to end, is all that controversial; in fact, it’s thoughtful.”

Many who watched the film here at AFI Fest seemed to find it rather liberating, giving attendees an opportunity to playfully use the word. “So, what was your fucking budget for this fucking film,” an audience member yelled out during an AFI Fest Q & A session this week. The hardly surprising answer from one of the film’s producers, “None of your fucking business!”

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