"South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut"

Beneath the veneer of fake dicks and fart jokes, it's really a righteous paean to saying whatever the hell you want

By Stephanie Zacharek
July 2, 1999 8:01PM (UTC)
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"South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" is a movie about
freedom of speech and of expression, about courage in the
face of oppression. But that's just a lure to get you into
the theater -- these days it's hell to attract an intelligent
audience into a movie rife with fart jokes, fake dicks and
bad language. So, for the record: "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" is
ultimately so enriching, it could change your life, and will
no doubt become a staple of civics classes for years to
come.

Now about those fake dicks: They're real! But not really --
they're photographic images cut out of paper. You see them
when Saddam Hussein, who's died and become Satan's lover in
hell, starts waving them around from under the bed-clothes,
threatening poor Beelzebub with all kinds of untold
pleasures of Eros. Let your freak flag fly, we say.

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But not even those fake dicks penetrate to the core appeal
of the "South Park" movie, a collaboration between Trey Parker
and Matt Stone, creators of the hugely popular Comedy
Central show. (If a distinction must be made, the fart jokes
are even funnier.)

"South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," is a
surprisingly cohesive piece of filmmaking -- really. It's
never a good idea to hold out much hope that a
half-hour
animated program
will translate well to the big screen: The
herky-jerky, minimalist animation of "Beavis and Butt-head"
(entertaining enough in 30-minute wedges spliced with video
footage) proved too slack to sustain a feature-length movie.
Beavis and Butt-head are characters designed to be watched
from a slumped-down position in a chair at home, the kind of
thing you use to numb yourself out after a day of punching
cash-register (or computer) keys -- or the kind of thing you
watch if, God forbid, you find yourself wasted in the middle
of the afternoon.

But "Bigger, Longer & Uncut" -- even more so than the show
from which it was developed -- demands attentiveness. Maybe
it's more correct to say that it commands it. If you're
feeling distracted and fuzzy, a song like "Uncle Fucka" (one
of several big musical numbers in "Bigger, Longer & Uncut") is
just the thing to snap you back into the world of the
living, whether you find the hedonistic abandon of the
lyrics ("You're an uncle fucka, yes it's true, no one fucks
uncles quite like you") offensive or not. The protests of
educators and learned dweebs to the contrary, "South Park" --
both the show and the movie -- isn't slacker entertainment,
the kind of anti-stimulation you seek when you want to close
yourself off from the world. It requires a certain level of
engagement to key into "South Park's" miniature universe of
anarchy. At its most basic level, it's about the freedom and
exhilaration of saying whatever you want. People who've
programmed themselves to forget how lush and naughty it felt
to say, "Fuck!" for the first time obviously wouldn't get it.

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In "Bigger, Longer & Uncut," the outrageousness of the
things that come out of the "South Park" characters' mouths is
amusing for the first half-hour or so. But Parker and Stone
must have known they couldn't rely on it for the duration,
and they marshaled enough ideas to build the movie out from
there, spinning out a spiral of devious, dizzying little
thrills.

Written by Parker, Stone and Pam Brady, the story,
for all its outlandishness, is worked out better than the
narratives of many allegedly "serious" live-action features.
Stan, Cartman, Kyle and Kenny all sneak into the R-rated
Canadian import film "Asses of Fire," starring their heroes,
toilet-humor potentates Terrence and Philip. (Refused entry
because they're too young, they ask a homeless person
to buy their tickets for them -- a reflection of Parker and Stone's adamance about
keeping the movie's R-rating, thus forcing parents
everywhere to take their kids to see it. It's a loud-and-clear
raspberry to the Uncle Fuckas on the MPAA ratings board.)
When they return to their third-grade class with an arsenal
of delightful new obscenities, their classmates rush off to
see the movie for themselves. Parents, shocked at their
progeny's new vocabulary, call a meeting and decide that
it's not society nor television that's to blame, but Canada.
At the initiation of Kyle's mom (who, as anyone who's ever
watched the show knows, is a big fat bitch), and with the
help of Conan O'Brien, Terrence and Philip are taken hostage
by the United States. Canada retaliates in a most heinous
fashion -- I refuse to give away the nature of the initial
attack -- and a full-scale war is launched, with Satan and
Saddam Hussein mixing it up as well.

From there, "Bigger, Longer & Uncut" serves up nonstop
action (as well as nonstop bad taste), along with some
animated blood and gore. I'd be lying if I said it didn't
get all just a bit wearying in the last third: You may start
to feel so overstimulated that you long for a break. But
Parker and Stone have a knack for subtleties, too, and it's
what saves their work from being completely exhausting.
They're sharp ironists, but you have to be wide-awake, open
to the images that flash past the corner of your eye, like
the sign on the wall of a classroom that says, "Get high on
pottery." The dorkiness of well-meaning adults knows no
bounds.

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And although the "primitive" animation of South Park is
supposedly a joke, it's really a secret weapon. The
simplicity of Parker and Stone's technique is what makes it
so effective. On the big screen, the texture of the
construction paper that's used to make the characters and
backgrounds jumps right out at you, even more so than on the
TV screen. Anyone familiar with the show knows that each of
the regular characters has his or her own distinguishing
characteristics (Kenny's snorkel hood, for example). But
here, Parker and Stone also give us a beautifully drawn
lobster-red Satan. His pectorals are stylized curlicues, and
he wears a raggedy fur loincloth and a skull codpiece, as
well as an almost perpetually stricken expression (he isn't
such a bad Satan after all).

And Parker and Stone are madly inventive when it comes to
details: During the big opening number (in which Stan sings
a paean to his small mountain town, even as he's getting
pushed off the sidewalk and similarly abused by his fellow
inhabitants), at one point you see a battalion of tiny black
kittens marching up a snowbank. It's the kind of image to
which the only proper response is "What the ...?" It means
nothing in the grand scheme, but it's a small delight, a
fillip that couldn't have just plopped down accidentally.

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Of course, none of this adequately conveys the important
message of "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," but for that
kind of enlightenment, you'll have to experience the movie
firsthand. Suffice to say that Parker and Stone have a
dream: They envision a nation populated by miniature sailors
on perpetual shore leave. The reality of that dream is a
long way off, but "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut"
brings us one step closer.


Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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