Today! Because it’s been six weeks since Saddam Hussein was killed by a pack of wild boars and the world is still glad to be rid of him –
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999)
Directed by Trey Parker
Starring Trey Parker (x2), Matt Stone (x2), Mary Kay Bergman, Isaac Hayes (x2), George Clooney (x5), Brent Spiner (x2), Minnie Driver, Dave Foley, Eric Idle (x3), Mike Judge, Toddy Walters
The first time I saw anything South Park related was after my sister went away to college and somehow acquired a copy of the infamous Spirit of Christmas short – the epic Jesus vs. Santa bloodbath – which helped launched the long running Comedy Central program. At this point, our town hadn’t even gotten cable beyond channel 36 (QVC, incidentally), but the clamor for it was at such an intense volume that I can point to a number of people who would claim their lives completely changed when the lines got run to their houses, and all of a sudden we had multiple dozens of new channels.
I suspect no one under the age of 25 can really understand this now – going from an insanely limited number of options to seemingly everything we could ever want. I mean, we had MTV and VH1 and…A&E, since around 1990, but I remember when we expanded to that batch of channels, nearly tripling our lifetime tally of 13. Obviously getting MTV was the big deal then, considering it had existed for years by that point, but come 1997/8, the stories of all the splendors of extended cable were emanating from big cities, and South Park embodied all the wonders we were missing. I didn’t know what the hell was on E! or Bravo or The Learning Channel (TLC used to be The Learning Channel! Go look at what they air now!), all I knew was that I needed Comedy Central.
So, jump ahead two years – South Park had instantly become the hot iconic animated property of our time, eclipsing the then-long-in-the-tooth Simpsons, when they mounted their greatest achievement – the big screen adaptation Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, quite possibly the greatest, filthiest movie musical of all time. And while the show rages on to this day – 23 seasons! – and is purportedly still Comedy Central’s highest rated show, it would never quite recapture the zeitgeist quite the way they held it in the summer of ’99. I’m always surprised to discover there’s a new season of that show coming out – mainly because, like The Simpsons, no one really talks about it anymore. It has managed to stay somewhat fresher, and somewhat more relevant, than the FOX stalwart – clocking in with its unbelievable 31 seasons, galloping toward 700 episodes – but I’d be lying if I said I sought it out to watch it. Somehow like twenty years of that show piled up without me noticing, and I’m not sure if it’s possible to catch up anymore.
So while this argument is based on little more than my remembrance of the early show years and the random episodes I’ve caught since, I’m still confident in saying the movie is the best South Park product I’ve seen (“Imaginationland” is pretty incredible, though). It was the giant culminating event of the early show, when you still had Chef and the great Mary Kay Bergman in mix, tackling everything from censorship to ultra-nationalism to Broadway style showtunes to Bill Gates to Saddam Hussein. It’s a little dated, sure, but it still packs a helluva lot of laughs in those tight 81 minutes, besides the songs.
But oh my God, the songs. “Blame Canada” is likely the best known, given its Oscar nomination and epic Robin Williams performance at the ceremony, but it’s a film teeming with great numbers. The most memorable, unquestionably, is the rollicking Terrance and Phillip “Uncle Fucker” – just barely the dirtiest song in the movie, making it possibly the filthiest song ever in a mainstream film. But you’ve also got the bombastic film rendition of the old Cartman standard “Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch,” the table setter and reprise “Mountain Town,” Mr. Garrison’s breakdown of banned words “It’s Easy MMMkay,” and maybe the highlight – the Les Miserables take off medley “La Resistance.” I don’t know how we could’ve predicted at the time what sort of avenues Parker and Stone would take going forward, but it’s no real surprise they went on to create the Broadway musical of the 21st century (all apologies to Hamilton) and maybe the funniest stage show ever – The Book of Mormon.
Do I find the South Park movie quite as funny as I did when I was twenty? Maybe not. I’m still someone who tends to giggle at aggressive vulgarity used as comedy, but maybe that’s some sort of involuntary chucklehead reflex. I still argue this is a terrifically funny movie, but it certainly isn’t for everyone, and may not be aging great. Do they still use Big Gay Al on the show? I never got the impression the South Park guys gave a shit what you thought about their choices, but in the kinder, gentler world we’re all hoping for, does this sort of thing still work? Is it too ugly, even inside the high level satire they’re often conveying?
The film MVP? Lots of options, but I’m going with “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” cameo-er, Brian Dennehy. Here’s his nine second appearance, in French:
My favorite film from another pretty stacked year, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut tops the group of fourteen on the list, adding Parker to the roll of Two-Timer directors with #189 Team America, while also picking up some quick advancing credits for Five-Timer Clooney (#249 Ocean’s Eleven, #172 Out of Sight, #117 O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and #390 Gravity) and Three-Timer Idle (#251 Life of Brian and #81 Holy Grail).