The dirty joke of The Aristocrats.

Reviews of the latest films.
July 28 2005 8:27 PM

Dirty Jokes

The Aristocrats tells one. 9 Songs is one.

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9 Songs is just dirty and dull 
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9 Songs is just dirty and dull

Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs (Tartan Films) crosses a different line of so-called decency. It's an arty hardcore sex film. Great: Movies don't have enough sex. That's not coming from someone with any attachment to porn—I've only seen two and a half porn movies in my life (a double bill of Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones, and half of Insatiable, in the middle of which I nodded off). The point is that a lot of things get worked out in sex. It's a forum for role-playing and stylized re-enactments of family traumas, with sudden inhibitions and sudden releases. These kinds of dramas are treated all the time in novels and short stories, but they're off-limits to mainstream moviemakers. It has been 30 years since Last Tango in Paris.

9 Songs could have been Last Rock Show in London. Unfortunately, it's stupefyingly dull, even at the short but resonant length of 69 minutes and with good rock music (by the Super Furry Animals and Franz Ferdinand, among other bands). A man flies over the Antarctic and meditates on a lost love—a skinny American nonactress who can certainly express sexual pleasure but little else. She's not just emotionally unavailable—she's a blank. The man is good-natured and well-endowed, but he has no one to play off. The most disturbing thing about 9 Songs—and the pop culture of our time—is that its completely normal, even vanilla sex, should be so startling on the big screen. Without even poop, or incest, or bestiality.

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Correction, July 29, 2005: The original version of this article described Chris Rock as The Aristocrats'only African-American. Several readers pointed out (acidly) that Whoopi Goldberg is not exactly Swedish. I guess the fact of her adopted last name and her popularity with whites (she first made her name on Broadway) caused a slight malfunction in my synapses. My appologies to anyone who was offended.

Correction, July 30, 2005: Erika Evasdottir writes: "As a Swede, I am a little annoyed at the 'Whoopi Goldberg is hardly Swedish' comment... Sweden has a strong tradition of immigration and those who choose our country do become Swedish. We come in all colors. Usually I do not comment on your American statements of race, since you have such a long tradition that the words means something different here, but this seems so blatantly uninformed and misguided that I cannot be silent." Also, Greg Frank thinks he remembers Steven Wright making a joke to the effect that everyone thinks he was raised by Jewish wolves, when in fact he was raised by Catholic wolves. At this point, I've decided to make no more jokes about race or religion and will stick to what I know—eating poop, bestiality, etc.

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. You can read his reviews in "Reel Time" and in "Movies." He can be contacted at slatemovies@slate.com.