Storytelling: Emperors and Aristocrats
There are two documentaries out right now that are proving quite popular despite their limited release. Both do an outstanding job of showing the power of story and both deal with harsh subject matter – albeit in completely different ways.
The first is a story about a very, very dirty joke. A joke so bad and so tasteless that it’s pretty much just an inside joke that comedians tell other comedians simply as a way to show off their vulgar improv skills. It’s The Aristocrats, a joke with a simple set-up (a man walks into a talent agency to pitch a new stage show…) and an ironic punchline (“that’s terrible, what’s it called?” “The Aristocrats!”). The part in between is a laundry list of disgusting and objectionable descriptions of acts in the show. That’s the point. Now, this isn’t a documentary that will be widely discussed and studied in schools but it is a great inside look at how people tell a story and how a story is shaped by who’s telling it. Something like 75 well-known comedians participated in this doc (by Penn of Penn & Teller), not only by telling their own version of the joke but by dissecting what to say, when to say it, and how to put a unique spin on it. Comedy as a craft.
The second film is a story about life in the most extreme environment on earth. March of the Penguins spends a year with a huge group of Emperor Penguins in Antarctica and gives us an inside look at the annual trek to breeding grounds, mating rituals, egg protection, weather sheltering, chick raising, and yet more waddling to and from the ocean. Produced by National Geographic Films, directed by Frenchman Luc Pacqet, and narrated (in the English version) by Morgan Freeman, it’s a beautifully shot film. And you couldn’t ask for more entertaining characters; these birds deserve an Oscar. It’s also a love story, filled with many triumphs and heartbreaks, and plenty of action and comedy. It’s no surprise why this film is outdrawing the season’s Hollywood blockbusters.