In the Gutter



Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Tuesday, July 29 (Starz).

The irony of Starz’s “In the Gutter,” a semi-academic look at gross-out humor in the movies from its slapstick origins to the likes of “Borat” and “Knocked Up,” is that many of those most enamored with the genre are probably least likely to be attracted to a lesson in its history.

That said, it’s only fair to give credit to producer-director Jeffrey Schwarz and writer Jack Mulligan for a thorough, orderly, chronological explanation of how jokes about flatulence, bodily fluids, excretory waste and regurgitation all came to be a routine and a sometimes profitable part of the cinematic experience.

While you may or may not agree that the seeds for gross humor were planted by Shakespeare and nourished by the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers, there is abundant evidence that scatological gags and socially offensive scenes were rife in the 1960s and ‘70s and scarcely controversial by the millennium.

“Gutter” credits “Pink Flamingos” (1972) with being the first true and complete gross-out film, though it awards honorable mentions to other films of that vintage, including “Porky’s,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Animal House.” Still, it wasn’t until “There’s Something About Mary” (1998) that the genre became mainstream, asserts the one-hour documentary.

There are numerous examples from these movies and others, though some of the most shockingly memorable scenes are not included. That’s not a bad thing, though. If you saw Borat wrestle naked with Azamat Bagatov once, there will never be a need to see it again.

There’s also a tendency to be overly inclusive. “Gutter” expands the definition of gross-out humor to encompass salacious horror films and movies with gratuitous female nudity. As one interviewee points out, it’s only gross-out humor if the person you see naked is someone you don’t ever want to see naked.

Interview clips are scattered throughout the documentary from such gross-out experts as director John Waters and film critics David Ansen and Chris Gore. They impose a logical framework on the development of gross humor, though it’s doubtful a keener understanding of the genre will enhance your appreciation of it.

Production: Automat Pictures. Producer-director: Jeffrey Schwarz. Supervising producer: Sonja Nelson. Producer: Ted Nelson. Editor: Jeff Nemetz. Writer: Jack Mulligan. Executive in charge of production: Christopher Black.