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I'm not a die-hard fan of Jackass, but it is certainly quite watchable and amusing in comparison with the dire Dirty Sanchez series. This, I think, is mainly thanks to the great screen presence of Johnny Knoxville. From his co-starring role in The Rundown to his recent part in Dukes of Hazzard, he is a charismatic, energetic natural actor, and moreover his zany style of acting is positively unique. A Dirty Shame is the latest DVD release starring Knoxville, a comedy by the infamous John Waters, the man behind Hairspray and Cecil B. Demented.

A Dirty Shame
Film
Sylvia (Tracey Ullman) is a middle-aged mother living in pleasant suburbia with her unsatisfied husband, Vaughn (Chris Isaak), and her over-sexed daughter, Caprice (Selma Blair). Denying her husband sex has left him finding his own relief in the bathroom and the porn-star daughter with over-sized breasts, whose alter ego is aptly named Ursula Udders, has to be padlocked in her room to prevent her being arrested for one sexual offence or another. One day she bumps into Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville), a self-proclaimed sexual healer who works his magic on this bitter woman and turns her into a sex addict. Before we know it, Sylvia has a completely knew outlook on life—everything is sex, sex, sex.

Unfortunately, Sylvia works with her mother (Suzanne Shepherd) and a rather prudish group of women (whom she was probably formerly right at home amongst) that have a rather extreme definition of indecency—for example, they regard sex twice a week as being unspeakably frequent and anybody gay as unnaturally indecent. At the other end of the scale it seems everybody else is behaving like a sex addict (something Ray-Ray professed was happening in the town)—teenagers fingering raw mince in the local store, women smothering themselves with ravioli, far too much public sex being engaged in and Sylvia herself behaving in an uncontrollably wild manner (we're talking doing things with a bottle that she really shouldn't do—especially in an old persons' home).

What follows is the tale of a rather strange sexual awakening occurring in this repressed little town, catalysed by Ray-Ray's sexual healing habits and epitomised by Sylvia's own voyage of discovery. It makes little sense, is seldom particularly funny and does not really have a single likeable character in it. And in the modern age of extreme gross-out comedies, it isn't even that shocking—just vulgar. Before I get accused of being prudish myself, I understand the value in Farrelly Brothers' productions like Stuck on You and There's Something About Mary—they were both pretty enjoyable—but this movie just did not work for me. Even Johnny Knoxville could not save it.

A Dirty Shame
Much as I did not personally enjoy this production, it does have some inherent subtext that is theoretically of value in modern society. Like many Waters movies, it is making a statement, primarily about the fight between liberalism and censorship. I understand this—how the protagonists are merely middle-class Americans who want to be free to indulge in whatever takes their fancy, finding themselves fighting against the prudish Government that seek to restrain and 'neuter' them. Unfortunately it did not really ring true for me (America is a fairly liberal country in many respects) nor did the medium for broadcasting this message appeal to me. That said, I suspect some will find Waters' social commentary both engaging and entertaining.

Video
A Dirty Shame is presented in a perfectly reasonable 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The detail is superb throughout, with little noticeable edge enhancement, negligible grain and no noticeable softness. Still, there is something slightly low-budget about the look (probably because it was) that is visually slightly disappointing. Most notably, the colour scheme is a little faded—with even the most bright and vibrant colours suffering slightly and only the greens of the trees surviving intact. Still, the skin tones are perfectly acceptable and overall the palette is not that bad. The contrast is fairly good and the black levels are deep and strong.

A Dirty Shame
Audio
The main track is a pretty powerful Dolby Digital 5.1 effort with a strong representation of the all-important dialogue, coming mainly from the frontal array, along with an interesting score that has some pretty loud and intrusive peaks - not least the various suggestive vocal tracks that are included. The sound effects are pretty wide and varied, providing some room for directionality but very little bass, unfortunately. Overall, the track is quite a boisterous affair that engages you in the proceedings and projects just the right feel. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 track which is also remarkably potent considering its inherent limitations, offering all of the same content, just through a restricted scope.

Extras
First up there is a commentary with the director and writer, John Waters. He camps it up excessively, talking over-enthusiastically about his own wacky ideas and concepts but also providing background information into almost all of the characters and the corresponding actors—however big or small their parts. He explains a little bit of his underlying satirical intentions and his weird take on life, often coming across as unnecessarily pompous but also raising a couple of interesting questions. Only real fans of John Waters are likely to have gotten this far in the review or the disc, and you are unlikely to be disappointed by a commentary from a director you appreciate and respect.

A Dirty Shame
The second commentary is with myriad other crew members—the greens foreman (whatever that means), a couple of the designers, the props master and the casting director. Since there are so many of them, this easily makes for the more interesting commentary, although it is not scene-specific—they are not actually watching the DVD whilst recording their discussions, which makes it slightly more random. The most interesting aspect of their contributions is when they talk about the meaning behind the movie—the subtext and story—the majority of them admitting that it was not one of Waters' better visions. If you want a fairer, less rose-tinted view of the production, which still offers up some interesting film trivia, this is clearly the better of the two offerings.

‘All The Dirt on A Dirty Shame’ is a really, really long (83 minutes) behind the scenes featurette that is thankfully split up into several smaller and slightly more manageable pieces. We get introduced to the cast and characters, discussing their roles, the basic story and intentions of the movie, then a look at the setting and the world they created, taking a look at the creative process, the behind the scenes work, the rehearsals and the final impressions. The documentary is exemplary in its representation of the participants—giving you little cue cards that have a brief note of their previous film credits—and immediately offering an extra level of information that viewers will appreciate. The cast members come across very well, some of them strangely unaware of the full storylines and subtexts, with various crew members discussing the sexual aspects—the Bears, the sex acts etc— often to amusing effect. Johnny Knoxville pops up to add his wacky views and John Waters himself—despite a ridiculous moustache - is much more engaging here than he was on the commentary. A thorough and comprehensive documentary that is sure to satisfy any fans of this movie.

There is also a single, solitary deleted scene, which is actually more of an outtake as Johnny Knoxville engages in a hilarious on-set mock sex act. Finally, to round off the disc, we get the original theatrical trailer which runs at a little over a minute and a half and gives you a good idea as to what to expect from this movie but paints it is a slightly better way than the end result.

A Dirty Shame
Overall
I am sure A Dirty Shame had good intentions but the end result is not really that good, or that sharp in its observation of modern social culture. Even Johnny Knoxville disappoints in this lacklustre would-be gross-out escapade from John Waters. The video presentation is acceptable and the audio track is quite good really and with a huge volume of extra features, including no less than two commentaries and a massive documentary, those who enjoy the movie will find that they have struck gold. I do, however, advise that all but the staunchest Waters' enthusiasts make this a rental before they take that next step.


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