Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon

April 8, 2016

Review, Theatrical Leave a Comment

“…sensitive yet playful…”
national-lampoon-hero (1)

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon

By Eli Landes
Year: 2015
Rating: R
Director: Douglas Tirola

Henry Beard, Judd Apatow, Kevin Bacon, Chevy Chase

Distributor: Australian Centre For The Moving Image
Released: April 17-May 3 (Melbourne)
Running Time: 98 minutes
Worth: $17.00

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…sensitive yet playful…

You’d never see the likes of Judd Apatow, Tina Fey, or Amy Schumer minding their language or filtering their content, and that’s largely because the 1970’s comedy crew, National Lampoon, challenged the status quo and paved the way for contemporary comedians to confront religion, sex, politics, and everything in between. Douglas Tirola’s Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon contextualises our comedic freedom while also celebrating the National Lampoon’s formative years, through old footage, original radio recordings, and magazine covers depicting, amongst other things, babies in blenders.

Tirola takes audiences back to Harvard’s hallways where Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney were editing a campus-based humour magazine. When the pair parodied The Lord Of The Rings with a short novel, Bored Of The Rings, they found creative confidence and quickly moved on to establish the National Lampoon magazine. What followed was success across a broad spectrum of media, bringing money, drugs, and a crowded office of budding comedians.

There is a dizzying amount of talent in this documentary, and these people can act, write, but most of all, talk – winningly providing an account of an unjustly forgotten period, with an eloquence and wit that brings the National Lampoon offices to vivid life. At the heart of this mischievous documentary, however, is a very complicated human story, as Douglas Kenney’s radical artistry and excessive nature carefully compliment Henry Beard’s introversion and logic. As their publication expanded, Beard kept his head down and focused on his writing, while Kenney indulged, all to the creative benefit of the magazine. But as Kenney’s insecurities dovetailed with his excess and success, something tragic began to unfold. But despite all the drama, Tirola never loses sight of the humour that made National Lampoon work so beautifully in the first place.

With this sensitive yet playful voice, Tirola shows how decades of richly comedic material found its cultural maturity. We begin in the company’s roots of print, exploring early cartoon panels and satirical stories. As National Lampoon takes a step into more performative platforms, we see John Belushi singing Joe Cocker at a live concert, and Bill Murray –sporting an almost full head of hair and an 80’s stache – rehearsing lines with his comedy troop. Making their definitive leap into the world of film and television, we see Kenney on the set of Animal House, consummating National Lampoon’s transition from fringe to popular culture.

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