Better known for his work with "TrailerVision," that impish and hysterical comedy troupe responsible for crazy trailers for non-existent movies, director Albert Nerenberg also maintains a regular career as a mostly straight journalist and documentarian, also working in print and TV mediums with several of Canada's best-known enterprises.
As he explains in the DVD's excellent commentary track, Nerenberg's project on stupidity actually began as an investigation on the huge popularity of "Jackass," a film in which the more R-rated, imbecilic antics of masochistic men-children were cobbled into a feature-length movie from the popular TV series. Made for the Documentary Channel, Nerenberg's project ultimately sought deeper answers to the origin, meaning, and usage of the nomenclature society uses to subjugate bad behaviour or unsociable acts.
Stylistically, "Stupidity" raises a number of valid questions, and the director gathers some intriguing soundbytes from linguistic, intellectual, and celebrity heavy-hitters. Although expanded to feature length from its hour-long TV format, the film's pacing is a Moore-ish, multimedia mix of TV footage, ephemeral industrials, layered sounds, news footage (some shot by Nerenberg himself), and short montages starring his TrailerVision associates. Nerenberg's use of collage animation also recalls Ron Mann's work, giving "Stupidity" a brisk flow that sometimes hampers efforts to pursue in detail some intriguing arguments.
The archived TV interview with Nerenberg has veteran host Christina Pochmursky initially comforting the director with fawning comments, but she quickly takes his style and garish humour to task, making for some civil but entertainingly sharp exchanges.
"Stupidity" also contains a lot of Canadian references - plenty of nods to local follies, such as a government aid labeling President ‘Dubya' a "moron" - and journalists in the Q&A segments inevitably discuss the film's Canadian perspective. Unlike British journalists who go for the jugular, or feign a persona of green-eared naivete (see pretty much anything by self-styled bumbler Nick Broomfield), Canada's more direct exposure to U.S. media, coupled with its cultural links to Brit humour, reveals Nerenberg to be visually astute commentator who uses dry English deadpan fused with Warner Bros cartoon sensibilities.
From central figures like "Jackass" star Steve-O, the commercialization of imbecility has greater potency when marketed by the U.S., and the Steve-O tour in Quebec City and Montreal are given an extended showcase in the film's final act; vomit, mooning, and riot footage may have adversely affected Nerenberg's use of longer (and elucidating) interview segments, so the inclusion of extended interview footage in a separate gallery on the DVD adds some needed balance.
The extra comments also make it clear Nerenberg used a 1.33:1 ratio, and the decision to matte the feature film to 1.85:1 seriously affects the compositions in areas, particularly in footage from fifties industrial and educational films, where some actors lose the tops of their craniums; additionally, name captions occasionally obliterate part of the subject's face during a reply, furthering the film's awkward compositions.
That said, "Stupidity" tackles an admittedly tough subject. According to some of the interviews, in the academic world, the machinations of daft human behaviour is a no-no for serious study - a rather odd stance, given mental myopia not only entertains millions, but is an integral element of our oddball character.
Nerenberg's more recent films include Escape to Canada (2005) and Let's All Hate Toronto (2007).
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan