Fox // 1982 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Neil Dorsett (Retired) // October 12th, 2004
"Only you understand me, toilet bowl. You're the only friend I have."
There are those who maintain that there are certain elements necessary to the success of a motion picture. Elements such as likeable characters, a complex and challenging plot, elaborate sets or musical numbers, or exciting cinematography. To those people and all the rest, I am about to wholeheartedly recommend a feature film that consists of one man sitting on a chair unrestrainedly making fun of his own wife and children.
The man? One William H. Cosby.
No family icon or member is safe in Bill Cosby's 1982 filmed concert at the Hamilton Place Performing Arts Center in Ontario. From his son's experimental "reverse mohawk" hairstyle to the tendencies of the daughter known as "The Informer," not to mention the effects that these small "brain-damaged" creatures have on his beloved wife, Cos lets loose his angst at his situation as the father of five. The movie opens with a photo-montage of said family as Cosby sings a loving ballad, "Just the Slew of Us...with stereos in every room..." From that, the man walks upon the stage, and doesn't leave till it's over. I don't want to reiterate too much of the material here, suffice it to say that this is a master at work. Cosby does all sorts of classic bit material here -- drunk jokes, fart jokes, and Brother Russell -- while integrating his newer life as a father into the act. But with every word that could seem bitter or angry there is a loving tone; this is a man who, despite his henpecked and harangued situation, does not regret his children. He's having fun, his own way, through the wars, and getting along with his kids. To quote another musical number from the concert, their opinion seems to be along the lines of "Dad is great, he give us the chocolate cake."
Cos actually makes the huge career transition to fatherhood comedy right at the 1/3 point of this movie. He works a few crowd-pleasing drunk and drug jokes in at the beginning and does his renowned dentist bit before settling down into the chair and right there in front of you he changes his whole modus operandi. Where previously there had been the expansive cast of characters collectively known as Fat Albert, now there is Bill Cosby -- himself. Although of course they've been replaced by a new gaggle of youths. From this act sprang The Cosby Show, of course, with effects on network television that can't really be overestimated. The movie also gives one a bit of insight regarding Cosby's active pursuit of pitchwork through the '80s -- five kids cost a pretty penny, after all. But don't take that to mean I think he became cynical -- for every Jell-O™ commercial, there is an episode of Picture Pages, and he's long been at the service of the American Red Cross...the man is just flat out prolific.
The movie is entirely at the service of its lead performer, who seems to be presented in real time, even to the extent of his surveys of the audience to detect where next to proceed with the material. Cosby, his chair, and a background of occasionally shifting colors comprise the entire content of the movie (the audience is never shown). So what does one really need from this, movie-wise? Clear image of the man's face, and clear sound, and not a lot of fuss in the camera. All are amply provided. My only quibble, and a slight one, with the image is that Cosby is so heavily lit for the theatrical venue that the metal of his watch, rings and chair tends to glitter overmuch, producing heavily starred flares, like Xanadu or a Rick James video. It's not really a problem, although it might have been avoidable with a different stock. Or perhaps the effect is deliberate. Either way, I found it a (very mild) distraction when viewing the movie on a large screen.
The older VHS and cable prints of Cosby Himself have been so bad as to make it appear that the movie was sourced on a video format and converted to 35mm. This new edition puts lie to that assumption. The picture is sharp and crisp on both sides, and the simple background of shifting colors provides a lot of room for the motion encoding to operate on the film's only visual subject -- Cosby's face. The image is provided in both anamorphic 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 full frame (panned and scanned). The audio, on both mono and stereo tracks, is as crisp and clear as any recorded comedy performance. A rather pathetic theatrical trailer has been included. It's made of punchlines and some silly Terry Gilliam-looking photo animations with a terrible overenthusistic voice over, which seems to be from that one guy who did all the made-for-video movie trailers in the '80s. No other extras are included. Parents should be cautioned about assuming this is a fit presentation for very young children -- it is, after all, a concert given by one adult to many others. There is a smattering of adult-oriented content and a small dash of language -- but more relevantly, those parents who show this film to any children stand a pretty good chance of hearing bits from it over and over again for several weeks, so caveat emptor in that department. There's nothing extreme or anything like that, just regular life language -- you know, the filth flarn filth.
A side note must be made that some of the jokes made at the expense of Cosby's middle child, son Enos, might seem regrettable in the face of his untimely death several years later. This doubtless makes the material hard to revisit for its creator -- but it should not affect you as an audience. In this movie, it is 1982, and these are tales of a family in bloom, which has not yet suffered such tragedy.
Historical significance plus big laffs equals buy this disc.
Bill Cosby's standup act is not only acquitted, but it makes up for all but two of the Pudding Pop commercials and Leonard Part 6. Bill Cosby Himself is an excellent presentation of the act in its pivotal early '80s form, showing us a Cos who gracefully steps into the mature phase of his career. The only crime here is that there aren't any more quite like it. Cosby has been slaughtering crowds on the road again in recent years; maybe it's not too late.
Review content copyright © 2004 Neil Dorsett; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailer