For these two brothers censorship was no laughing matter.
For three seasons (1967-1996) TV's The Smothers Brother Comedy Hour made viewers laugh at both Dick and Tom Smothers' folksy comedy, as well as commentary about the nation's troubled times. What viewers didn't know is that behind the scenes at CBS, Tom and Dick waged an endless war between their material (which included writers Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb, and Rob Reiner) and the TV censors who sought to keep anything controversial off the air. Through the turbulent Vietnam War, through the Nixon administration, Dick and Tom Smothers continued their campaign to keep relevant and often hysterical material on their irreverent show. Featuring singers Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, comedian Bill Maher, and a host of other interviewees and guests, Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour shows just how far two men would go to get a laugh…and how far their network would go to smother it.
Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is one of the more interesting documentaries in recent years. Talk about something I knew nothing about—I had no idea that in the late 1960s The Smothers Brothers were so gosh darn radical. Of course, this was their intentional disguise—look like all-American boys but carry a big personal cause. This film (directed by Maureen Muldaur) is something of an eye-opener for those with little knowledge of TV censorship. Most of us are used to seeing almost anything on television these days; everything from Dennis Franz's bare backside to Jackass players whacking each other in the gonads with baseballs and dog bones. But in the late 1960s, the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations had a far tighter grasp on network TV, and network TV had a tight choke hold on the Smothers' often satirical, biting comedy routines. Though Smothered is sometimes a bit one-sided (and focuses more on Tommy Smothers than his brother Dick), the overall effect is startling—these two good-natured men were really pioneers for seeing American censorship banished. There are a lot of juicy tidbits stuffed into this documentary, including the wonderfully acidic story behind a censored script written by funny woman Elaine May (which, incidentally, had to do with the CBS censors). Though it lacks the scope of an epic documentary (it's certainly no Ken Burns Civil War), Smothered should still hold the audiences attention to the very end. And that's something to sing about.
Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The transfer is somewhat of a mixed bag—while the interviews and recent video footage looks fine, the archival footage of the Smothers' TV show is dated and worn. Otherwise, this is an apt looking transfer for the film that it's supporting. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in English. Like the video presentation, this audio mix works fine in context of the film—though a small amount of hiss and distortion pops up from time to time during the archival footage, overall the mix is free and clear of any major imperfections. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles have been included on this disc.
The extra features on this DVD are a bit slim—all that's included are short biographies on director Maureen Muldaur and The Smothers Brothers, a very brief excerpt from critic/historian David Bianculli's forthcoming book on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," and various trailers for other Docurama DVD titles.
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