Jill Clayburgh, 'An Unmarried Woman' (1978)

For, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Way back in 1983 I wrote about a movie trend depicting vomiting in a more graphic way than had been done previously. Of course, today, in the era of ‘Bridesmaids’ and its ilk, and the general acceptance of disgusting bodily-function gags as comedy, the examples I used would not even cause a blip on the cinematic radar screen. This was a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column headlined ‘The “gag” writers must be keeping busy,’ published in the Deseret News on April 24, 1983. Predictably, the last line resulted in a lot of response; I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Fast-forward to the 21st century and I'm back to feeling as if I am the only one.

And speaking of movie advertising . . . oh, that was last week’s column. But that’s OK, this relates.

Friday’s paper (and possibly today’s for all I know) had a new ad for “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life,” specifically relating to those elements of the film I found most repulsive. “Have you been grossed out by America’s #1 Comedy Hit?” the ad asks, with a picture of Terry Jones as the world’s fattest man and nauseatingly liquid-like art surrounding the critic’s quotes that endorse the film.

“The Meaning of Life” is indeed a big hit, and seldom have I been verbally pummeled over a review as much as this one. As my colleague Lee Davidson reported in his radio column more than a week ago, I was accosted by a fellow at a restaurant shortly after my disappointed 1 ½-star review of the Python film showed up in the Deseret News. Looking me in the eye, he said simply, “Your Monty Python review bit rocks!” Then he turned and walked way. Another colleague at the paper tells me I’m too prudish (though not in words so polite), and numerous calls and confrontations have similarly defended the Pythons.

Perhaps I should reiterate — I love the Pythons! I just think that this time they went too far.

And none of these defensive positions has changed my mind. There’s no question that “The Meaning of Life” is the Python’s best-produced film and contains moments of brilliance, but it is also by far their most offensive, and just seems to go for shock value over humor far too often. I had a bad taste in my mouth (not to mention how my stomach felt) when it was all over, which does not make for a particularly pleasant movie experience.

Maybe it’s just me, though. I’ve never taken well to screen vomit. I can handle it in real life (when you have kids, you have to), but not when I’m sitting in a darkened theater munching popcorn.

And the most notorious scene in “The Meaning of Life” — which is bound to go down (and I do mean down) in film history with the likes of the campfire scene in “Blazing Saddles” — has the aforementioned fatman throwing up in a projectile stream, then eventually exploding his insides all over a restaurant. I have been told that it was so exaggerated it’s hilarious — and I admit that there was laughter running through much of the audience. But none of it came from me.

I used to have an answer for people who said there’s nothing wrong with graphic violence or explicit sex in movies because that’s what happens in real life. I’d come back with “So is throwing up, but I don’t want to see that graphically portrayed either.”

Then throwing up started getting more and more graphic.

I remember the first time it really moved me to nausea was in “An Unmarried Woman,” the famous scene that has Jill Clayburgh heading for a trashcan after her husband (Michael Murphy) tells her he’s leaving her for another woman. It’s a good scene, and reasonably brief — but it got me for a moment, there.


John Cleese, left, and Terry Jones, 'Meaning of Life' (1983)

Then I began seeing it in movies of varying quality — from “The Exorcist” to “The Tin Drum” to “Amityville II: The Possession.” No longer was it confined to off-screen gagging. And the worse offender before “The Meaning of Life” was “Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” which had Terry Gilliam throwing up in his hat, then wearing it. Gag me with a gag.

I suppose I should have seen it coming. And I suppose something like the Python treatment was bound to happen sooner or later. But that doesn’t necessarily make it universally funny. I still reserve the right to find funny what I find funny — and so do you, humor being the most unpredictable kind of filmmaking.

If it makes you laugh, then to you, it’s funny. And if you laughed and enjoyed this scene, that’s fine. But for me, it was just too much (and so were several other scenes in this particular film).

I only have one more thing to say on the subject.

Am I the only one who felt this way?