The clue’s in the title. Documenting the rise of the National Lampoon magazine and its prominence within outrageous humour and American pop-culture, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is the tale of one of contemporary American comedies most prolific outlets. Beginning with the satirical journalism and later looking at the presence of National Lampoon in cinema, theatre and radio, this is a documentary which does what it says on the tin. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon tells the stories of the creators, contributors and collaborators behind the print and scripts. Here we learn that comedians are not only comedians but visionaries, burdens, addicts, workaholics, artists, liabilities and plagued souls. This is a story about the people, told by the people. Interviews with countless associated artists and comedians fill the screen, from pioneers of the magazine to younger comedians and writers on whom the National Lampoon left a great impression. This film simply confirms speculation that the outlet was driven by obsession, drugs, ego and shock value. Yet is does succeed in sufficiently exploring the behaviours and personalities of the Lampoon’s two founders – one obviously absent from the line-up of talking-heads. Fans of Saturday Night Live or National Lampoon’s film franchises from the 1980s will be disappointed by the film’s limited dedication to Bill Murray, John Belushi or Animal House. All are included and occasionally enter the picture but there is no doubt that Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon‘s main concern is with the arrogance and artistry that filled up the offices of the National Lampoon publication.
Heading towards an emotional but predictable segment in its final third, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead spends the rest of the time being either angry or mischievous. Anecdotes and recollections make up the film’s main narrative and add an expected charm and humour. Moving through the Lampoon’s history chronologically, with the occasional bump in the road – Douglas Tirola’s documentary is made with a fondness for its subject matter and told frankly; designed for fans of the Lampoon and not interested in converting anyone new. Familiar faces burst onto the screen but are soon gone and replaced by another ageing scoundrel of American comedy. Chevy Chase and Tony Hendra are particularly enjoyable to hear from. The film spends so much time exploring the history of the magazine that the closing chapters and their documentation of the Lampoon’s films and expansion seem rushed and under-sourced. Either more time should have been spent on the later years or none at all. One emotional story of death reveals tragedy and sorrow which is still evidently felt by certain members of the National Lampoon family – a moving sequence which stands out amongst the cloudy, intoxicating haze of humour that is the rest of the film. Other than this fragile movement, the film has no revelations or reveals that will linger in your mind. Still, I was charmed by the film’s portrayal of those involved in the creation, success and expansion of National Lampoon as a family in frenzy; simultaneously friends and foes living in a chaotic comedic time that could never have lasted.
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