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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

April 18th, 2016

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Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a documentary about the rise and fall of National Lampoon, which at one time was the most influential force in American comedy. If you are old enough to remember National Lampoon at its peak, will this film tell you something new? If you only know the label from the terrible films that have come out over the last decade or so, will this documentary give you more respect for the once-giant force in comedy?

The Movie

National Lampoon began as the Harvard Lampoon back in the 1870s and during its its roughly 100-year run, produced only a couple of notable writers. That changed when Douglas Kenney and Henry Beard joined in the mid 1960s. Their parodies got the attention of the editor-in-cheif of Mademoiselle, who wanted them to write a parody of the fashion magazine. The money wasn't great, but it did get them national attention, and a free subscription advertisement. Furthermore, it convinced them to write a few more parody episodes and eventually a parody of Lord of the Rings called Board of the Rings. This success led to them forming a national magazine, a.k.a. National Lampoon.

National Lampoon started out with a rough patch, until it found the right art style. Then success came quickly and it began to expand into other mediums, like radio and live shows. However, the more success they earned, the more attention they got. This would normally be a good thing, but a lot of the attention came from other productions who wanted to steal their talent. Would their success result in their downfall?

I'm too young to remember National Lampoon at its peak. In fact, I wasn't even a teenager when the the magazine was no longer a monthly publication. That said, I knew of the magazine's reputation. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead does go over how the writers and artists and later actors built that reputation. It does stop before the really low points of the magazine. (It was kept on life-support for more than a decade after death and the brand lived on attached to some truly awful movies.) The fact that the film doesn't touch on this era of the magazine / brand means the movie is incomplete in my eyes. That said, I can understand why they would leave out that part. It makes sense for two reasons. Firstly, nearly everyone who was there at the beginning had moved on, so you could argue that it was an example of the Ship of Theseus paradox, in that the pieces were replaced so many times that it wasn't really the same magazine. No one who was part of the golden age would have any first-hand information about the low times. Secondly, it would be really, really depressing to talk about.

Not only is the movie informative, but there are a ton of comedy greats who either came from National Lampoon, were tangentially involved in the glory years, or were influenced by the comedy giant. The combination of voices and stories being told makes the movie very engaging. It is worth checking out even if you never read the magazine or saw any of the classic movies. ... Then again, if you haven't seen Animal House or the original Vacation, then you have to change that right away.

The Extras

Extras begin with 22 minutes of deleted interview segments. There's a one-minute exert from a story by Douglas Kenney, as read by John Goodman. There is a ten-minute featurette on Animal House. Perhaps "featurette" is too strong a term. It is more deleted interviews. There is a two-minute look at drugs in the office. Jaws 3 People 0 is a two-minute featurette on a potential National Lampoon movie that got cut early in production. Working in NYC is a short, minute-long look at working in NYC. There are two minutes of thoughts on Saturday Night Live and how National Lampoon influenced it. Finally, there are three minutes of people talking about their favorite National Lampoon pieces.

While some of the segments are a little too short, the overall extras are excellent.

The Verdict

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a great documentary and is worth checking out for those interested in learning about National Lampoon. If you already know a bit, but want to hear the information first hand, then the DVD or Blu-ray are worth picking up.

Filed under: Video Review, John Goodman, Douglas Kenney