Everybody loves a good origin story (just ask Batman). Its no surprise, then, that much of Hulus marketing for itsnew documentary, Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine, has leaned heavily on the whole the magazine that gave us Jackass angle. Its an easy way to catch the interest of people whove never heard of the infamous, boundary-pushing skateboarding mag, and Dumb definitely does cover that segment of Big Brothers history. But theres a lot more to Dumb than just Big Brothers legacy in helping make Johnny Knoxville famous. Dumb is a thoroughly watchable look at a weird little publication that thrived on breaking the rules, and all the colorful characters swept into its orbit.
Beginning with Big Brothers founding in 1992 by Steve Rocco, Dumb unfolds more or less in chronological order. From skateboardings seemingly imminent demise as a trend in the late 80s, we follow Big Brothers embrace of the more outlaw elements of the subculture, an anti-authoritarian glee that helped redefine skater culture and ripple into larger pop culture as well. Packed full of interviews, archival video, and slick animated transitions incorporating the magazines art style, Dumb doesnt rely on fancy structure—it doesnt need to. The relatively straightforward narrative approach just serves as a loose excuse to explore the eccentric writers, artists, and skaters who helped make Big Brother a legend—and the bane of many a 90s parent.
This flick could easily just be interviews of these guys telling stories about each other, and itd still be a hoot to watch. While Jackass fans will be get plenty of familiar faces like Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, and Wee-Man, Dumb is at its best when focused on the Big Brother staff who were there from the beginning. Its fascinating watching this shitty little rag grow into a counterculture icon both in spite of, and because of, the fact that everybody involved was making it up as they went, driven only by mutual camaraderie and a rebellious desire to burn down sacred cows. This magazine, at its core, left a flaming bag of dog shit on societys front porch.
That reckless, stubborn attitude gives birth to some of Dumbs best moments. The disclaimer that assures parents they neednt worry about the full-page, close-up shot of a womans naked crotch—its only a prosthetic! The footage of the Big Brother crew running amok across Disneyland with the band members of Slayer. The short-lived interview with Black Sabbaths Ronnie James Dio, in which the BB reporter nearly gets punched out after his interview consists entirely of questions Dios cohorts told him not to ask. Knoxville testing personal security devices on himself… culminating in a white-knuckle sequence in which Knoxville plays Russian roulette with a revolver, his own chest, and the cheapest bulletproof vest he could find at the time. (Seriously, do not draw inspiration from Knoxville’s antics.)
Another standout moment highlights the time one of the Big Brother reporters went to cover a skateboarding competition… and instead befriended a homeless crack addict, following her around and telling her story while largely ignoring the ostensible reason for his trip. That article only happened because the Big Brother staffers had the freedom to do pretty much whatever they wanted at that point, and thinking outside the box was not only encouraged, but damn near mandatory. How that anarchic attitude survived the magazines eventual success—even being bought out by Hustler magnate Larry Flynt—makes for some of Dumbs more compelling moments, even as it foreshadows the publications eventual demise.
While it might seem super niche, Dumb is sure to give you all the information you need to understand the skating subculture that spawned the magazine. Even if you dont know Tony Hawk from Tony Robbins, Dumb is fast, slick, and a lot of fun from start to finish.