Wednesday March 7th 2012
Long before he dedicated himself solely to the pursuit of teenage boys’ box office dollars, Todd Phillips (together with creative partner Andrew Gurland) made a vital, nightmare-fueling portrait of institutionalised brutality in the form of Frat House, a 60-minute documentary for HBO in which the pair immersed themselves in the shady world of fraternity hazing. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and successfully launched Phillips as a comedy director (he made Road Trip, his feature debut, two years later) but has been largely unavailable in the fifteen years since it was shot. Now a saint by the name of Darwyn7 has put the full movie on YouTube, but it won’t last long, so you’ll want to make an ‘appointment to view’.
[The next paragraph might alter your experience of Frat House somewhat, so I recommend reading it after you’ve watched the film. Highlight the text to reveal.]
Frat House was eventually pulled before it could be aired on HBO, after it was alleged that Phillips and Gurland fabricated most of the events depicted in the film’s second half. According to representatives of the fraternity, the directors offered them $1500, a disco ball and a few kegs of beer to recreate a hazing environment of Phillips’ own invention, on the pretence that the footage would be used for a comedy the pair were making with NYU grant money. It’s also claimed that the other pledges were in fact fully-fledged fraternity brothers paid $50 each to partake. The full story can be read here, and this Vice interview with Phillips on the subject is worth a look too.