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Festivale online magazine
A Reel Life film section
March - April, 2001
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The Language of Cinema,
or "****! This is ****!"

by Danny Heap

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WARNING, the following piece contains swearing of the kind featured in an average Tarantino film. If you're offended by this kind of language, please don't keep reading.

I want to start this Reel Life by publicly thanking Matt Stone and Trey Parker. They saved me. Backstory time. I'm in my early thirties and have a great love of film and television, but in recent years I found that I was getting more and more annoyed with the language being used in movies. It seemed that just about every film had swearing built into it. It was becoming tiresome.

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The first instance of swearing really getting to me was when I finally got to see the uncut version of Robocop. When it was first released at the cinema in Australia, cuts had been made so that it could be rated for the PG or M crowd, I can't remember which. It was an enjoyable enough film, though the dubbing of the word arsehole into the word airhead was laughable. Then I saw the uncut version.

As you may recall, during Robocop's first night on patrol, he interrupts a bearded gent into the middle of robbing a small convenience store. The robber opens fire on Robo with his semi-automatic and starts screaming "F*ck me!" repeatedly. This disappointed me because the earlier dubbed version had dialogue that was more relevant and a damn sight funnier. The cinema version had him yelling "Why me!" over and over again. It really fit the scene beautifully. You're in the middle of what should just be a quick and easy robbery and it's interrupted by some bloody great cyborg telling you you're under arrest. What else are you going to be thinking?

Another, admittedly small, change in dialogue was when Clarence Bodaker appears at the home of the young executive who headed the Robocop project. The unedited version has him saying to the two young women entertaining the exec, "B*tches leave." In the edited version he said, "Ladies leave," which I think actually gave him a modicum of class and was an interesting side of the guy whose brutalities we were witnessing.

Now lets roll forward a bit to Pulp Fiction. This is an excellent film, with a cleverly constructed story, good actors and good characters. Some of the characters, Jules and Vincent are the main example here, swear constantly during the course of the film but, and this is very important, it seems natural for them to do it. I've worked with people who swear in every sentence and it's just something that they do. It's not done to appear cool or tough. Pulp Fiction also contains a number of characters that don't swear.

Since Pulp Fiction we've been inundated by badly scripted rubbish where cinematic shorthand for a tough character is to have him swear a lot. It's the equivalent of the stock sex scene between the two main characters.
"We have to find a way to show that these two people really care about each other as they're being hunted down by the vicious gang/murderer/monster, in case the audience are too stupid to realise."
"Why don't we just script in a five minute break in the action where they can f*ck?"
"What a brilliant idea!"
"We have to show that this guy is like, super cool and really, really tough and clever, in case the audience is as stupid as we are. What screams cool and tough to you?"
"Lets have him say f*ck and sh*t a lot, that ought to do it!"
"Man, I'm in awe of your writing ability."

The last year or two, just about every film I saw had lots of (in my opinion) unnecessary swearing. It was constant and I began to grow very tired of it. As my frustration at this trend grew, I started to wonder, 'Is it me? Am I just turning into an old fuddy-duddy?' Then along came the South Park movie.

It's full of bad language. The catchiest song (based on Oklahoma) is called Uncle F*cka and is so catchy even my mother caught herself singing it! And all the four letter words used during the movie are important to the characters and even the story. In fact the finale centres around the use of swearing. And it reminded me of a most simple fact. That I probably wouldn't have been as aware of the instances of bad language in some of those other films if they'd taken the time to polish their story and actually work on their characterisation. If they'd simply cared about what they were doing the experience would have been better all around.

So thanks, Matt and Trey. You showed me that the problem wasn't that I was getting older, it was just that the films were getting sh*ttier. Keep up the good work, folks.


(Danny can be heard saying "Doctor Who is a f*ckin' cool show," and that "Star Trek - Voyager is sh*t," because he hasn't the intelligence or emotional stability to critique these shows properly.)

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