Back in 2015 I wrote about visual swears in film, where profanity appears on the screen rather than on the soundtrack. The films featured in that post were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade II, Shoot ’Em Up, Runaway Train, and Sorry to Bother You. Since then I’ve gathered a fuckload more.
Visual swears can have all sorts of motivations for filmmakers: humour, attitude, character type or mood, place detail, meta-commentary, and so on. After all, they’re deliberately built into a film’s production design – unless it’s a documentary, in which case they’re still selected in the framing and editing.
The first film below happens to be a documentary, and a great one: Dark Days (2000), which explores the lives of people living in a disused New York subway tunnel. One of them labels a makeshift toilet SHIT SPOT, perhaps for both informational and comedic reasons:
What’s a nice interjection like nuts! doing in a place like Strong Language, home of brazen epithets and unexpurgated swears? Nuts: such a mild word, so fusty and old-fashioned, so suitable for children’s tender ears.
Well, it wasn’t always that way. For several decades in the middle of the 20th century, nuts and its facetious cousin nerts were deemed so inappropriate that they were forbidden—along with, but not limited to, whore, SOB, damn, hell, fanny, and slut—in the scripts of Hollywood movies. (Needless to say, fuck and shit were too scandalous to merit mention.) It took a famous World War II battle, and the gradual loosening of the censorious rules known as the Motion Picture Production Code, to bring nuts, nerts, and nuts to you into semi-respectability and finally to quaintness.
At Strong Language we love creative swearing. But sometimes being creative means avoiding swearwords. When John Boorman and his team were filming Deliverance in rural southeast US, they faced difficulties not only in handling the unforgiving location but also in making certain scenes suitable for eventual TV broadcasting.
One scene in particular proved a challenge: Jon Voight and Ned Beatty’s brutal encounter with two sadistic locals in the woods. According to Boorman, the film’s producers suggested that he shoot the scene two different ways, so that there’d be a version suitable for TV. This meant, among other things, toning down the language in the working script.
With Joe Pesci back in the spotlight thanks to The Irishman, and Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been remembering one of his finest performances – as hapless burglar Harry Lyme in Home Alone. It’s easy to forget how against-type this role was for Pesci, best known for playing menacing, foul-mouthed criminals in gangster films like Casino:
(Don’t miss the TV version, with its fancy hecking swear-avoidance.)
When Pesci was sent the script for Home Alone, he ‘saw he could do something with it’, according to executive producer Mark Levinson. But the filmmakers knew that Harry Lyme would be a challenge for Pesci. In a behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD, director of photography Julio Macat says:
Last week, in response to the passage of draconian anti-abortion laws in several U.S. states, a Los Angeles–based makeup company announced that for four days it would be donating 100 percent of its revenue to organizations that support reproductive rights. The company, which was founded in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election “by a group of jaded romantics,” is no stranger to controversy. The provocation begins with the company name: Lipslut.
Pictured: Lipslut’s “F*ck Trump” shade. The company also sells “F*ck Kavanaugh” (named for the newest U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Brett “I Like Beer” Kavanaugh), “F*ck Hollywood,” “Notorious R.B.G.” (a tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), and a dark purple shade called — deep breath — “Leftylibglobalistsantifacommiesocialisthollyweirdopigs,” which takes its name from an internet troll’s insult.
Lipslut joins an increasing number of mainstream brand names, titles, and idioms that deploy the S-word. As of this writing there are 54 registered or pending SLUT trademarks in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database; while a few are put to risqué use (SLUTNATION.XXX), many are family friendly. Which means that slut—a wanton word throughout its history—may be shape-shifting yet again.