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:
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It’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.
Mention swearing in films and the focus tends to fall on quantity: which film is the sweariest, how many fucks are there, what’s that per minute, and so on. But this is ultimately trivial; I find the quality of curses more interesting. One cult classic that’s less sweary than you’d expect but puts its strong language to memorable effect is The Thing.
John W. Campbell’s story ‘Who Goes There?’ was first adapted for film in 1951 as The Thing From Another World, a quirky B-movie with a flavour of Cold War distrust. Though this adaptation offers wit and melodrama, it feels inescapably quaint to modern audiences, and suffers from that era’s technical constraints. The more obviously a monster is just a person in a suit, the harder it is to suspend disbelief – that goes for the actors too.
By the 1980s this had all changed. John Carpenter, a fan of Campbell’s story (The Thing From Another World is seen playing on a television in Halloween) was going through a purple patch when he was hired to direct a lean new script of The Thing written by Bill Lancaster, son of Burt. Spoilers follow below.
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