"I am not breaking radio silence just cos' you lot got spooked by a dead flying fucking cow."

Big AND clever.

Swearing in films hit something of a peak in the early-to-mid nineties where it became virtually impossible to watch a film without a ‘fuck’ or a ‘motherfucker’ every five minutes. While not in itself offensive, the laziness of the writing and often reliance on the actor’s part for a bit of improv swearing just became too much. We hit a point where suddenly big action films that once relied on continuous ‘fuck’-streams were suddenly well-spoken and with not much of a dip in quality.

hughfuckSuch happy, friendly, chirpy fodder like ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ (Mike Newell, 1994) is awash with comedy ‘fucks’ right from the start. A few years earlier an equally popular British film, ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ (Charles Crichton, 1988) had also employed a good ‘fuck’ as a joke. Even earlier still, the esteemed (though not in the cinema) ‘Withnail & I’ (Bruce Robinson, 1987) had some amazing ‘fucks’ on offer.

Modern films have employed a new method of swearing. One won’t do, it has to be a string of swearwords, often some made up, delivered with the sole intention of making an hilarious bleeped soundbite at the MTV Awards. Kevin Smith’s films, once original and fun, got tired very quickly. Jason Lee’s lines in ‘Mallrats’ (1995) are smoothly delivered and character-driven. His brilliant inappropriate “What? Like fucking?” during the gameshow is delivered with a massive smile. But flash-forward to 2006 and nothing’s changed. A row in a diner about someone using the phrase ‘porch monkey’ feels ten years old and wholly inappropriate to the film playing out (mind you, this is also a film with donkey sex as a plot point!).

One of the earliest shocks I had watching a film was ‘Christine’ (John Carpenter, 1983) where a character called someone a ‘cunt’. Never heard it in a film before. My parents were livid and turned it off. They did the same several years later when they overheard me watching ‘Street Trash’ (J. Michael Muro, 1987). Now it’s commonplace in not just most films, but also TV series. Fair enough it’s HBO, but ‘Californication’ has more ‘cunts’ in it than ‘EastEnders’ has ‘slags’. Compare this to the days of ‘Cagney and Lacey’ where Christine’s outburst: “Sweet Jesus, Mary-Beth” was censored.

And on the subject of censorship, the exciting and intricate, almost seamless methods employed by ITV in the UK to censor some films, or at least lessen their offense is admirable. Here’s a deft piece of work – I bet you can’t spot the join:

That said, ‘piss’ and ‘shit are commonplace on ITV and Channel 5 in the afternoons now. Just as they crept into children’s films in the eighties, ‘The Goonies’ (Robert Donner, 1985) and ‘The Monster Squad’ (Fred Dekker, 1987) both had prepubescents swearing away throughout.

pescifuckThe aforementioned improv problem is one that troubles me though. Poor actors like Joe Pesci are given to believing that improvising around a character requires the repeated insertion of  ‘fuck’ between words in order to be in some way convincing and this technique continues right up to ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (Quentin Tarantino, 1992) and beyond into the ‘noughties’ with those endless bloody awful British gangster films which generally consist of gravel-voiced hard-men or well-spoken softies swearing like dockers for 90 minutes.

But it’s the British film industry (Gawd bless yer, ma’am!) that’s spawned something rather unique in cinema: Professional swearers. Three spring to mind who do it better than anyone else in the world: Richard E Grant, Rupert Everett and the legend that is Sean Pertwee. They can make any swearing fit classy, funny and dignified. Everett even pulled it off in Europe in the likes of ‘Dellamorte Dellamore’ (Michele Soavi, 1994) and bought some chums along with him to the UK to give a terrific tumbling of ‘fucks’ in ‘B. Monkey’ (Michael Radford, 1998).

Richard E Grant we all know from ‘Withnail & I’, a film which is positively punctuated with profanity – and not once is it offensive, right down to its majestic but terrible ‘cunt’. He can sneer a ‘fuck’ out like no other and always sound like he means it.

pertweeSean Pertwee on the other hand never sounds like he meant to swear. His ‘fucks’ seem to be overflowing from his mouth. His early ‘fuck’-drops in ‘Event Horizon’ (Paul Anderson, 1997) are nothing compared to his full-on rages in the likes of ‘Dog Soldiers’ (Neil Marshall, 2002) and ’51st State’ (Ronny Yu, 2001). He carved a niche for himself as the UK’s proudest swearing export.

But is all this swearing really necessary to deliver plot or could a film with no swearing in it reach a wider audience without harming its message? ‘The Breakfast Club’ (John Hughes, 1985) tells the story of high school kids who want to fit in but don’t want to fit a mould. A vital message to most kids, but it’s never going to be heard by the age group it’s aimed at because the word ‘fuck’ crops up so often in the script.

Would John Bender’s impersonation of life in his own home be equally emphatic if his father was yelling back “Shut up” instead of “Fuck you!”? Probably not.

By the same token, wouldn’t intergalactic hard man Han Solo be a bit more convincing if instead of calling Jabba the Hutt a “… slimy, worm-ridden piece of filth” he just called him a ‘fat cunt’?

Perhaps the most obscure case of a film rendered virtually incomprehensible by going out of its way not to swear would be the Charles Bronson film ‘Murphy’s Law’ (J. Lee Thompson, 1986).

Excuse the bloody awful intro to this one, the compilation more than illustrates the point that sometimes, swearing IS necessary in a film:

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