Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Words That Sting"

“Fuck you, George Clooney!”

Is what I said in a recent post about The Descendants, wherein Clooney makes one of his serial bids to be taken seriously as an actor, while simultaneously pocketing major “Pretty Boy” bucks from the Oceans 11 franchise, and suchlike.

For which commenter “pumpkinhead” chided, as part of their response,

“Oh, and I oughta wash your mouth out with soap, young man.”

“Pumpkinhead” was right. I was too quick with the “Fuck you”, which I herein repeat for clarification, rather than to compound the infraction.

Regular readers are aware that profanity in not a dominant color in my communicational palette. I generally reserve dropping the “f’” bomb for something that matters. In hindsight, George Clooney’s struggles for thespianic legitimacy is unworthy of its deployment.

I squandered a curse word.

And I’m sorry.

Not for doing it. That was just stupid, and if I apologized for “stupid”, that’s all I would ever be doing. The apology is for contributing to watering down the impact of certain words so that, as is currently the case in our culture, there is no longer an arsenal of expletives available to go to when you are legitimately pissed off.

There used to be some impactful shock words. Not anymore. Due to serious and inappropriate overuse.

In 1968, I saw a Steve McQueen movie called Bullitt. Bullitt is famous for delivering one of the most harrowing car chase scenes in cinematic history.

But for me, Bullitt was important for something else.

1968 was a famous year for tumultuous culture change. The movies, however, were noticeably dragging behind. Easy Rider did not come out till the following year. 1968’s “Best Picture” Oscar went to the musical, Oliver.

So I’m watching Bullitt, and they get to the dramatic climax, where the ambitious politician (played by The Man From U.N.C.L.E’s Robert Vaughn) says something like,

“It’s all corrupt. That’s just the way it works.”

To which McQueen spits back,


“Whoa!” I recall going, possibly even out loud.

To my recollection, at least in mainstream studio pictures, nobody had ever said “Bullshit!” in a movie before. The outburst’s impact knocked you back in your seat. It was like a sharp, stinging whip crack. Your reaction was visceral. You experienced it in your gut.

You think “Bullshit!’ could do that today? Or any other curse word, for that matter?

It’s a problem. For writers, as well as for the audience. It’s like a pitcher, reaching back for his most devastating fastball, only to realize that he’s thrown it so many times before, the unimpressed batter shrugs boredly when he sees it coming.

“Ho hum. Another ‘Bullshit!’”

To enhance the presentation, I wanted to append the “Bullshit!” scene to this post, so I went to Youtube, to see if I could find it.

Finally, I did.

“The Steve McQueen – Robert Vaughn Scene.”

There it was.

I clicked on the “play” arrow, and I watched it unfold.

It was just as I’d remembered it. Taut. Tense. An explosive mano a mano between Good and Evil.

The only problem was,

It was in Italian.

So I didn’t append it.

Further efforts to find the scene – in English – are confounded by “computer nonsense” that ultimately humbles me into surrender.

There was a site where you could view the entire movie. No problem there. I was willing to watch the whole movie, just so I could get down the word-for-word setup and payoff – Bullitt’s “‘Bullshit!’ Moment”, as it were. My readers, I believed, deserved nothing less. Also, I was curious myself, to see exactly how it played out.

The site requires me to sign up.

So I do.

First Name:

I type in “Earl.”

Last Name:

I type in “Pomerantz.”

E-mail Address:

I am about to include my e-mail address when suddenly there’s this ‘pop-up” for the IPad 4G, or something. And I cannot make it go away.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot return to the “sign-up” place. My only option is to start over. So I do.

I click on the little red circle in the upper left corner of my screen, and I go back to Square One.

I click on the icon that takes me to the Internet. I type in www.Youtube.com. I type in Bullitt. I click on the listing offering a screening of the whole movie. I am returned to the “sign-up” place.

First Name: Earl.

Last Name: Pomerantz

E-mail Address:

I type in two letters, and there it is again – the “pop-up” for the IPad 4G.

I am unable to continue.

Being someone who is willing to try the same thing over and over in hopes of procuring a different outcome, I repeat my efforts again and again, procuring – surprise, surprise – the same outcome.

Finally, I give up.

Later in the day, it occurs to me it might be possible to GoogleBullitt Screenplay”, so I could, at least, read the “Bullshit!’ moment, and transcribe it accurately for my readers.

My persistence is rewarded.

There it is.

The complete Bullitt screenplay – Written by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner.

I scroll down to near the end. It turns out the “Bullshit!” scene is on Page 100 of the 109 page script.

I read the scene.

And you what?

The word “Bullshit!’ is not in the script.

Instead, the exchange goes like this.

CHALMERS (THE ROBERT VAUGH CHARACTER): Let’s not be naïve. We know how careers are made today. Integrity is what you sell to the public.

BULLITT: Go ahead and sell it. But don’t sell it around me. I believe in what I’m doing.

CHALMERS: Lieutenant, we must all compromise.


BULLITT: (THRUSTING HIM AGAINST THE WALL) If you don’t want to get hurt, get the hell out of here.


This is the “Shooting Script.” The “Shooting Script” is supposed to be the final version of the script.

And there’s no “Bullshit!”

I had spent the entire day tracking down the “Bullshit” scene, and it turns out, as reflected in the final version of the script,

“Bullshit!’ was nowhere to be seen.

My experience called, legitimately I believe, for a wailing “F” bomb of frustration. Unfortunately, I had none at my disposal.

I had squandered it on George Clooney.

(NOTE: Comedian and social critic Lenny Bruce made the opposite point, encouraging people to use curse words, so as to deprive them of their power to offend. My problem with that position is, what words are then available when you are legitimately offended?)


PG said...

If you really want to become inured to profanity, just take a stroll down the hallways of my former place of employ, one of the up-scaliest, most academic high schools in this fair multi-culti city. There, you can avail yourself of f-bombs in a wide range of languages, spewing forth from the privileged mouths of the progeny of the infamous 1%.
You will be heartened to hear that this gerund is now routinely applied to anything and everything to the extent that it no longer makes anyone flinch.
Needless to say, there are no 'punishments' or what we used to know as 'detentions' for desecrating the atmosphere.

Mac said...

The c-word, while I still wouldn't write it out here, is also losing it's power.
In the film "Kick-Ass" the little girl in the lead says "OK you c***s" at one point, and it's a 15 rating.

On the BBC Radio 4 recently, a presenter accidentally introduced Culture Secretary "Jeremy Hunt" as, well, you can guess. The general reaction was amusement, not least from Jeremy Hunt. And that's Radio 4 - "The King's Speech" and all that tweed.

It makes you wonder where we go for genuine insults. Maybe back to old words that have fallen out of fashion, - "popinjay" or "clot-pole" will be the new f-bomb.

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; words have lost their sting in part because of how commonly they're used, and because they're not thrown hard enough. I've never seen Bullit except on TV, but I'm sure that Mr. McQueen delivered his line with power. I'm sure he was packing heat. Now it's like we're throwing them underhand.


George C. Looney said...

I feel honoured to know you saved all your blue material just for me eh.

YEKIMI said...

I read this commentary and was expecting to get to the end and see that you did find a video clip of what you were writing about. I egt to the end and no video! That's bullshit!

Many years ago in high school I got into an argument with a teacher over the use of foul language. His argument was that they're just words. He said what if you brought up a kid where you used the word "chair" as a curse word. It's not to be used in polite company and you get reprimanded if you use it. Now after years of telling a kid that, they believe it. So in a moment of extreme anger the kid yells "Really, well CHAIR you!" The teacher said "They're just words that we have ALL been brought up to believe they're not to be used in polite company. ANY words can be used to hurt and demean people, they don't necessarily mean they have to be curse words."

Kuriyakin said...

I'm sorry, I don't quite understand the enmity towards George. Don't 95% of actors fall under the same "Pretty Boy" definition with which you've blessed George? Is George far and away above all other actors in the looks dept.?

Bullitt does bring back some fond memories, primarily of Jacqueline Bisset. She was the beauty of the times, and likely still is, to most of the boomers. McQueen was just coming into his own as Mr. Macho. Bullitt will always be remembered for the chase scene; in fact, I really don't remember much else about the flick.

I also remember that in the winter of 68, I was recently returned from Vietnam, and with that vast experience, my primary retort to most statements was "Fuckin' A!" Talk about being overused to the point of obsolescence. Funny, back in those days, I probably wouldn't utter a sentence w/out at least one profanity. Since then, I've learned a few other words. Not many, but enough to get by w/out the swearing, unless it's to make a very important point.

Lyle said...

Interesting post (I'm reading them all, most recent back to the original . . . and loving it all; referred her by Ken Levine).

I, too, am a writer. Not with your credentials, nor talent, but I get by. I publish a weekly newspaper in North San Diego County (http://www.thecommunitypaper.com) and, like you, am in my 'middle earlies.' (I am, in fact, a mite older than you).

One of my pet peeves is otherwise intelligent writers who will write . . . "shut the f**k up!" or, "Who gives a f**k?"

Do they not think we know what the ** stands for? Why do they simply not write the word "fuck?" To my mind, it is juvenile or sophomoric. Take your pick.

I would write more but there are way too many more of your columns left to read. I may revisit the issue at a later date.

Not only do I love your humor but you have given me a number of story ideas.

Keep it up! (That's what she said .. . .)