Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

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Mike Gebert

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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostSun Jun 03, 2012 10:57 am

If you're not getting the language right, how are you getting the people and the attitudes?

That definitely grates on me, but I guess James Cameron, to name one offender, has millions to console him. Still, I love films that use language as part of the historical setting. The Coen Brothers are good at this-- not that I believe people exactly talked like those in True Grit or Miller's Crossing (the two most obvious examples), but they love striking that deadpan comic note of contrast between flowery language and attitude and behavior. Their ruffians are like the ones in Wodehouse, using an exaggeratedly cartoonish American argot while, at the same time, seeming to have a pinky raised for tea.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostSun Jun 03, 2012 11:05 am

Doug Sulpy wrote:
I had the same problem with "Mad Men." Everyone looks like they're conservatives in the early '60's, but acts like a bunch of liberals in the 2010's.



I don't see it quite like that, but that instead of being organic to the story, the Mad Men eps I've seen (not many, it didn't catch my interest) all but shout and point at things that aren't acceptable today, but were common then. I used the phrase "hip to the zeitgeist" to describe it, which is likely why it's popular.

What I love is even though it's chore enough for me to watch TV at all, I'll watch someone's pet television show and when I tell them I didn't think much of it, I often get a response, "that was a bad episode". :roll:
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 6:35 am

Mike Gebert wrote:If you're not getting the language right, how are you getting the people and the attitudes?

That definitely grates on me, but I guess James Cameron, to name one offender, has millions to console him. Still, I love films that use language as part of the historical setting. The Coen Brothers are good at this-- not that I believe people exactly talked like those in True Grit or Miller's Crossing (the two most obvious examples), but they love striking that deadpan comic note of contrast between flowery language and attitude and behavior. Their ruffians are like the ones in Wodehouse, using an exaggeratedly cartoonish American argot while, at the same time, seeming to have a pinky raised for tea.


I'll be interested in your take on the language used in Deadwood, Mike. Though far from a prude -- well, maybe not that far, but still far -- I was instantly turned off by its absolutely ridiculous use of the foulest, most 21st-century profanity. Then I read that this was a deliberate decision to reflect the "fact" that "goldarn" and "dagnabbit" were as obscene in the post-Civil War era as the 12-letter and 10-letter words are today. To which I responded with an 8-letter word.

It was, in fact, nothing but a calculated decision to try to set a record for the most prolific use of the most obscene words in a television series, and to gain attention for its shock value. It completely undermined all the exhaustive visual accuracy they put up on the same screen as those way-out-of-their-era obscenities.

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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 7:10 am

I don't know that I'd disagree, Jim, but to those who think those words were unknown in general use back then, I would point to this:

http://s210975194.onlinehome.us/blog/?p=41

It's a document hand-carried to the major league baseball teams in 1898 (it couldn't be mailed), citing examples of inappropriate language on the field in front of customers. It's pretty hilarious, but not safe for work, or at least, not safe to read aloud in a mock-19th century voice at work.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 7:26 am

Jim Roots wrote:
Mike Gebert wrote:It was, in fact, nothing but a calculated decision to try to set a record for the most prolific use of the most obscene words in a television series, and to gain attention for its shock value. It completely undermined all the exhaustive visual accuracy they put up on the same screen as those way-out-of-their-era obscenities.


It just sounds like you're offended by coarse language, and looking for a reason to dismiss the show. In fact, Milch has defended the swear-words in "Deadwood," and even if you could find an instance or two where a word might not have been in use at that time, that doesn't change the fact that the use of that language molded those characters and gave a patina to the show that it would have otherwise been lacking.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 8:00 am

Mike Gebert wrote:I don't know that I'd disagree, Jim, but to those who think those words were unknown in general use back then, I would point to this:

http://s210975194.onlinehome.us/blog/?p=41" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank

It's a document hand-carried to the major league baseball teams in 1898 (it couldn't be mailed), citing examples of inappropriate language on the field in front of customers. It's pretty hilarious, but not safe for work, or at least, not safe to read aloud in a mock-19th century voice at work.


Thanks for posting that, I enjoyed it more than I should have.

I have to add, I believe the biggest absurdity in all films (not just period ones) made under the Production Code is the prissy avoidance of harsh language in situations when it would have been used, absolutely. Thus we have innumerable scenes of sailors, soldiers, construction workers, and other tough guys, forced to use the kind of "Gosh darn it" language that in reality would have provoked contempt from their fellows. For example: the bikers in The Wild One.

One effect this has had, I believe, is an accidental rewrite of history, courtesy of Joe Breen. No one cusses in old movies, aside from very rare exceptions, so, therefore, the impression has been planted in generations of TV viewers that everyone was more polite back then. Nobody was a potty mouth in the Olden Days. Those words didn't even exist yet. Etc.

I once watched Story of G. I. Joe (1945) with my mother, whose brother, my Uncle Francis, took part in the Italian campaign depicted in the movie. After it was over I asked what she thought of it, and she said she thought it was pretty good, "except that the boys would've been cussing." Or maybe she said they should've been.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 8:41 am

Mike Gebert wrote:I don't know that I'd disagree, Jim, but to those who think those words were unknown in general use back then, I would point to this:

http://s210975194.onlinehome.us/blog/?p=41" target="_blank

It's a document hand-carried to the major league baseball teams in 1898 (it couldn't be mailed), citing examples of inappropriate language on the field in front of customers. It's pretty hilarious, but not safe for work, or at least, not safe to read aloud in a mock-19th century voice at work.


"...not particularly valuable." It should have brought thousands! Should have gone, in fact, to Cooperstown, even if it couldn't be openly displayed. And I thought, growing up & working in oil-field country, I'd heard it all!
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 9:38 am

I have to add, I believe the biggest absurdity in all films (not just period ones) made under the Production Code is the prissy avoidance of harsh language in situations when it would have been used, absolutely. Thus we have innumerable scenes of sailors, soldiers, construction workers, and other tough guys, forced to use the kind of "Gosh darn it" language that in reality would have provoked contempt from their fellows. For example: the bikers in The Wild One.


Pardon the language, but given the story, it would be difficult to tell without it:

Norman Mailer was forced to invent a transparent euphemism, "fugging," for the most common modifier in a soldier's vocabulary when he wrote The Naked and the Dead. After it was published, he was at a literary reception and was introduced to Tallulah Bankhead, who cried— "Oh yes, you're the young man who doesn't know how to spell 'fuck'!"
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 10:43 am

Mike Gebert wrote:Norman Mailer was forced to invent a transparent euphemism, "fugging," for the most common modifier in a soldier's vocabulary when he wrote The Naked and the Dead.


Better that one, I think, than it's stupid contemporary replacement, "friggin,'" which is now in such common, everyday use that I'm inclined to believe many users have actually forgotten, or never understood, its original implication.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 4:11 pm

The first film that came to mind for me was Robert Benton's 1972 Civil War-era drama Bad Company, with great performances by Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges as draft dodgers heading west for fortune and adventure. I also enjoyed the fact that it includes a confrontation between Bridges and David Huddleston decades before The Big Lebowski.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 4:49 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:One thing I've always admired about The Godfather is that the house is so small.


And there's one scene in a kitchen - it has my grandmother's tile on the wall. Always makews me smile.

For me, the two films that makes not only appreciate the attention to detail, but actually makes me feel I'm looking through a winjdow back in time, are A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and Huston's THE DEAD.

And THE MUSIC MAN is how I *want* to think my hometown looked like in 1912.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 6:29 pm

have to add, I believe the biggest absurdity in all films (not just period ones) made under the Production Code is the prissy avoidance of harsh language in situations when it would have been used, absolutely. Thus we have innumerable scenes of sailors, soldiers, construction workers, and other tough guys, forced to use the kind of "Gosh darn it" language that in reality would have provoked contempt from their fellows. For example: the bikers in The Wild One.

I suppose if the picture concerns society other than the "genteel" , vulgarity would enter in to it. It all depends whether one wishes to see that part of life upon the screen. When viewing modern pictures these days as well as the monotonous and overused swearing, one is subjected to people vomiting, urinating and other activities that whilst they may be a fact of real life; are something that one doesn't wish to be confronted with especially when in the middle of demolishing a nice ice-cream.

Surely directors worth a bootlace could use some clever subterfuge if they consider low-life scenes appropriate? I believe in the early talkies profanity was easily covered up by a foghorn or factory siren sounding just at the appropriate moment.

Reflecting the colloquialisms of common everyday speech (some of which I hear in American pictures and have difficulty in understanding) also does nothing to lift the standards. If we choose to criticise the youth of today for their sloppy speech and inability to be articulate - we know exactly who to blame.

Granted, some of the provisions of the Hollywood production code were quite ludicrous and even extend into polite conversation in America today such as the use of "Bathroom" or "Men's Room" when one wishes to visit the lavatory (which to me has always been an appropriate word that is not obscene.)
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 6:51 pm

And there's one scene in a kitchen - it has my grandmother's tile on the wall. Always makews me smile.


I've had two different sets of bedsheets appear in movies. One was in a Cassavetes film, the other was in the movie of Brett Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. Not sure what that says about the cultural jumble that is my lifestyle...
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 8:16 pm

Harlett O'Dowd wrote:
Mike Gebert wrote:One thing I've always admired about The Godfather is that the house is so small.


And there's one scene in a kitchen - it has my grandmother's tile on the wall. Always makes me smile.

For me, the two films that makes not only appreciate the attention to detail, but actually makes me feel I'm looking through a winjdow back in time, are A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and Huston's THE DEAD.

And THE MUSIC MAN is how I *want* to think my hometown looked like in 1912.


A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is knots ahead in atmosphere compared to Cameron's TITANIC, for all its superlative production trappings; only when it occasionally evokes NIGHT (such as the musicians) does it seem closer to a 1912 spirit.

REMAINS OF THE DAY is another British film that evokes its 1930s setting (and '50s for that matter) very well.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 8:25 pm

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is knots ahead in atmosphere compared to Cameron's TITANIC,

I agree with you that "Cameron's Titanic" has nothing to do with a White Star Liner of the same name which sank in 1912.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostMon Jun 04, 2012 8:41 pm

Donald Binks wrote: I suppose if the picture concerns society other than the "genteel" , vulgarity would enter in to it. It all depends whether one wishes to see that part of life upon the screen. When viewing modern pictures these days as well as the monotonous and overused swearing, one is subjected to people vomiting, urinating and other activities that whilst they may be a fact of real life; are something that one doesn't wish to be confronted with especially when in the middle of demolishing a nice ice-cream.


I'm no fan of gratuitous swearing in movies (or in life, for that matter), or of the bathroom humor that's become practically mandatory in modern comedies. But 'Golden Age' Hollywood's avoidance of basic, blunt language in situations that call for it -- those soldiers in WW2 movies, for instance -- was, in its own way, just as unhealthy as wallowing in sleaze. I think that the Code and its three-decade binge of enforced Puritanism in our popular culture helped fuel the vulgarity backlash (once the Code crumbled, that is) we're still dealing with.

But of course, I'm talking about movies intended for adults in the first place. And the real problem, always, is how do you decide who is an adult and who isn't? And who decides? The rating system of G, PG, R, and X, for all its faults, has been preferable to the one-size-fits-all rigidity of the Production Code. But perhaps the easy availability of so many movies online, by anyone with access to a PC, will render this entire topic moot, if it hasn't already.

P.S. Oh, and by the way, of all the period films I can think of, Eight Men Out and Paper Moon, both cited above by others, are tops in the versimiltude department, at making their respective periods come to life.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 1:57 am

If you want pretty accurate British inter war kitchen sink drama try "This Happy Breed" David Lean 1944.
Plenty of washing and drying in the kitchen.

Also features Celia J playing outside of the social class one usually associates with her.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 2:54 am

Mike Gebert wrote:If you're not getting the language right, how are you getting the people and the attitudes?

That definitely grates on me, but I guess James Cameron, to name one offender, has millions to console him. Still, I love films that use language as part of the historical setting. The Coen Brothers are good at this-- not that I believe people exactly talked like those in True Grit or Miller's Crossing (the two most obvious examples), but they love striking that deadpan comic note of contrast between flowery language and attitude and behavior. Their ruffians are like the ones in Wodehouse, using an exaggeratedly cartoonish American argot while, at the same time, seeming to have a pinky raised for tea.


In suspect it's the same with Barry Lyndon, though I wouldn't know how people actually talked in the 1760s. Does anyone?
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 4:59 am

"Everlasting Moments" is another film that really brought the past alive for me.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 6:11 am

Mike Gebert wrote:
And there's one scene in a kitchen - it has my grandmother's tile on the wall. Always makews me smile.


I've had two different sets of bedsheets appear in movies. One was in a Cassavetes film, the other was in the movie of Brett Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. Not sure what that says about the cultural jumble that is my lifestyle...


Robin Williams' bedcover in The World According To Garp is the exact same cover that served me all my life until I married and moved out ... and Mom still has them on my boyhood bed, ready in case time reverses itself.

Jim
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 6:31 am

Doug Sulpy wrote:
Jim Roots wrote:
Mike Gebert wrote:It was, in fact, nothing but a calculated decision to try to set a record for the most prolific use of the most obscene words in a television series, and to gain attention for its shock value. It completely undermined all the exhaustive visual accuracy they put up on the same screen as those way-out-of-their-era obscenities.


It just sounds like you're offended by coarse language, and looking for a reason to dismiss the show. In fact, Milch has defended the swear-words in "Deadwood," and even if you could find an instance or two where a word might not have been in use at that time, that doesn't change the fact that the use of that language molded those characters and gave a patina to the show that it would have otherwise been lacking.


You misread me -- enough to attribute my posting to Mike.

My point was not profanity per se; it was the, quote, "absolutely ridiculous" excesses to which Milch took it. He has what I would call "Tarantino disease". Tarantino is certainly one of the most electrifying, exciting, and provocative filmmakers of the past 20 years, and not just because of his visuals and movement, but also because of his amazing grip on storyline and character amid all the kinetic chaos. But he has this compulsion to use profanity in a psychotic frenzy: he literally cannot go five words in a row without interjecting verbal obscenities that go far, far beyond anything justified by the action or situation. And not just a single obscenity, but a string of them.

Milch does the same thing. It isn't enough for a character to tell somebody to fuck off, there have to be 12 words surrounding those 2, and of those 12 unnecessary words, at least 8 will be the most extreme swear-words. What for? The 2 words are enough to get the message across and to provoke a reaction from the other character. The excessive swearing serves no purpose.

I never said any particular words were unhistorical. I can't find the on-line article right now, but there is one in which Milch defends his use of them by a ridiculous and historically inaccurate argument. He claims the real characters of Deadwood used terms like "goddamn" and "hellfire" (gee, all those clean-language 1930s Westerns got it right after all! ... at least according to Milch) but that in that era, they were equivalent in shock and obscenity value to today's 12-letter and 10-letter words ... therefore, he used today's obscenities in order to create the same shock effect that "goddamn" would have had in the 19th century.

This is a completely bullshit claim. As others have posted here already, all of the dirty words were known and used in the 19th century. I have a book on the history of swearing that shows the words were used practically since the dawn of mankind, certainly since the dawn of recorded human history and language. I have no idea why Milch felt compelled to come up with his absurd "theory" instead of simply affirming that he was being historically accurate.

And Mike, I have some real reservations about that baseball letter. Has it been authenticated by people with credentials? It reads like a hoax.

Jim
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 6:37 am

entredeuxguerres wrote:
Mike Gebert wrote:Norman Mailer was forced to invent a transparent euphemism, "fugging," for the most common modifier in a soldier's vocabulary when he wrote The Naked and the Dead.


Better that one, I think, than it's stupid contemporary replacement, "friggin,'" which is now in such common, everyday use that I'm inclined to believe many users have actually forgotten, or never understood, its original implication.


Oh heck, that's nothing compared to the euphemism that seems to be most used on TV these days: "forget". As in, "Forget you!" -- a line from an old Scorcese film, allegedly. ABC seems particular prone to using that one. It turned their broadcast of Goodfellas into even more of an unintentional comedy than it was in its uncensored form.

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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 10:04 am

And Mike, I have some real reservations about that baseball letter. Has it been authenticated by people with credentials? It reads like a hoax.


A reasonable suspicion and one which others raised, but the auction house is one of the leading baseball collectable firms, and they seem convinced of it. And then no less an authority than The Worst Person in the World, Keith Olbermann, turned up an apparently unimpeachable reference to its existence:

http://blog.robertedwardauctions.com/?p=84" target="_blank
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 10:27 am

Let's not forget the Mr Show takeoff of broadcast TV censorship of Goodfellas:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-n-rGnI9XNo
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 10:30 am

Glad to see it brought that hunk of change, but even glader NBC made it possible for Keith to devote more of his time to baseball research.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 12:26 pm

Jim Roots wrote:Oh heck, that's nothing compared to the euphemism that seems to be most used on TV these days: "forget". As in, "Forget you!" -- a line from an old Scorcese film, allegedly. ABC seems particular prone to using that one. It turned their broadcast of Goodfellas into even more of an unintentional comedy than it was in its uncensored form.

Jim


My favorite euphemism along those lines was one that popped up in a doctored, "airline" version of the Bill Murray comedy Quick Change. (Anybody remember that one?) I happened to see it on a plane, so the dialogue was altered. Thus, at a climactic moment, when things are going badly for our heroes, Geena Davis exclaims: "This is a [Viking] nightmare!"

Much funnier, and certainly more off-the-wall, than the original line would have been.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 12:39 pm

A Room with a View was beautifully done, but then so were all the great Ivory/Merchant films.

And so far as I can recall, all the Woody Allen films that are period pieces are impeccably done, usually by Santo Loquasto.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 1:50 pm

drednm wrote:
And so far as I can recall, all the Woody Allen films that are period pieces are impeccably done, usually by Santo Loquasto.


Especially my favorite, Radio Days. Rockaway Beach looked like a '40s time capsue, I think, but now I'm apprehensive they're might have been TV antennas or ACs I overlooked! (Let me remain ignorant, please!)
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 4:03 pm

entredeuxguerres wrote:
drednm wrote:And so far as I can recall, all the Woody Allen films that are period pieces are impeccably done, usually by Santo Loquasto.

Especially my favorite, Radio Days. Rockaway Beach looked like a '40s time capsue, I think, but now I'm apprehensive they're might have been TV antennas or ACs I overlooked! (Let me remain ignorant, please!)

I remember Sweet and Lowdown having a nice, lived-in feel to it. Purple Rose of Cairo has a more nostalgic glow about it, but it works since it's a fantasy.
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Re: Most Convincing Period Films: Not Just Decor

PostTue Jun 05, 2012 4:11 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
Jim Roots wrote:Oh heck, that's nothing compared to the euphemism that seems to be most used on TV these days: "forget". As in, "Forget you!" -- a line from an old Scorcese film, allegedly. ABC seems particular prone to using that one. It turned their broadcast of Goodfellas into even more of an unintentional comedy than it was in its uncensored form.

Jim


My favorite euphemism along those lines was one that popped up in a doctored, "airline" version of the Bill Murray comedy Quick Change. (Anybody remember that one?) I happened to see it on a plane, so the dialogue was altered. Thus, at a climactic moment, when things are going badly for our heroes, Geena Davis exclaims: "This is a [Viking] nightmare!"

Much funnier, and certainly more off-the-wall, than the original line would have been.

My favourite example of TV censorship of movie language is the film Repo Man, which in its TV version contains the immortal line, "Flip you, melon farmer!" I guess writer/director Alex Cox knew it would have to be altered for TV, and just went for the most ridiculous substitutions he could come up with.

Another example is Snakes on a Plane, with Samuel L. Jackson uttering "Get these monkey fighting snakes off this mother loving plane!" in the cut version. Frankly, I like that line reading better.
Twinkletoes wrote:Oh, ya big blister!
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