Civility, Stupidity, Art, and “The King’s Speech”

"Frankly, my dear, I don't!" (United Airlines version)

I was stunned and amazed to find that United Airlines was uncharacteristically showing a good movie on my six-hour flight, the Academy Award-winning “The King’s Speech.”

Good, and in the case of “The King’s Speech,” arguably great, movies, however, are owed some respect.  If United is going to show it, United has an obligation to be fair to the film and fair to its audience by not showing it in a manner that diminishes the movie’s quality or the audience’s enjoyment. Thus I was also stunned and amazed when the famous sequence in which the Duke of York, soon to be King George VI, angrily demonstrates that he does not stammer when swearing by shouting “Fuck!” repeatedly, was mangled by United’s language police.

In the version shown on my flight, this sequence was handled by cutting out the sound, so that there was about 15 seconds of silence as actor Colin Firth’s mouth could be quite clearly be seen  forming the word “Fuck.” What possible excuse can be made for this? It takes the viewer right out of the movie. It removes a key clue as the speech therapist strives to solve the Duke’s humiliating malady. It ruins the scene, yet doesn’t fool anyone about what is being said—anyone who watches movies or TV knows that when a word is cut out of a scene, bleeped or replaced by an obvious euphemism like “forget you,” an obscenity has been uttered. When they can also see the mouth of the actor while he speaks the word, and especially when the word is introduced by a clear reference to “the f-word,” as in “The King’s Speech,” the audience knows what is being said.

So why not leave the word in? Are there really prudish fools out there who feel better when the word “fuck” is indicated in every way possible but replaced by silence than when the dialogue is just presented as filmed? If there are such fools, why make everyone else  suffer because these sad few are confused and demented? “Fuck” is not used in a salacious or sexually suggestive way in the scene—it’s just a word that the Duke can express without stammering. United is willing to scar an excellent film to accomplish, well, what, exactly, and for whom?

This kind of brain-dead censorship, reminiscent of the scene in “Amadeus” where a ballet is performed without music on the theory that ballets in operas are “vulgar,” creates a result that is far more irritating and offensive to the audience than leaving the film intact and letting its delicate ears deal with a word that they probably hear several times a week. It is disrespectful of the artistic product and unfair to all parties, with no compensating benefit to anyone.

Telling the Melissa Leos of the world to avoid saying the f-word on live Oscar telecasts is something very different. Leo’s outburst was crude and unprofessional; the Duke of York’s vulgarity was history, exposition, and art. If United can’t tell the difference, it should avoid showing any movie without a G rating.

14 thoughts on “Civility, Stupidity, Art, and “The King’s Speech”

  1. That’s not the worst part.

    If you see it in theaters now, they’ve reduced the rating to PG-13 by doing exactly that. Now, the censored version is stinking up regular theaters, too.

  2. While I agree completely with leaving movies alone (I don’t even watch movies on TV anymore except from pay channels–and Han shot first, dammit!), I don’t really blame United Airlines here.

    Because if some younger child happens to have headphones on while mommy is reading a book, and starts repeating “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck”, then United Airlines has a “fucking lawsuit” on their hands . . . because they did the right thing.

    Blame the lawyers.

    –Dwayne

    • Blame the parents!

      But also, there is this: since there is no sexual context for the word at all, either the child has no idea what is being said, or, if he does, there’s no harm done.

      Any child that is sophisticated enough to still be watching that film that far along isn’t going to be harmed by hearing “fuck.”

      • Obviously they should have shown South Park: The Movie instead. Then the repeated use of the word “fuck” would be set to music (in the song “Uncle Fucker”). 🙂

        –Dwayne

  3. I’m in absolute… disagreement. There was no good purpose served by using The Word (and repeatedly) in that scene except (of course) to get it an R-rating and, therefore, a better shot at the Oscar. After all, when was the last time that a clean movie got the Brass Idol? This is along the same lines as using gratuitous sex and/or nudity for the same purpose. Censoring those “remarks” (or, for that matter, the entire sorry episode) did nothing to inhibit an otherwise fine movie. The shame was that it was ever filmed to begin with. For the kids’ sake, that should have been censored. I very much think that King George himself would have agreed.

    • The word SHOULDN’T have gotten any ratings change because of “fuck,” because it had no salacious intent or meaning in the context of the movie. The fact that stutterers can usually curse is a fact, and not gratuitous at all. (In “The Cowboys,” John Wayne cures a young bot of stuttering by causing the boy to call him a “son of a bitch.” Yes, they bleep that, too.

      • Jack: I’d hardly put S.O.B. in the same category with the F-bomb. The former is merely a personal, though vulgar, insult. The latter carries lewdity of thought and content. The words we use define our personality. Children, whose personalities are still developing, don’t need to be exposed to the most vulgar of all concepts; especially in a context that has no real meaning beyond the vulgarity.

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