ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – Violence, nudity and coarse language in the movies

Scene from The Big Chill. (Image: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The following column was first published in The Kamloops Daily News on Nov. 18, 1983.

A COUPLE OF NIGHTS AGO, I scanned the movie ads. The line-up went like this:

  • some very course language, occasional nudity and suggestive scenes.
  • frequent, very coarse language, some violent occasional nudity and suggestive scenes.
  • some nudity and coarse language.
  • some very coarse language, occasional nudity and suggestive scenes.
  • occasional nudity and coarse language.
  • some violence, nudity and sex.
  • occasional violence, coarse language, and swearing.

That’s six out of seven for nudity, three for suggestive scenes, six for coarse langauge, three for violence, one for swearing (I’m just not sure at the moment what the difference between swearing and coarse language is), and one for sex (I assume that nudity refers to naked bodies but that sex means they do something in the nude).

This is not exactly a family line-up. Two of them seven are off limits to anyone under 14 years of age, three are rated “Mature,” and the other two are Restricted (limited admittance if under 18).

Some of the warnings aren’t especially elucidating. “The Big Chill,” for example, warns about “occasional nudity and suggestive scenes.” The occasional nudity lasts for approximately five seconds, during which you can see about three-quarters of one breast as an actress sits weeping in a shower stall; the suggestive scene consists of a little harmless wrestling out on the lawn.

I wouldn’t have felt I was shirking my responsibilities as a parent had my young children seen either one.

Yet, what used to be called “clean” films just aren’t being made anymore. Even a film that was rated suitable for children and ran as a matinee at one of the theaters about three weeks ago, an animal film, no less, contained warnings of violence.

After checking with the film management, I decided it would be okay for the kids, and they sat through the occasional bloody scene unscarred by the experience.

The next closest thing to a family movie lately has been the James Bond flick, “Never Say Never Again” which, despite the pleas of one of its characters, contained little in the way of gratuitous sex and violence.

So am I carping about the state of movies today or not? I’m not sure.

I guess what I’m concerned about isn’t the fact that there’s nudity, violence and swearing in virtually every movie that hits the screen. I don’t like the fact that in many cases it’s there as tokenism.

There’s more honesty in a movie such as “The Osterman Weekend,” which clearly exploited the spy technology plot to give us non-stop bedroom viewing of every actress in it (along with typically Sam Peckinpah exaggerated violence), than there is in a movie such as “The Big Chill,” which threw in a breast because it’s the thing to do.

It’s as if, post-sexual revolution and now post-wimzlib and Jerry Falwell, film-makers are having trouble finding the right sexual balance. They know that a certain amount of sex will sell a movie, but they aren’t sure how to use it.

If they’d quit regarding it as a commodity and start employing it when it comes naturally, I think movies would be a lot better.

Swearing and violence are being used in the same way. In the aforementioned children’s matinee film, a young kid yells “Shit!” when he hits his finger with a hammer. It’s supposed to be cute. There wasn’t another swear word in the entire film.

Violence on the screen is probably epitomized by “Rumble Fish,” starring Matt Dillon as a street fighter. Just as Sam Peckinpah pioneered movie violence as an end in itself, films like “Rumble Fish” have rediscovered it.

“Star 80,” the newly released Bob Fosse film about Vancouver-born Playmate Dorothy Stratten, will undoubtedly reach local theatres soon. I’m told it contains one of the bloodiest murder scenes ever.

When nudity, swearing and violence are used to enhance the message or naturalness of a movie, okay. When they’re used to exploit it, forget it.

The problem for movie-goers these days is sorting out which is which before we spend our five bucks.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, alternate TNRD director and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been writing about Kamloops since 1970. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (9634 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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