Thursday, 17 July 2008

A cynics view of language in creativity

In my work (in all its varieties) there are a good number of euphemisms or euphemism by acronym for things we’d rather not say. Sometimes there are contortions of language to avoid any kind of judgement, such as the name for the population group NEETs where 'Chav' would be wholly unacceptable, even if used by the group themselves.

One place I see a lot of them are reviews of performances and creative work and, in my roles, the materials offered to the media for that purpose.

An area I find very interesting and I am looking into it further is the language used in the materials performers and artists provide when seeking public or private sponsorship for their work.

Someday I’d like to track a project, from say funding application to the media reviews, to show how describing a work before it exists and after it exists is manifested separately from the work itself. I suspect there's one or two PhDs already out there on this and I suspect that many phrases used in utter sincerity will appear on the list of euphemisms below. So if you're pitching for a gig of any kind, you should avoid using any of these words as your investor/sponsor/whatever may have another idea of their meanings.

This following list appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail titled A Cynic's View of the Movie Guide by-lined Doug Saunders in about 1995, at least that’s the year of the film festival programme I filed it with. A student film of mine was shown at the 1995 Montreal Film Festival and I must have seen this cutting running in the paper that year.

I thought it would be well-worn Internet meme by now but searching hasn’t brought it up. I do recall seeing something similar, I think by Matt Groening, in the LA Weekly once. If Doug Saunders is the original author, it deserves greater dissemination. I hope he won't mind if I share it here. (Postscript: it appears credited to Saunders in Roger Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary.)

Saunders was writing of the Toronto Film Festival’s 400+ page film guide and said that it it is “packed with clever allusion and coy euphemism. Veteran festival goers have learned to decode the guide’s peculiar language. Here are some words to look out for:”

Demanding: Unwatchable

Rigorous: Tedious

Playful: Stupid

Unabashed: Shamelessly stupid

Aspires, Aims: Fails

Subtle emotion: No acting whatsoever

Beautifully rendered images: Very, very, slow

Epic: Very, very long

Provocative: Sex scenes

Daring: Sex scenes with children

Tender: Nudity

Effervescent: Vapid

Ambiguous: Underlit

Gritty: Underexposed

Raucous: Overacted

Raw: Unedited

Simple story: Underwritten

Fluid camera style: Rock video

Vibrant: At least one non-white actor

Urban: All non-white actors

Transgressive: All-gay cast

Flamboyant: Transgressive, in drag

Frank: Lesbian cast

Delirious: Amateur

Hybrid: Appeals to fans of neither genre

Majestic: Dull

Mood Piece: Plotless

Moody: Suicide-inducing

Sly: Snide

Surreal: Random collection of shots

Uplifting: Naïve

Warm, Charming: Inane

Heart-wrenching: Sappy

Seamless: Sleep-inducing

Oblique: Opaque

Challenging: Absolutely unwatchable

Intimate: Home movie

Meditative: Endless

Rich: Overstuffed

Original: Gimmicky

Eerie: Depraved

Unsettling: Nauseating

Understated: No dialogue

Impressive: Director managed to finish it.

Sometimes the reviewers get stumped entirely.

1 comment:

  1. fun list. i've run across this before (and not in ebert's book as i haven't read it), so it is floating around, though i can't remember where i read it. but it's so true.

    i just saw one of those "challenging" films last night at the i.d.a's docuweek short program.