Over the 10 days of the Sundance Film Festival, which ended last weekend, there was more profane and vulgar language than I can ever remember hearing in such a short space of time - including any 10-day span of my three-year Army stint.

And while a goodly amount of it was on the screen, there was also a fair amount in the audience.That would seem to validate my long-held theory that people in Hollywood put swearing in their movies because that's the way they talk, not necessarily because they think that's the way everybody talks.

Of course, if you ask a filmmaker about it, he'll deny that. He'll say profanity is necessary in movies as a point of realism - because it accurately represents the way people speak today.

Movie people, maybe - and in certain walks of life or in certain kinds of employment. But everywhere? All the time? Every other word?

When used constantly, as common language, profanity simply loses its edge. It is no longer an element of shock emphasizing a display of emotion. Instead, it simply becomes vulgar, cheap language that reduces our opinion of the characters' intelligence because it makes them sound illiterate.

I have often thought, for example, that Bruce Willis' character in the "Die Hard" movies seems a bit dull and boorish because of his language. And while that may be intended as part of his coarse, New York City-bred, tough-cop character . . . it could just be a flaw in the movie.

Similarly, in the "Beverly Hills Cop" pictures, Eddie Murphy's character relies on street smarts, not anything he learned in school or from books. Therefore, his lack of sophisticated language may seem more natural.

One could argue, as well, that so many movies about "street" characters, especially those dealing with the criminal element, would be woefully inaccurate without the inclusion of foul language. (Although the hitmen in "Pulp Fiction" seem too bright to be so sloppy in their language. And, in fact, their language is otherwise quite witty and smart.)

But three current movies show that in general, that sort of language is frowned upon by real, everyday people.

In "Hoop Dreams," a documentary that follows a couple of Chicago inner-city boys, both at school and at home, profanity is heard in only two places: On the basketball court - when the coach utters a few foul words - and when one of the boys listens to a rap group that uses profanity in the lyrics of a song.

Now, maybe I'm naive. Maybe the boys - and their peers and parents - did use profanity and it was just edited out by the filmmakers. But I suspect it was more a case of the parents not allowing that kind of language in their homes, and the fact that the school kids don't use it quite as much as we think they do. (My own school-age children tell me they hear such language regularly, but not from everybody, and certainly not all the time.)

In both "Higher Learning," an adult film about racial tension on a college campus, and the family adventure film "Far From Home," there are comments of disapproval regarding such language.

In "Higher Learning" college freshman Omar Epps is told by his political science professor (Laurence Fishburne) to watch his language. Granted there is plenty of R-rated language in the movie, but at least writer-director John Singleton, with this single scene, acknowledges that it is not acceptable in all circumstances.

And in "Far From Home," a boy says the word "crap," and his father repeats the word to him, emphasizing that they both know it is not something they should be saying.

More evidence? How about the hit film "The Firm," of a couple of years ago? In the movie, there is a fairly constant string of R-rated profanities - and it might have gotten a PG-13 rating without them. But in John Grisham's novel, the basis for the film, the language is quite tame.

I know this may sound like a broken record, but my experience at Sundance this year convinces me that we are only in for worse instead of better language.

Too bad screenwriters today don't spend as much time developing creative ideas, compelling stories and multidimensional characters as they do typing four-letter words.

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Sigourney Weaver, currently starring in "Death and the Maiden":

"People say, `Oh, you play tough, strong women.' I never think I do, because what I feel I play are women who are under such pressure, and without any allies, and they have to become tough, because they have to get something done."

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK II: Robert Zemeckis, director of "Forrest Gump" and executive producer of "Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight":

"Horror in movies has been given a bad name: It's become `slasher.' The thing that's true about `Tales From the Crypt' is, even though we have a healthy sprinkling of gore, we also have style, humor, irony and dark characters and all this stuff. The thing that's great about `Crypt' is that nobody survives at the end, everyone gets it! That's the way it was in the comic."