If Shakespeare is right (and who dares doubt Shakespeare, right?) that: “All the world’s a stage….” Then surely we “bit-players” should by now be more than half-way through at least Volume I of our Oscar acceptance speech!
We’ve certainly had enough millennia to practise delivering the dialogue!
From the First Caveman’s triumphantly-grunted “Gotcha!” As he wound another hank of female hair around his already hairy wrist. To the First Cavewoman’s disgustedly-grunted “Seriously?” As she was hauled off – sans ceremony or Guild support, to co-star in the original version of The Happy Homemaker before its title got screwed! Humanity has been acing pithy dialogue almost from the Cave-floor!
Which makes it surprising therefore, that our present high tech iteration can dream up arty-farty concepts like “non-fungible tokens” as the latest “paradigm shift” for mere neo-fatuous theft! All the while (and typically!) never once clearly answering the admittedly “excellent question:” as to whether performance-dialogue is best placed within a pacy, or a protracted framework.
But tempting as it is: can we really blame them? Especially when set against the densely conflicting background of clichés variously opining that, when it comes to writing star-quality dialogue: “Less is more!” Although: “The more the merrier!” And: “Quitting while you’re ahead!” Can mean: “Following the Muse!” Confused yet?
Let me add to it further, by agreeing that all of the above, are – on their individual merit: “excellent answers!” Which we should all therefore think absolutely nothing of completely ignoring! Except to state: that the one element remaining eternally unchanged within The Great Dialogue Debate, is for writers to pay as much attention to its quality, as to its quantity. No easy feat! Not when such other vital considerations as page-length, word-count and stylistic-formatting; can all make their own competing claims on a writer’s time and thoughts.
Thankfully however, both audiences and actors alike, have by now had sufficient opportunity to tone their ears and hone their skills; in gauging truly stellar dialogue!
And nowhere do we find any that remains so long on laughter, than in Mike Myers’ 1997 comedy Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Where during “the therapy scene,” the Dr. Evil character’s discourse totals a rib-tickling 156 words of pure farce! Set-up via the self-deprecated “inconsequential(ity)” of his own life. And then meandering dangerously close to spilling a tad too much tea, on the Nirvana which – according to him? Is nostalgically native to a pair of newly-denuded nuts!
A good contrast underscoring that dialogue needs not be as expansive to be just as exciting, is Dustin Hoffman’s explosive: “I’m walkin’ here!” Purportedly ad-libbed into Midnight Cowboy almost three decades earlier, this piece of shameless scene- stealing got executed (almost literally!) during Hoffman’s many jaywalking-jaunts. Dialogue which works on two levels: first by visually pitting a comparatively small- statured Man against moving metal Machinery. And ultimately through allowing that man to simultaneously challenge for, and surreally claim his kamikaze right-of-way; with just those three outraged words.
And who can forget Anthony Hopkins’ manic menu musings in Silence of the Lambs? Where: “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti!” adds a singularly macabre meaning to the popular phrase: “Dinner for Two!”
Of more recent vintage, and simply by playing true to its shiny-newness and bad-ass, point-to-prove attitude, Marvel’s Black Panther more than delivered on any number of fresh, laugh-out-loud fronts! From Winston Duke’s sadistically teasing “vegetarian” joke made at Martin Freeman’s expense. To Andy Serkis’; “Ulysses Klaue” character sitting bruised and restrained in the interrogation room, tauntingly singing a few bars of Haddaway’s What Is Love (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)! Wakanda forever, indeed!
Finally, and much more contemporarily, we cheered as Carey Mulligan challenged a stunned Alan Brody in Promising Young Woman. NOT from between two overpaid, underperforming lawyers in signature #Metoo style! But instead from between her own spread-Legs with the coolly unexpected query, of: “I said! What’re you doing?” A loaded question; given the delicate circumstances. One taking a criminal mind truly less catspraddled than Brody’s just then, to have cheerfully answered: “You!”.
All “excellent” ripostes, leading me back to my original premise: “Is shorter really sweeter?” To quote the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Life’s like a play: it’s not the length but the excellence of the acting that matters.” While this more modern and eminently more practical take, likely came straight from Alfred Hitchcock’s urethra: “The length of a film should be directly related to the human bladder.” Amen!
Meaning not that I’ve just been taking the piss, here! But instead that I have a kinda personal (if admittedly perverse!) stake, in affirming that: “shorter is sweeter!” A topic which I shall suitably break-down further, by contrasting selected segments of popular movie dialogue with samples of my own; during next week’s article entitled: “Six Steps to a Higher Level of Extended Dialogue.”
D. J. PAYNE, Dialogue Doctor – Denise is a banter dialogue specialist whose favourite thing to do is help other writers take their scripts from funny to Funtastic.
© Copyright 2021. D J. Payne. All Rights to this Material fully Reserved by Author D. J. Payne.