Friday, March 24, 2006

On Film and Dialogue, Part Two

Scroll down to read the original post - just a couple more thoughts.

Again, to play Devil's Advocate to the thinking that great animated characters shouldn't talk much - look at the classic Warners shorts. They're among the most universally beloved peices of animation ever - and some of the best ones are full of dialogue. What film character talks more than Bugs Bunny? Or Daffy Duck? Those shorts where the two of them were together are my favorite ones, and they both talked incessantly. But both of their personalities are the kind that are easier to express with a character who talk a lot. Dumbo and Dopey have personalities that are more effective when they DON'T talk.

But all this discussion about dialogue shouldn't lead anyone to forget that dialogue, ultimately, isn't that important. People remember the great characters in a movie, not exactly what they say (with the exception of "Make My Day" and "Hasta La Vista, Baby", of course). And what makes a movie compelling is the EVENTS. When you walk out of a movie, you don't turn to your friend and say "Remember when Indiana Jones said that line?". You say "Remember when this HAPPENED? Remember when he DID that?".

I remember when "Titanic" came out. People at work ridiculed the movie and how rotten the dialogue was. But you couldn't deny that people responded to the movie -astoundingly well. So obviously they weren't put off by the dialogue. The characters and their situations were what people found engaging and compelling.

*UPDATE: Let me clarify that in many movies what the characters say IS what's happening. In a movie like "Ordinary People", none of the characters run away from giant boulders or anything, but the things they say to each other carry huge weight and drive the story in new directions with every revelation. So the EVENTS are driven by what people say. But the EVENTS - the subtext behind the dialogue - are still more important than the actual lines themselves. You remember what happened in the movie, but not the precise way things were stated.


zoe said...

People might not say, "Remember when..." with reference to dialogue -- instead, we just quote lines directly. Not just catchphrases, either. In my family, it's not uncommon for us to banter back and forth quoting a particularly juicy interaction between characters. Woody & Buzz are a fantastic example of this, I think their repartee is as compelling as any of the things they "Do" in the movies, since the dialogue established the friction between the two characters. That the two of them must ultimately work together (in more "action"-related scenes)gets part of its interest from the petty arguments and sarcasm earlier on, just like any mismatched cop comedy would, if it's good.

mark kennedy said...

Yes, but their dialogue isn't just "lines" - there's a subtext to it that reveals character and advances their relationship, which is the heart of the story. So I would say that what they're saying IS what's happeneing. Their disagreements make up the heart of the movie and drive the events.

I think you're saying the same thing, though, right?

zoe said...

Absolutely -- maybe a good term for what we should go for is "active" dialogue. Make the dialogue DO something, for your characters, for your story, and the dialogue becomes action and not scenery.

Jenny said...

Back when I worked at my first job, which was supposed to be inspired by the greatest WB characters ever, I was frustrated immediately with all the yakyakyakking. That was the "comedy". I said again and again that the whole deal with a great personality like Bugs was that he takes a "line" like "Oh, yeeeeah?" or "Uh-huh" and it's frickin' genius! Mel Blanc's performance, plus the drawing and animation=gold. Now that I think of it, of course Blanc came out of radio--and even though radio by its nature has to fill the ears, when you listen to great old comedy of that era on radio it's not at all the talkfest that any TV comedy always is. If anything, the sheer importance of the dialogue makes every word count in a way you didn't need in cinema. Anyway, back to Bugs, etc.--not only the dialogue, but the response to the dialogue--SO imporant: a look, a pose...I never could understand why that approach wasn't even considered for modern TV cartoons. It seemed to me it'd be at least possible to try and apply the great lessons of the 30s-50s...but then, I wasn't a writer/producer, so what did I know?

mark kennedy said...

jenny....I feel your pain.

When I was working at Warners on a Feature (before Camelot got made) I was working on a version of "King Tut" with the Kroyers. There was a mute character in the movie. I didn't hear this in person, but someone told me an executive said "I don't like characters who don't talk. How will we know what he's thinking?"

And someone retorted "Well it worked okay for Dumbo" and the exec replied "Oh, I never really liked Dumbo".


Andreas said...

Thinking of Warner Brothers, and memories of watching the cartoons religiously growing up, my favorites were the Coote and Road Runner, and not the ones where he talked. I loved the use of the signs that said things like "Yikes!" Their actions said far more than any dialoge could have. Even without the sign, you knew what Mr Coyote was thinking when he realised that he was not on solid ground, and about to fall to the canyon floor oh so far before.

Side note, I liked "Webster" when I was a little kid. Can't say I would pay money to see it again on DVD.

levitra cialis said...

For me "Titanic" has been one of the best movies and I think that the dialogue was incredible I don't know why people think the opposite.