July 16, 2012
Monday Morning Quarter-Baking: Movie Quotes

By J. Goodman

This is going to require an explanation. There’s a line you can trace that leads all the way back to the seed of the thing, the idea. It started with The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons.

*Before we begin (and I forget), let me remind you that, like an appendage, there’s a disclaimer that is permanently attached to this column.

The first piece of the puzzle

I’m a Sports Guy fan. Sure, he’s no Hemingway, but he’s entertaining. I really liked his older material where he’d do crazy long articles taking movie quotes from a classic film and massaging them to fit sports news. For example, if he chose A Few Good Men, and the quote was “You can’t handle the truth”, he’d find the current sports equivalent of someone unable to handle the truth, maybe a fading star who was hurting his team by demanding he play more - that sort of thing. That’s neither here nor there.

Occasionally, he will recommend a book to read (this is the part that matters). One day, he recommended this book by David Shields called Black Planet. The book is one year’s look at race issues among players, teams and fans while the author follows the (now-transplanted) Seattle Supersonics. The year was 1994-95. The book was great. Really, weird. Just this bald, tall, lanky Jewish guy with a love for basketball contemplating what it all means. All these black players. All these white coaches and fans. His weird obsession with Gary Payton. I personally enjoyed the book a lot.

So what did I do?

I read another book by Mr. Shields, trying to recapture that magic. It was so-so. Different topic. Less life in it.

Then a couple years went by and I heard about a new Shields book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. This one sounded very interesting. It was like he wasn’t even writing the book. He was taking bits, pieces, paragraphs, lines, from other books to create his book. It was a beautiful concept. He wouldn’t be writing any of it. And he could literally plagiarize everyone legally because it was Fair Use. This sounded like a very cool idea. Lots of books start from cool ideas; academic exercises, so to speak. Many of them don’t have any heft at their core and end up as gimmicks, some take a great idea and fill it in with nuance and heart and style.

I picked up the book one day and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting, or had wanted. I wanted a story that was made up of other people’s words. Take the parts that worked and create something spectacular out of them. What I got was a book with paragraphs from other writers, commentary on novels. Each paragraph basically got it’s own chapter treatment. There was no greater conceptual piece here. He even plagiarized himself. I read sections that I had already read in his other books. What a lack of imagination, I thought. I could do better.

Tangent, but not really

You see, I love to quote movies. Many guys do. Some girls, too, but mostly guys. I (feel free to include yourself in my ‘I’) quote movies a lot. If there’s a situation in life that I can bring back (even tangentially) to a movie quote, I make the quote. Often, the people I’m with don’t know the quote and it’s wasted on them (or they look at me like I’m a loser). And if I’m alone, I still make the quote to myself, which may seem odd, but at least one person gets to enjoy the mental connection I just made.

Sometimes I say things that aren’t quotes, but I say them in a certain way or in a certain, specific kind of moment (when I probably would’ve quoted a movie) and people say, “what movie is that from?” But it’s not from a movie. I just quote so much that no one believes I have original thoughts.

It’s not like these are great quotes either. Usually, they are throwaway lines. Not even the quotes that if you were quoting the movie would be the quote that you would most easily identify with the movie. Like, “[get] killed walking ya doggie" from Heat.* Or “God dammit, I need to know and I need to know now!” from Sneakers. Bizarre quotes, too, like, also from the movie Sneakers, when I mimic the blind-character, as played by David Strathairn, Whistler’s line of dialogue about getting off at the reservoir because it sounds like a cocktail party at the reservoir: “Yeee…uhhhh…yehh….uhhh…yeah…uh, yeah” (go to 2:32 below). I do that one pretty regularly. It’s a crowd pleaser!

That’s the fun, finding a quote that fits in a small, weird way.

*Stranger still, but now I’m getting into taking quotes and modifying them, adapting to what’s really going on. Take the “killed walking ya doggie” line. Now, I’ll just change the words, the context, but keep the same mannerism and tone. For example, if I’m talking with a friend and he’s complaining about being tired, I might say, “[get] tired walking ya doggie.” Or if wishes he could get laid, “[get] laid walking ya doggie”. Etc.

And now…

So the idea came slowly to me, years ago, but only now am I sharing it with you: to write a screenplay based entirely from quotes and dialogue from other movies. But to do it right; creating a whole original story completely separate from the quotes. The quotes are only building blocks, but the schematics - the plot - are unique. It would be fun and fresh to hear a classic line delivered in a completely separate scenario…a different mood, feel, motivation. Hearing it, almost, for the first time.

For example, when Al Pacino delivers that line in Heat, he says it really fast, like this: “killed walkingyadoggie” And it has nothing to do with walking a dog - it’s a metaphor. The guy on the other end of the line is a risk averse pussy and Pacino’s trying to goad him. But in this new script, I would strip from it it’s previous affectations. It would become plain. It would refer to someone actually dying while walking their dog.

Here is a brief snippet of what I’m talking about:

Bob: God dammit, I need to know and I need to know now.

A pause.

George: He got killed walking his doggie.

Bob’s frozen.

George: Snap out of it.

Bob: You talkin’ to me?

George: Forget it, Bob, it’s Chinatown.

Bob starts to walk off.

Bob: I’ll be back.

George: Bob, you can’t handle the truth.

About 100 more pages and you can book your ticket to the Oscars now.

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