Friday, December 26, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies Driven Entirely by People Talking


This week's theme from Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks Meme is daunting for me. There are so many movies that can be considered, some more obvious than others. I worry about to what extent I can go. I keep running this over and over in my mind. This theme lends itself to movies adapted from plays or movies that are staged like plays (few locations, static shots, little visual filler between scenes of dialogue). Then, there is just about any Tarantino movie. Movies that are all about dialogue, yet also all about style. That's what makes Tarantino so special, right? He seamlessly mixes both, where not many others do. Let's go with one of each.


Thursday Movie Picks: Movies Driven Entirely by People Talking

A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951)


Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire is one that I have studied closely. In fact, I read it for two different classes in college. It is a work well ahead of its time, filled with sexual overtones and devastating truths about mental illness and abuse and people, in general. The movie, pretty much the play on film, derives its power from Williams' dialogue, especially in the ramblings of Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois and her interactions with Marlon Brando's Stanley Kowalski. Their standoffish chemistry, crafted by words and mannerisms, is unreal. Watching her with Brando here, I am hard-pressed to think of another acting duel as important in all the movies I've seen.

Metropolitan (Whit Stillman, 1990)


Few movies have touched me more than Whit Stillman's first feature, Metropolitan. It follows a group of late-teens as they navigate the social terrain of Manhattan's upper-class. It is set up much like a stage play with very few locations, mostly interiors, where the players (a cast of incredible young unknown-at-the-time actors) just sit in evening attire and talk. It is also somewhat of a Christmas movie, as it is set at Christmas. 

This is from an earlier blog post on this film, which can be read in full here:
  
In his original review of Metropolitan, Roger Ebert wrote that Stillman, "has made a film Scott Fitzgerald might have been comfortable with, a film about people covering their own insecurities with a facade of social ease. And he has written wonderful dialogue, words in which the characters discuss ideas and feelings instead of simply marching through plot points..." That is so true. I like movies where the dialogue overrides the plot. Sometimes it is just more interesting to hear what people have to say than what crazy plot they're involved in. 

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)


Any of Tarantino's work could fit in this category. However, I have chosen his revisionist WWII "masterpiece" due to it's use of language almost as a supporting character. It is seriously one of the best-written (as far as dialogue goes) movies ever made.

This is from an earlier blog post on this film, which can be read in full here:

The dialogue, in general, but in two scenes in particular: The opening scene in the French dairy farmer's house and the scene between the German-speaking Basterds, the actress, and the Nazi officer. I loved how Landa rationalized killing Jews to the farmer. He broke that poor guy down...pure evil. Tarantino's dialogue, which is always great, I think, reached a new plain in this movie. It flowed so well, and it was mostly translated to foreign languages. I have never had such a good time reading subtitles. And there is also the fact that so much emphasis is placed on language in this movie (something like five languages as well as countless types of accents and discussions of such).

7 comments:

  1. I hadn't thought much about it but Quentin Tarantino is a director who is pretty good with dialogue. I'd argue that some of his movies might count more than others. Reservoir Dogs would probably be the most fitting example seeing as most of the film's plot amounts to "a bunch of guys stand around arguing for two hours and then shoot each other" but Pulp Fiction could also count since while there are some action scenes in between conversations they're generally very brief. Even Django Unchained was in large part an elaborate business transaction that eventually goes... not quite as planned. Howard Hawks was another director who liked to work with dialogue and often had "rapid fire dialogue" in his movies (the climax of His Girl Friday being a great example). I think Tarantino may have taken some inspiration from him.

    I remember reading A Streetcar Named Desire in High School and then seeing the Marlon Brando film. It was a pretty good movie but we also learned about a lot of the obstacles that almost halted its production. Some of it seems insane by modern standards, like how the filmmakers were forced to cut out a few seconds of certain scenes. In other cases it was a bit horrifying. The Production Code already forbid any acknowledgement of homosexuality, but there was in this case a huge backlash towards the homosexual aspects of the story, so in the scene where Blanche explains that her husband was gay the writers actually had to rewrite the original passage (which was already vague and addressed the subject very cryptically) and mutilate it beyond recognition. The filmmakers also had to get around the same problem when addressing the scene where Stanley rapes Blanche (leading to the film's interpretation of it, where the sexual assault is implied but remains unseen) and furthermore the ending had to be changed so that Stanley got some form of comeuppance (in the original play, he gets away with everything) again because of the production code.

    One thing I can say about A Streetcar Named Desire is it is a perfect comparison to look at how gays are treated on film. When you hear the story of how the filmmakers ran into all this trouble because a character we never even see is implied to be gay it becomes clear we've made some good progress. I mean, imagine trying to pitch a movie like Brokeback Mountain or Mulholland Drive in the studio era. You'd get into some pretty big trouble for it.

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    1. Yes sir. A Streetcar Named Desire is truly ahead of its time in many areas. And the film version does sugar coat and/or gloss over some of the homosexual innuendo. Tarantino is as good a writer as he is a director in my opinion. He is a self-described (and not very humble) master of dialogue. And Christoph Waltz has become his greatest line reader.

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    2. I kind of love this, because just last night I was sitting at a table with some friends talking about how Tarantino may very well be the best writer of dialog working in movies today. Like, even when I don't care for his film, entirely, the conversations had within them are just brilliantly composed and explored.

      And as far as Streetcar is concerned, that is just the territory of Tennessee Williams' work and the adaptations of it back in the 50's and 60's. I'd say the studios had balls to even attempt his work, which often had to be censored heavily due to sexual content and homosexual overtones. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is another one, where Brick actually had a sexual relationship with his best friend (who I believe committed suicide over it) and that was completely overlooked in the film (or changed to the point of ambiguity).

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  2. For someone making her way through Tarantino's filmography, that's one of his known works I haven't had a chance to watch (and should really get right on it). A Streetcar Named Desire was good, but I wasn't a big fan of the overly dramatic acting involved.

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    1. It really is great. The period genre stuff Tarantino has been doing lately is not as good as his early crime movies. I like this one better than Django for sure. Being from the South, I'm a sucker for Tennessee Williams plays. Streetcar just gets to me. You are right. They are overacting, but that's what it calls for. He's an animal, and she is losing her mind. It's the perfect storm in my mind.

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  3. A Streetcar Named Desire is the only one I've seen. I've never even heard of Metropolitan but it sounds interesting so I'm going to see if I can rent or borrow it somewhere.

    Wandering through the Shelves

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    1. Yes. See Metropolitan. It is a real gem. Very well written, funny, and charming as hell. I hope you can find it. It's on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion Collection.

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