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Festivale online magazine
A Reel Life film section
July, 2000

This month's issue

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What's your best line?

Premiere magazine is the only magazine your faithful editor reads from cover to cover. Not necessarily on receipt, but it's my favourite in-the-bath reading.

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Currently it's running a series on the director's team, with a real-life person showing off the tools of their trade.

But it's their piece on the film's greatest lines that has me sad. They didn't mention either of my favourites:

"F*ck logic!", delivered by the wonderful Ed Harris as Bud in James Cameron's The Abyss and "Instant Gratification takes too long", delivered by Meryl Streep as Susan in Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge.

Movie dialogue is an often underestimated part of the experience. As screenwriters we are taught 'show it, don't say it'. In the beginning, there was the word, and the word was in the script. One of the problems we face in appreciating dialogue is that we can't always ascribe it to the correct person.

Movie making is a co-operative process. Sometimes the co-operative process means a lot of dipsticks in suits who haven't read the script delivering pontifications from across the desk, or producers like the Australian ABC executive who said, "I write, but I don't type". Yeah, right. As Isaac Asimov once pointed out, ideas are easy. Fresh, fun, challenging ideas are great, yes, but the work is in the crafting of the script: in the structure, and the timing, and the dialogue.

So, what makes good dialogue? It has to be in character, which means the right culture, the right gender, the right age, the right belief systems, the right time --not like extra terrestrials who speak contemporary USAmerican complete with all the idiom of a white bread US citizen. It has to move the story onwards, and perhaps to contribute to your understanding of that character's point of view, whether you agree with it or not.

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And please, please, good dialogue should be delivered by the actors (aka talking props) so that we can understand what the hell they are saying. Some films require several viewings in order to work out what words the so-called actor is delivering. Bloody hell, we paid to see them perform the script, it'd be nice if we heard what the writer wrote.

When it all comes together, there's nothing like the emotional experience of a good film. Sometimes it's just raw energy and excitement, sometimes it's the serendipity of a new idea, or an idea seen in a new way, and sometimes it's a cathartic rollercoaster of emotions.

What's your favourite line? Did it make you laugh, or cry, or sit up? Was it zen-like, bringing a sudden flash of enlightenment? Maybe it just made you appreciate that we are not alone.

by Ali Kayn

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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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