Getting behind the dialogue

Whilst watching a film, you have to do more than just sit back, watch the screen and listen to the dialogue; you really have to ask yourself ‘What does this mean and what is he trying to say?’ As promised, let us take a look at Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet. Some of the key lines of the film/play are between Aaranow and Moss:

MOSS
No. What do you mean? Have I
talked to him about this?

Pause.

AARONOW
Yes. I mean are you actually
talking about this, or are we just…

MOSS
No, we’re just…

AARONOW
We’re just “talking” about it.

MOSS
We’re just speaking about it.
(pause)
As an idea.

AARONOW
As an idea.

MOSS
Yes.

AARONOW
We’re not actually talking about it.

You see the importance here? Are they talking about committing a crime or are they committing crime? Is there a difference between speaking about something and talking about something? These guys do nothing but talk for a living. They are salesman. They sell property. In their minds, speaking about something is a different activity than actually talking about something. Talking about something implies an action will be taken. Speaking about something is just a way to pass the time.
If you have seen this film you will notice that there is a lot of stuttering going on. Characters change sentences mid-stream, and hesitate to find the words they are looking for. Why do they stutter? These are salesman. Shouldn’t they be well versed in speaking? Well, the fact of the matter is that because they are salesmen, they are unable to communicate anything. They have been lying for a living and are so sued to lying that when they are confronted with having to tell the truth to get what they want they have no idea what to say. Take this exchange for example:

AARONOW
Then, you know, they wouldn’t be so
ups…

ROMA
Yeah. That’s swell. Yes. You’re
right.
(pause)
How are you?

AARONOW
I’m fine. You mean the board? You
mean the board…?

ROMA
I don’t…yes. Okay, the board.

AARONOW
I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m fucked on the
board. You. You see how…I…
(pause)
I can’t…my mind must be in other
places. ‘Cause I can’t do any…

ROMA
What? You can’t do any what?

Pause.

AARONOW
I can’t close ’em.

These guys have no idea how to honestly communicate. They just throw out words and cannot make sense of anything.
My final point: To get behind the dialogue you have to look past the words and search for the meaning. Levine is desperate for fresh leads and confronts Williams about it. Levene is so used to conning people and talking them into a sale that he has stopped listening to other people. Take this conversation:

LEVENE
…and I’m going to get bounced and
you’re…

WILLIAMSON
…let me…are you listening to
me…?

LEVENE
Yes.

WILLIAMSON
Let me tell you something, Shelly.
I do what I’m hired to do.
I’m…wait a second. I’m hired to
watch the leads. I’m given…hold
on, I’m given a policy. My job is
to do that. What I’m told. That’s
it. You, wait a second, anybody
falls below a certain mark I’m not
permitted to give them the premium
leads.

LEVENE
Then how do they come up above that
mark? With dreck…? That’s
nonsense. Explain this to me.
‘Cause it’s a waste, and it’s a
stupid waste. I want to tell you
something…

WILLIAMSON
You know what those leads cost?

LEVENE
The premium leads. Yes. I know
what they cost. John. Because I,
I generated the dollar revenue
sufficient to buy them. Nineteen
senny-nine, you know what I made?
Senny-nine? Ninety-six thousand
dollars. John? For Murray… For
Mitch…look at the sheets…

Levene is so desperate to sell that he offers Williamson a 10% cut on his leads if he’ll just put him up on the board. Williamson tells him he can’t do it, but Levene is not listening. He is essentially trying to “sell” Williamson into putting him on the boards. It is ironic that Levene promises Williamson that he will sell the leads when he can’t even sell Williamson here and now. These guys have been selling for so long that all they know is how to lie their way through situations.
The next time you see a film pay close attention to the script. Most good scripts will have more than just expository dialogue. If you ever find yourself “bored” with a movie, you’re either watching a Michael Bay movie or you’re not paying enough attention!
I believe in the power of dialogue in this piece of literature so strongly that I will lend you my own copy to watch. Honestly, it is that important in terms of dialogue.

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