The Art of Dialects (2)

Mystery Man left us some time before 5 June of this year.

The Story Department continues to republish his best articles on Monday.

Here, you’ll also be informed about the posthumous release of his screenwriting book.

“Let’s go back to New York City. Consider this monolog, called, I’m a Type. In a perfect world, this should not be watered down for mainstream consumption. As far as I’m concerned, a good actor should be able pull it off in a way that everyone can understand and enjoy:

He was givin’ me a one-two look with his eyes. “Look-” I say to the casting director. “I’m a type person that’s a type, believe me! You want a college type? So I’m a college type! Look what I can do with my Adams. See? A squeeze and it’s a collegiate hat. I got talent. How do you want I should convince you – show you where I was initiated? You want I should show you where they tattooed the fraternity pin on my chest? Want my report card, maybe? I didn’t save it. So how should I know I’d want to become an actor.” Now he’s smiling. Look how the jerk is smiling. If I had his set of teeth I’d sew up my lips. What are you smiling at, Jerk, if you’ll pardon the expression? What’s funny? What do you see – a guy with two heads? Personally, on him it wouldn’t look bad. “Look-” I say to the guy. “So, you put out a call for collegiate type. All right – that’s me. Ask me questions. Go on! Anything. What do you want I should tell you about college? City College is on 23rd Street. You know something! I can love better than a certain party that his name is Gable. Gimme a football and I’ll make like Frank Merriwell. How’s about trying me out on dancing? Waltzes, foxtrots, anything. I got tempo. Timing! Wait a minute, fella – I’ll make like I’m cheerleader – Gimme a break, will you you? Ricky-Coax, Ricky-Coax! Look – For Christ’s sakes, look – I’m doing a sommersault!”

Hehehe… Both of those monologs come from two books I love:

American Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers

Foreign Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers

I’m not a believer in realism in dialogue in screenwriting. What’s the point of hearing thoughts we hear every day? I’m a believer in a drama. High drama, if you can achieve it. I’m a believer in heightened realism, in dialogue that has a poetic quality that elevates it above realism, that operates at a theatrical level. It’s like The Godfather. They were able to take ethnic dialect and elevate it to this syntax of opera librettos, which no one else has been able to achieve at that level. I’m also a believer in hearing words that are fresh and different, if possible. It’s about fictional words that stir the heart and soul in some fashion. We read these scripts to feel something. We go to the movies to feel.
I love, for example, the opening lines by Booth in Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog / Underdog. This, I swear, soars to the heavens on the page and in the theater. (Booth’s practicing a 3-card monte scam.)

Watch me close watch me close now: who-see-thuh-red-card-who-see-thuh-red-card? I-see-thuh-red-card. Thuh-red-card-is-thuh-winner. Pick-thuh-red-card-you-pick-uh-winner. Pick-uh-black-card-you-pick-uh-loser. Theres-thuh-loser, yeah, theres-thuh-black-card, theres-thuh-other-loser-and-theres-thuh-red-card, thuh-winner.
Watch me close watch me close now: 3-Card-throws-thuh-cards-lightning-fast. 3-Card-that’s-me-and-Ima-fast. Watch-me-throw-cause-here-I-go. One-good-pickll-get-you-in, 2-good-picks-and-you-gone-win. See-thuh-red-card-see-thuh-red-card-who-see-thuh-red-card?
Don’t touch my card, man, just point to thuh one you want. You-pick-that-card-you-pick-a-loser, yeah, that-cards-a-loser. You-pick-that-card-that’s-thuh-other-loser. You-pick-that-card-you-pick-a-winner. Follow that card. You gotta chase that card. You-pick-thuh-dark-deuce-that’s-a-loser-other-dark-deuces-thuh-other-loser, red-deuce, thuh-deuce-of-heartsll-win-it-all. Follow thuh red card…
I love when writers break-up the dialogue so that they’re not all complete sentences. Or shift gears mid-thought. I love the opening (and very Chicagoan) lines in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross:

Levene: John… John… John. Okay. John. John. Look: (pause) The Glengarry Highland’s leads, you’re sending Roma out. Fine. He’s a good man. We know what he is. He’s fine. All I’m saying, you look at the board, he’s throwing… wait, wait, wait, he’s throwing them away, he’s throwing the leads away. All that I’m saying, that you’re wasting leads. I don’t want to tell you your job. All that I’m saying, things get set, I know they do, you get a certain mindset… A guy gets a reputation. We know how this… all I’m saying, put a closer on the job. There’s more than one man for the… Put a… wait a second, put a proven man out… and you watch, now wait a second – and you watch your dollar volumes… You start closing them for fifty ‘stead of twenty-five
Let me end with this one. How about the funeral in the opening of Kushner’s Angels in America? Here, Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz speaks “sonorously, with a heavy Eastern European accent, unapologetically consulting a sheet of notes for the family names.”

Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz:
Hello and good morning. I am Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz of the Bronx Home for Aged Hebrews. We are here this morning to pay respects at the passing of Sarah Ironson, devoted wife of Benjamin Ironson, also deceased, loving and caring mother of her sons Morris, Abraham, and Samuel, and her daughters Esther and Rachel; beloved grandmother of Max, Mark, Louis, Lisa, Maria… uh… Lesley, Angela, Doris, Luke and Eric. (Looks more closely at paper) Eric? This is a Jewish name? (Shrugs) Eric. A large and loving family. We assemble that we may mourn collectively this good and righteous woman.
(Looks at coffin)
This woman. I did not know this woman. I cannot accurately describe her attributes, nor do justice to her dimensions. She was… Well, in the Bronx Home of Aged Hebrews are many like this, the old, and to many I speak but not to be frank with this one. She preferred silence. So I do not know her and yet I know her. She was…
(Looks at coffin)
…not a person but a whole kind of person, the ones who crossed the ocean, who brought with us to America the villages of Russia and Lithuania – and how we struggled, and how we fought, for the family, for the Jewish home, so that you would not grow up here, in this strange place, in the melting pot where nothing melted. Descendants of this immigrant woman, you do not grow up in America, you and your children and their children with the goyische names. You do not live in America. No such place exists. Your clay is the clay of some Litvak shtetl, your air the air of the steppes – because she carried the old world on her back across the ocean, in a boat, and she put it down on Grand Concourse Avenue, or in Flatbush, and she worked that earth into your bones, and you pass it to your children, this ancient, ancient culture and home.
(Little pause)
You can never make that crossing that she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist. But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this on you cross. Every day. You understand me? In you that journey is.
So… She was the last of the Mohicans, this one was. Pretty soon… all the old will be dead.”

– MM

In his own words, Mystery Man was “famous yet anonymous, failed yet accomplished, brilliant yet semi-brilliant. A homebody jetsetting around the world. Brash and daring yet chilled with a twist.”

MM blogged for nearly 4 years and tweeted for only 4 months but his passion and insights will forever leave an undeniable mark on thousands of followers all over the world.

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