Giant rats and movie quotes
::I've written on this topic in 2006 and 2009 on my blog. This post is an edited version of the previous posts.::
Many years ago, I saved a short article by Roger Rosenblatt from Reader's Digest during a time when the little magazine was fun and wasn't overloaded with prescription drug ads. I'm a bit of an archivist of such things. Rosenblatt's article, entitled "I Shoulda Kicked Your Teeth In," was about his love for dropping random movie lines in conversations.
Over ten years ago, upon moving to Bismarck and still with boxes not yet unpacked, I received an email from a man who was looking for that very article and had at last found it referenced on my web site. I’m sure he was disappointed; the blog post I mentioned it in was barely about the article.
“Do you, by any chance, still have the article?”
I did, indeed. I dug through boxes and found the tan folder that I knew it to be in. I proceeded to scan it in and email it to him. Over the years, I've gotten emails from other people who remember the article and ask me for a scan of the article, so it was evidently a hit.
Rosenblatt talks about how the more obscure and challenging the movie quote, the better. By the article’s end, he gloried in the fact that he was finally able to use the most obscure quote he had in his arsenal, a quote referencing the giant rat of sumatra.
My dad used to call me the "movie kid" which is quite a feat considering I wasn't allowed to go to movies until my high school years, and we didn't have a TV or VCR at home except when he'd rent one for a birthday party from the Cenex station in town. But I did grow to love movies, and for about two decades, I certainly was the movie kid.
I can name the film from a snippet of soundtrack, and the composer and other films he composed for. I can go down the list of films an actor was in. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon was a real and serious game. At one point, I found myself in a coffee shop involved in a heated debate on whether or not it was valid to even consider that we could upload a virus into an alien spaceship as depicted in Independence Day. I took a few night movie history classes in college for no credit need but simply because I couldn't believe I had the chance to learn about such things.
I don't go to movies much anymore. I'm not sure when my interest waned, but it was somewhere around the time when everything was a remake, part 7, or about a super hero. When I do, I don't recognize what's playing, or most of the actors. It's super hero or horror or progressive politically correct computer animation schlock, and I longingly retreat to the previous eras.
So when I drop lines from movies, they bomb.
For example, never drop lines from the movie Babe. Saying "that'll do, pig" absolutely only works if the other person saw the film which, I've discovered, many many people have not.
Granted, my friend and I have a stock set of movies we drop lines from all the time (Home Alone, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, Jurassic Park, Happy Gilmore, the TV shows Psych and Murder, She Wrote...) and they communicate whole chains of thought very effectively with only a few words.
For example, my friend told of how he and a coworker were trying to communicate in a noisy area at work, and after a few rounds of loud talking and "huh?!" the coworker stopped and hollered "the blessing!"
Rosenblatt opens his article with a paragraph on how to deal with a blackmailer. He uses no quotes around it, though he notes the entire thought comes word-for-word from an Edward G. Robinson film. "The reason the quotation marks are missing is that I think of the lines as my own."
This is incredibly accurate. The words of the movie becomes my own.
"Dodgson! We've to Dodgson over here!" I say when what I mean is that no one cares.
When I get frustrated with a younger generation I simply sigh and say "yeah, he's a kid, kids are stupid."
Random quotes are so ingrained in my head that in nearly every conversation, I am unconsciously primed to let one fly. Even if people don't catch it, I feel a sense of accomplishment since, as Rosenblatt notes I "had achieved my purpose: placing movie lines I admire into everyday talk."
Rosenblatt took it to a level I can only imagine, though, as he set rules for himself, insisting that the quotes aren't stand-ins for ideas, but bizarre rejoinders. "The lines I use must be preposterous and, if possible, obscure." As he points out, it's easy to put some quotes into everyday talk, especially well-known lines (e.g. we aren't in Kansas anymore, I'm ready for my close-up, or just about anything from Casablanca).
"Anybody can toss into common dialogue stuff like 'I am big! It's the pictures that go small," Rosenblatt wrote. "Try adding 'It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily' into normal chit chat to see where it gets you."
I have extreme admiration for Rosenblatt's feat, and would have loved to follow him around and listen to his conversations. It makes me want to haul out all of my classic movie VHS tapes (only a few of which I have replaced with DVD) to harvest the witty bits from the black and white scenes of terse movements, emotion-packed glances, and cutting words spit out between puffs on a cigarette or when grabbing the lapel of a thug or some wilting woman.
"If a colleague regrets having done something, you could say: 'I shoulda been a better friend. I shoulda stopped you. I shoulda grabbed you by the neck. I shoulda kicked your teeth in (Stephen McNally to Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross)," Rosenblatt suggests.
Which is where, of course, the title of his article came from.
However, I can't say enough, no matter how far into Rosenblatt's extreme movie quote game you go, do not use the line from Babe.
It's always a mistake.
I keep doing it, hoping to find the one time it works, but it never does.