Less is more.
That’s the rule I follow when writing dialogue for one of my films.
In truth, when writing a screenplay, I make every effort to draft scenes with no dialogue. Zip. Zero. Nada.
Film is, or should be, primarily a visual medium where the story is told using images. But of course, dialogue is part and parcel of the movie experience. Even silent films used intertitles for dialogue. But films with too many intertitles were often inferior, and audiences hated sitting in the dark and reading one dialogue card after another.
When I do use dialogue, every word counts; every word a precious jewel that delivers the proper balance of tone and characterization. Dialogue should help move the narrative forward, but too much dialogue often ends up as exposition — the number one enemy of the screenwriter.
Good dialogue contains layers of meaning within the simplest of sentences. From the very beginning of the movies, the main film narrative has been the story of men and women—the love story. Indeed, if we sit down and watch Hollywood movies decade by decade, we witness the eternal war between the sexes where the not-so-secret fears and yearnings of men and woman are frequently embedded in charged and brilliant dialogue.
Last week, Seraphic Secret noted the male fear of women, commitment, and domestication.
Now, a few examples of great dialogue where we learn everything we need to know about women’s attitude… towards men.
Several months ago I started a list of my picks for the Greatest Movies ever made. I began with silent films, made my way through the 30’s, then started the 40’s but got sidetracked by, um, laziness.
I’m going to continue with my list of the 20 films that I feel are the best of the 40’s. My picks are deeply personal and will enrage many film school types who will wonder why Citizen Kane is absent. Answer: it’s boring, pretentious and I have no idea what the film is about. Just try watching the movie with an audience of actual normal human beings instead of film geeks.
As you can see, the list is heavy on screwball comedies because anyone who knows anything about film knows that comedy is the hardest genre to master.
There is one foreign film on my list, Day of Wrath, directed by Carl Dreyer, a true masterpiece that never fails to reveal unexpected depths.
There are omissions, films that I love, but hey, this list is not written in stone and next year I can always come up with another list of the Greatest Movies—entirely revised.
All the films are available on DVD to which I link and many, if not all, on Netflix.