FORT WAYNE – “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
“The old man’s eyes boggled, overcome by art.”
“I’ll have some of the yella; and don’t get cheap on me.”
If you are unsure what films are associated with these lines, then what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
Surely by now – and don’t call me Shirley – you have noticed that an unexplained, gender-wide phenomenon exists; that the vast majority of males, be it husband, brother, father, uncle, have been blessed (yes, blessed) with an inherent talent in which we can recite, nearly verbatim, dialogue from select movies.
And we are not talking only the traditional phrases, here. Oh no. Some of the more familiar lines in cinema, i.e., “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” and “ … ‘Here’s looking at you, kid,’ ” are child’s play; pablum for the novice; amateur hour that any 11-year-old can parrot.
Certainly, there are select women who can and do possess this same proficiency; no slight to them. Perhaps it is because the male of the species, even the most silent, reserved type, needs minimal coaxing to repeat extended scenes of dialogue from “The Big Lebowski” that makes it seem as though this singular talent is his domain. It’s either that, or many of us men simply possess no shame. Often we’ve been told the latter.
And yet at one point or another we all have witnessed two skillful film connoisseurs, like Venus and Serena at Wimbledon, volley lines back and forth from the same movie with deftness and precision.
“My father was a great movie quoter; that’s probably where I got it from,” says Cinema Center executive director Jonah Crismore, who wholeheartedly recognizes his gender’s glorious penchant.
“I don’t know if it’s hereditary, or if I just grew up in that environment. He would quote everything from Charlton Heston’s Moses in ‘The Ten Commandments’ to Darth Vader when I was growing up. Pretty much he had a quote for every situation.”
Here’s a hypothetical situation: Arrive at a stuffy company party at the home of your wife’s boss, and the mingling can be excruciating. But unearth another unattended man who is also remarkably familiar with “The Usual Suspects,” and both of you will be entertained for the evening’s duration. Add one or two others with equal mastery, and the impromptu gathering around the ottoman becomes an event to savor: Picasso with a canvas; Nureyev on stage; Pavarotti at the Met.
A mano-a-mano sample:
Igor: “Abby someone.”
Dr. Frankenstein: “Abby someone. Abby who?”
Igor: “Abby normal.”
Dr. Frankenstein: “Abby normal.”
Igor: “I’m almost sure that was the name.”
– “Young Frankenstein,” 1974
To the unappreciative, this banter from a movie nearly 40 years old may appear boring and sophomoric. But to a couple devotees who can horse-whinny on cue to the name “Frau Blucher,” it is akin to a secret handshake within a select club.
Overcome by art, indeed.
“I don’t know if it’s that much different than playing air guitar,” Crismore says. “Sure, there are women who do it, but it seems like it’s mostly men, in my experience, that I’ve seen do it. Maybe we’re a lot more insecure in our own skin than women are, and we want to be these bigger-than-life figures, whether it’s being the rock star playing air guitar or the action hero spurting off the cool one-liner.”
Another explanation of this being a male-dominated talent is that many of the oft-quoted movies are in our wheelhouse – films rife with conflict, sports, action, slapstick. Rare is the bar stool scenario where two men swap lines from “Sophie’s Choice,” “Beaches,” “Steel Magnolias” or “Fried Green Tomatoes.”
When it comes to movie lines, our ear is a keen instrument. We can detect the most subtle variance, mimic the exact pitch and cadence, recognize when the slightest word is omitted or – horror of horrors – misused. Too many misquotes, and the offending party is out of the club. He must earn back his respect with hefty chunks of spot-on dialogue from either “Animal House” or any of the first three Star Wars films.
“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Yes, Master Yoda, we are a simple lot who snore and scratch and burp and bluster. We have all had our Homer Simpson moments, when, as we are being told something really, really, really important, the symbolic thought bubble above our heads materializes a doughnut with sprinkles.
But give two fellows 15 minutes and a few lines of a Monty Python movie, and their minds become photographic steel traps.
As to the first four lines?
Go ask your dad.