November 1, 2011

And You Can Misquote Me On That

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Okay, film buffs.  Which of these famous movie lines is misquoted?

“Me Tarzan, you Jane.”

“You dirty rat; you killed my brother.”

 “Play it again, Sam.”

“If you build it; they will come.”

“Luke, I am your father.”

As you may already be aware, they are all incorrect. Despite their familiarity, none of these phrases were ever spoken in those exact words. Close, perhaps, but no cigar. 

Ready for a couple more? These come from the pages of literature:

“Elementary, my dear Watson.” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never penned this, though Sherlock did finally say it in a movie.)

“Money is the root of all evil.” (Without the key words, ‘The love of money’, its meaning is completely altered.)

Inaccuracy notwithstanding, time and repetition have made classics of these phrases. I would guess a fair share of the movie misquotes are the result of impressionists turning a phrase which becomes the new standard. We’ve all seen comics on Johnny Carson delivering a shifty-shouldered, “You dirty rat”. And the much wordier “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’…You played it for her, you can play it for me!” just doesn’t play the same in front of a Tonight Show crowd.

Despite the occasionally tattered retelling, these are only a handful of the countless quotes which have stood the test of time to become part of our vocabulary. Does it ever make you wonder if the author had any idea it would become a legendary line as they were writing it? Can you imagine the thrill of having a moment when you’re crafting dialogue and thinking, “There’s a line that will go down in history”? I know that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The phrase that pays is as different as each movie itself. The following have nothing in common other than they reveal a huge revelation in the plot:

“I see dead people.”
Houston, we have a problem.”
 “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
“I’ll be back.”
“You can’t handle the truth!”

We can never predict what words are going to click with the public, but it is apparent that movie lines which do become classics are typically uttered by charismatic main characters; heroes and villains whom readers believe are capable of expressing the wisdom of the ages. (With the possible exception of the unidentified lady diner in When Harry Met Sally who said, “I’ll have what she’s having.”)  (You must admit, though, she was pretty charismatic in her own right.)

Only time will tell if the protagonist in our novel will deliver the next famous quote. But it does behoove us to give each line of dialogue more than a passing consideration. When putting what might become classic words together, it may help to remember short and sweet is the stuff dreams are made of.

For it doesn’t get much simpler than the jungle man’s actual quote, which was merely:

“Tarzan. Jane.”

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