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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

I Heard Things

There is an interesting entry on One Slack Martian's blog that discusses the altered dialogue from Raging Bull. Yes, it is true that Scorsese, DeNiro and Pesci did a lot of tooling with Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin's screenplay. One Slack Martian noted from the dialogue passage on his blog:
I'm not sure if this accomplished anything, but I enjoy reading "authentic" dialogue. But we need to remember that we want the "illusion of authentic dialogue" in our scripts.
He makes a great point here about "authentic dialogue". When writing there is a strong pull to make characters "talk the way people talk". That can be misleading. Part of making dialogue feel real is crafting it in a way that is still rooted in who the characters are. In the case of this film and others like it I think there is a misconception that profanity=authenticity. Anybody can put a few thousand "fucks" in their screenplay but that doesn't mean it will amount to anything authentic. Profanity is not an "authenticator". It just means you can write the word "fuck". After reading the passage you will see that the scene is all about verbal jousting coming from the mouths of the working class. It's neighborhood talk from neighborhood people. There is a lot to gain and a lot to lose for all of the characters involved. This is something I am dealing with now with my characters because they are working class and they have the same stakes on the table. You want it to ring true so you can't ever forget who these characters are, what they want and where on the food chain the exist. Knowing that is always a good start.

Reading about the background of Raging Bull I got some insights into the techniques they used to get this level of authenticity. When working through the scenes, Pesci and Scorsese would work out a "trigger" to get a reaction from DeNiro. When Scorsese was getting DeNiro's angle Pesci would be playing off him telling him to "go fuck your mother" or something to that effect to get the angered reaction Scorsese wanted. This combined with the screenplay and intense rehearsal before production and on the set is what created that level of authenticity. Who owns the dialogue? They all do. Film is a collaborative effort and this is where the collaboration really paid off.

A personal note: this film is the reason I wanted to make films for a living. When I first saw it, yes, in the theater at the age of 13 (which would probably explains a lot), I was mesmerized. No, I didn't know what a director really did but I knew my head was spinning after I saw this film. It was brutal, nihilistic and visceral. That is what a great film should make you feel, spent. It should take you on a journey no matter how hellish or fantastical. No matter how deep and personal or light and wacky. It should take you to a place and never apologize for putting you there. This is what film meant to me after I saw it. I haven't been the same since.

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Blogger oneslackmartian said...

Much better put than my post.

Writers can certainly make “fuck” a dead word. After a few thousand “fucks,” it has no power. As a writer, why would you want to lose this power? A lot of people seem to develop a case of Tourette’s when they start to write.

I like its use, though, when it’s used in a movie by a character or in a moment that you would not expect it. For instance, in this battle scene from Braveheart:

As arrows fly from the English bows, the Scots crouch behind their

Stephen: (To Wallace)
The Lord says He can get me out
of this mess, but He's pretty
sure you're fucked. Ah!

I wasn’t expecting to hear it in 13-century Scottish dialogue. Couple that with the idea that He would think anyone is “fucked,” it’s a moment of dialogue that’s stuck with me.

Anyhow, thanks for the shout out! And good luck on your script there.

8:57 AM  
Blogger William said...


Profane words can definitely be drained of their power when overused in a screenplay. That's a cool example of it being powerful though. In Braveheart the word has power for the reasons you described, it was effective because of it's context. It takes you off guard and there is a comedic element to it. Where I find the language in Raging Bull is more a reflection of socio-economic characterization. This is who LaMotta is. This is a man who makes a living pummeling other men. He is speaking the only way he knows how. Sometimes hostile, like a caged animal. Do I think it takes away from the film? Not at all.

At the end of the day there is one author of the film, the director. I think that Paul Schrader is a very talented screenwriter but Scorsese made the film his own as he did with their other collaboration, Taxi Driver.

A little sidenote: in the original screenplay, Schrader had a scene where LaMotta was locked up in a Florida jail cell. That scene is in the film but what Schrader originally envisioned was LaMotta trying to masturbate to the thought of his wife. He can't because he is so filled with rage. DeNiro and Scorsese weren't having it and had Schrader rewrite it. It would have been a very different scene to say the least.

12:12 PM  

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