VHS Revival looks back at those quotes which truly defined their characters.
Whenever we speak fondly of a particular character, what is it that immediately comes to mind?
Sometimes it might be an action or an expression or some other physical detail that sets them apart, but more often than not it is the words that they use and how they use them. Dialogue is everything to a character, because for most of us words are the primary source of communication, and through them we are able to further understand a subject’s personality and motives; we are able to communicate with them on a whole other level.
Cult movies such as Pulp Fiction rely almost entirely on dialogue, and many characters have been defined by the immortal lines they are bequeathed. In fact, many of the greatest characters can be defined by a single expression, those that cut to the very heart of their personas and remind us of all the elements that make them so memorable.
In the first of an ongoing series, VHS Revival looks back at those quotes which defined some of cinema’s best-loved characters.
“I’m calmer than you are.”
Character: Walter Sobchak
Actor: John Goodman
Movie: The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Big Lebowski was something of a landmark movie for the Coen brothers. With crime classics such as Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing, they had long since established themselves as major, innovative players, while black comedy Fargo is perhaps as close to the perfect movie as you are ever likely to find, but it was 1998’s The Big Lebowski which really caught the world’s imagination.
Like much of the Coens’ works, the movie is something of an oddball experience which manages a peculiar poignancy in spite of its zany embellishments. This is due to their offbeat style and surreal set-pieces, but also because of a cast of larger-than-life characters who are at once grounded in reality and belonging to another world entirely.
The story of an L.A. bum tasked with retrieving a trophy wife from a bunch of leather-clad nihilists, The Big Lebowski is a scattergun odyssey of bumbling PI’s, porn star magnates, and a plethora of other socially inept caricatures, who each play a little piece in the acid trip puzzle.
Perhaps the most memorable of a terrific supporting cast is John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak, a seething malcontent whose time spent fighting in the Vietnam War has left him with a rather considerable chip on his shoulder. Walter has been screwed before and feels he has more than earned his right to certain freedoms, be that finishing his coffee after being asked to leave a cafe, or pulling a gun on his pacifist friend after his toe slips over the line during a league game.
As is the case with the majority of self-righteous loudmouths, Walter is also something of a hypocrite. Worse still, he is a relentless meddler with his combat boot jammed firmly in his mouth, and when the cops show up to their favourite bowling haunt after Walter pulls his piece on their opponent Lebowski finally loses it, demanding that his friend exercise some restraint.
‘I’m calmer than you are,’ Walter childishly retorts. ‘Calmer than you are.’
It is this petty and puerile nature that makes an otherwise raging brute so indelibly likeable.
“I’m even considering making up some shit!”
Actor: Bill Paxton
Movie: Weird Science (1985)
Weird Science may not be as memorable as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or as iconic as The Breakfast Club, but it is still one of filmmaker John Hughes’ finest. Hughes has a knack of appealing to teenagers and seems to understand what makes them tick, a fact that is prevalent in the dialogue he writes, which is crude, touching, and consistently hilarious.
Weird Science is the story of a couple of high school losers named Gary and Wyatt who decide to make a girl on their computer, but get more than they bargain for with the feisty and free-spirited Lisa, who manages to turn the house blue and make catatonic statues out of Wyatt’s grandparents before setting them on the track to popularity and ultimately the girls of their dreams.
Their is one fly in the ointment however, and it comes in the shape of Gary’s oppressive older brother, Chet. Chet is a buzz cut sporting, shotgun wielding chauvinist who takes great pleasure in extorting his younger sibling out of every dollar. After a night on the town courtesy of Lisa, Wyatt runs into his brother in the hallway, who seizes his chance to make a quick buck. Pinning Wyatt against the wall, Chet spells out the inevitable, and then some, ‘Here’s the bottom line, Wyatt: I’m telling mom and dad everything. I’m even considering making up some shit!!!’
Having become an award winning writer and director, Bill Paxton was once quizzed by a British newspaper on the part people seem to most remember him for. Chet was his answer, and this was the line fans most wanted to hear.
“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
Character: John McClane
Actor: Bruce Willis
Movie: Die Hard (1988)
John McClane is everyone’s favourite action hero. Not only does he dedicate his life to putting away dirt bags, he is an everyman devoid of the kind of haughtiness that you typically find with officers of the law. He has no prejudice against colour, creed, or anything else for that matter, and his down-to-earth personality means that he can find common ground with just about anyone, no matter how culturally opposed he and that person might be.
In spite of McClane’s agreeable personality, his life generally sucks, and when he is invited out to Los Angeles by his ex-wife he winds up attending the Christmas party from hell, complete with a building full of international terrorists intent on stealing millions in bearer bonds while leaving no witnesses.
Separated from his family and up to his neck in New York scumbags, McClane is used to getting the short end of the stick, and is humble enough to accept the fact that most of the time he probably deserves it. Because of this he has a playfully cynical nature, one he expresses with a dry, proletarian wit. Never is that wit more relevant than when McClane is crawling through a ventilation shaft having almost been murdered, wondering how in the hell he got into this situation.
‘Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…’ McClane squirms, mocking his wife’s fateful invitation.
He then takes down an entire terrorist group single-handed.
Yippee Ki Yay, motherf@#kers!
“I owe him, [and] I owe you.”
Character: Billy Hoyle
Actor: Woody Harrelson
Movie: White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
White Men Can’t Jump is another movie whose dialogue is everything. It is an often riotous, bittersweet tale about love and betrayal, about loyalty and honour and the decisions we make. It is about doing the right thing, and how right can be a subjective term in regards to those people who make up our lives. It is a truly wonderful picture, and one of the most underappreciated of the era.
Key to the movie’s success is the quite magical onscreen chemistry of its leading men. Billy and Sidney are top drawer ballers who didn’t quite make it to the big leagues, and as a consequence spend their time hustling for chump change on the wisecracking courts of Los Angeles. Both have money troubles and loyalties to their loved ones, and after a duplicitous run-in the two decide to put aside their differences and team up for the common good.
But Billy, played by a gloriously tragic Woody Harrelson, is bad with money. He is also bad with promises and ultimately relationships. After winning a wad of cash in a tournament his ego gets the better of him and he loses his half to a bet, but after Sidney (Snipes) does his would-be-brother a favour, his house is burgled, and Billy has to choose between doing the right thing and doing [the right] thing. Typically, he makes the wrong decision. Explaining that he owes Sidney a favour, long-suffering girlfriend Gloria recalls him saying the same exact thing to her.
‘I owe him [and] I owe you,’ he pleads as a sheepish but desperate Sidney hangs loose in the background, and Billy’s fate is clear to everyone except poor old Billy himself.
“I’d have got him ten.”
Character: Fletcher Reede
Actor: Jim Carrey
Movie: Liar Liar (1996)
Back in the mid-nineties Jim Carrey was the biggest movie star in Hollywood, and off the back of smash hits Ace Ventura, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber, the pressure was on for him to deliver. Liar Liar is a by-the-numbers mainstream comedy written specifically for the actor. It may be trite and predictable and downright saccharine at times, but the movie’s writers dangle just enough of a carrot for Bugs to work his magic, and work it he does.
Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, a sleazy, big city lawyer who will sink to just about anything in order to make partner, including screwing his boss and lying to just about everybody he comes into contact with. Fletcher’s son Max is no exception, and he becomes so tired of his father’s lies after he fails to turn up for his birthday that he makes a rather devastating wish, one that prohibits him from lying for an entire day.
Soon Fletcher is telling the truth about everything, offending his boss, alienating his wife and kid, and even managing to estrange himself from long-time assistant Greta, who after realising that her boss is telling the truth decides to probe him for past discrepancies and ends up resigning as a consequence. Fortunately, Fletcher is able to redeem himself, if only temporarily. Recalling a story about a friend who was sued for $6,000 by a burglar who fell and hurt himself while breaking into her house, Greta appeals to her boss’s human side by asking, ‘Is that justice?”
‘No,’ Fletcher replies, bringing a redemptive smile to his assistant’s face. ‘I’d have got him ten.’
And you get the feeling that he probably would have.