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 second part of our series, VHS Revival looks back at some more of those quotes which defined some of cinema’s best-loved characters.
You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked!
Character: Tony Montana
Actor: Al Pacino
Movie: Scarface (1983)
Back in the early 1980s an influx of Cuban immigrants set sail for Miami as they looked to claim asylum from the opression of Castro’s communist regime. Amongst the thousands of honest Cuban’s aboard the Mariel boatlift were a secret selection of mental patients and known criminals, rejects who saw a way to exploit certain freedoms which existed in the United States.
In 1983, visionary director Brian De Palma gave us Tony Montana, a thirsty pitbull possessed with the kind of ruthless ambition that would see him rise from foreign peasent to Miami kingpin almost overnight. But Montana would quickly come up against a whole different set of problems, those mired in politics which cannot be settled on the street corners with a gang of banditos.
After clawing his way to the very top Montana felt he had more than earned his lofty drugworld vantage, but very soon he would become public property, with everyone from corrupt DEA agents and sleazy offshore bankers gouging his considerable piece of the pie. It wasn’t long before Montana realised that communism and capitalism share the same fundamental obstacles, and that the so-called American dream was something of a nightmare. And of course, with his jail manners and brutally honest vocabularly, there is perhaps nobody else who could have summed it up quite as emphatically.
Maybe he comitted suicide.
Actor: Daniel Stern
Movie: Home Alone (1990)
Daniel Stern carved out a pretty nice low-key career for himself. After supporting roles in popular movies such as City Slickers, he would also appear in Woody Allen’s comedy drama Hannah and her Sisters, while even making his mark on the cult movie scene with 1984’s absurd monster flick C.H.U.D. He even provided the voice over for an older, reminiscent Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years, a TV show ingrained in the hearts and minds of millions. But even with such a varied and meorable career, he will perhaps be best remembered for his role as idiotic crook Marv from Chris Columbus’ festive family comedy Home Alone.
In hindsight, the many contrivances of Home Alone are hard to swallow. I mean, what are the odds of and eight year old boy devising all of those neat booby traps while possessing the technical mastery required to utilise them? And even if that were possible, what are the chances of hose criminals being so unfortunate as to walk right into every one of them, seemingly incapable of learning from a plethora of painful mistakes? You would think they’d be slim, but then you get to know Marv, and if anyone is capable of such a combination of poor luck and downright ineptitude it is Marv.
Not only does Marv step on a nail and get smashed in the face with an iron, he leaves ridiculous Wet Bandit style clues so the law can track his every move, while even believing that little Kevin McCallister can call the cops from a treehouse. Perhaps the most stupid of all ofMarv’s acts is when he and long-suffering partner Harry pursue their micro tormentor to the attic, only to find that he has dissapeared. Clueless as to the little tyke’s whereabouts, Marv looks down sixty feet in puzzlement. ‘Maybe he comitted suicide,’ he dumbly assumes, and the look on Harry’s face tells you all you need to know.
There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?
Character: Marge Gunderson
Actor: Frances McDormand
Movie: Fargo (1996)
The Coen brothers have made some wonderfully offbeat movies, wowing audiences for close to three decades with their very particular brand of filmmaking. Movies such as The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men has elevated the writer/directors to cult status, but for my money Fargo is their greatest achievment, and one of the finest movie’s ever put to celluiod.
A tale of desperate men resorting to desperate measures, the Coens juxtapose the macabre deeds of a couple of outsiders with the salt-of-the-earth toown of Brainerd, a cmmunity acutely unprepared for the increasingly gruesome events that transpire. After being asked to kidnap the snivelling Jerry Lundegaard’s unsuspecting wife for a piece of the ransom, our two heels get more than they bargained for as the body’s pile up and an internal beef sees their plans turn sour.
Tracking the criminals’ misdeeds with an honest-to-goodness simplicity which defies the convoluted evil smothering her home town is Marge Gunderson, a heavily pregnant detective whose simple soul and banal routine seem at odds with her professional smarts and skillful intuition. But in spite of being mired in the abuse of base criminality, Marge has the wonderful ability to view life in its most elementary terms, and as a consequence is able to elevate herself above the more insidious elements of human nature.
Escorting the cold and vicious Gaear Grimsrud to jail after watching him feed his partner’s leg into a wood chipper, Marge lays it all on the line, plain and simple. ‘There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?” she asks. “And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day.” And somewhere beneath the layers of dead-eyed inhumanity, you get the impression that our murderer finally realises as much.
Don’t Know. First time.
Character: Mr. Miyagi
Actor: Pat Morita
Movie: The Karate Kid (1984)
In 1984, Rocky Director John G. Avildsen would recycle his winning underdog formula with low key smash The Karate Kid, a movie that would exceed all expectations to become one of the most fondly remembered of the decade. This was in no small part due to the iconic performance of comedian Pat Morita, whose enigmatic blend of wholesome drama and charming relatability earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars, as well as a ringing endorsement from legendary movie critic Roger Ebert.
The Karate Kid is the story of Daniel Larusso, a fatherless fish-out-of-water who quickly becomes the target of some local bullies after his mother uproots them and moves to California. Daniel is soon outnumbered and in desperate need of a mentor, and that mentor comes in the form of apartment janitor Miyagi, a karate master who agrees to train the petulant youngster after a run-in with crazed Vietnam veteran, John Kreese.
Larusso is a gangly teen with a heart of gold, but after becoming the victim of the Cobra Kai dojo’s warped tutelage, he fails to understand the true value of martial arts, and through a series of eccentric life lessons he is taught that karate is about more than just throwing punches, it is about finding balance in life, and understanding that we must learn to fight so that we never have to.
Of course, there will always be moments when those skills are called upon, and when a couple of drunken bigots disrespect our favourite pacifist, Miyagi teaches them a lesson by karate chopping their empty beers bottles into oblivion. Flabbergasted by his sensei’s incredible feat, Larusso asks, ‘How did you do that?’ In response our hero shrugs, displaying the kind of infectious humility that allows an almost mystical figure a human relatability.
If I’m curt with you, it’s because time is a factor.
Character: Winston Wolfe
Actor: Harvey Keitel
Movie: Pulp Fiction (1996)
Before Harvey Keitel’s financial problems turned ‘The Wolf’ into an overbearing marketing gimmick for car insurance ads, he was one of the most sparsely used characters in modern cinema history, and as a consequence one of the most memorable. Pulp Fiction is a movie crammed with iconic characters, and in spite of the brevity of Winston Wolfe’s appearance, he more than holds his own with a selection of unique and wonderful characters who are far more central to the movie’s events.
‘The Wolf’ is so irresistibly quotable that every last one of his lines brings a smile to your face, and it takes an actor of Keitel’s style and range to successfully pull it off. Recruited by Marsellus Wallace to clean up a headless body, The Wolf leaves a party in the middle of the morning and arrives twenty minutes ahead of schedule, barking orders at two of LA’s most notorious henchmen while complimenting his agitated host Jimmy on the quality of his coffee.
The Wolf is smooth and curt in equal measures, an unfettered animal who is all business, and it isn’t long before his prodigious blend of dry wit and taut leadership gets the better of Vincent, a man more concerned with his own image than with the potentially fateful task at hand. Unfazed by Vincent’s apology request, The Wolf is blunt and aggressive, while never rising to the level of confrontation. He is a man whose time is of great value, a fact that he is quick to point out, and if his efforts are not appreciated there are other places where they most certainly will be.
Inevitably, The Wolf proves himself to be a man without prejudice, quickly earning Vincent’s respect and bearing no grudge in regards to his petulant attitude. A true gentleman, and one of the coolest characters ever put to celluloid.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut