If I didn’t quote movies, I might not be married.
I have a weird memory for dialogue. If you asked me what I ate for lunch yesterday, it could take me ten minutes of piecing my week together to figure it out. If you asked me to tell you what George Costanza said to Jerry Seinfeld when Jerry announced he wasn’t going to have a menage a trois with two women, I’d have the answer instantly (“What? Are you crazy?!? This is like discovering plutonium by accident!!!”). It’s just this strange way I’m wired. I’ve gotten a rotten brain. “IT’S ROTTEN, I TELL YA! ROTTEN!”
How’d this antisocial behavior land me such a beautiful wife? Despite my incredible physique and raw animal magnetism, I was a bit of a dork when I was 19 years old. I used to quote a lot of stuff, but my favorite was “Austin Powers” and its sequel. “Austin Powers” was so widely quoted in the late 90s that my lovely wife — who never quotes any movies — often quoted “Austin Powers” at parties. Two mutual friends noticed this and thought our shared love of Fat Bastard was a strong basis for a relationship. Eleven years later, I think it’s safe to say they were right; “love actually is all around.”
So quoting movies can be a force for good in the universe. In 2011 though, movie quoting’s role in a film nerd’s life has changed. In the days before the Internet, there were no message boards or blogs where you could meet people who shared your passion. Comparing movie quotes was how you did that. They were like secret Masonic handshakes; a way for cinephiles to identify and connect with other cinephiles. In the days before YouTube, before DVD chapter stops, before IMDb “Memorable Quotes” pages, movie dialogue was like a geek badge of honor. It required work. It showed you cared. As Lester Bangs says in “Almost Famous,” “the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”
As Patton Oswalt observed in his now-infamous piece for Wired, “Wake Up Geel Culture. Time to Die,” all of those technological advancements brought movie quoting to the masses. They practically made it cool, however briefly, to quote “Austin Powers.” And let’s not forget, before “Austin Powers” went mainstream with its mega-grossing sequel (right around the time file sharing really started to take off), it was basically a cult film. Being able to recite Dr. Evil’s shushing run doesn’t have the cache it used to (if it ever did in the first place) because anyone can find a transcript of it online. Unless you’re one of those people who’s “okay with being unimpressive,” it’s not enough.
Last Friday, a friend forwarded me an article from Splitsider, along with a note, “Thought this would be up your alley.” He was right. The article, by Luke Kelly-Clyne, is called “Please Stop Quoting These Comedies Forever Immediately,” and obviously my alley is a dark and nerdy place where “Monty Python” falsettos endlessly echo off the blacktop. Kelly-Clyne’s concedes to occasionally indulging in the practice of quoting memorable lines for movies, but believes a moratorium is needed on certain titles, including “Anchorman,” “Wedding Crashers,” and “Borat.” Here is his rationale for eliminating “Borat” from the movie quote lexicon:
“It was shocking and wacky, yes. Six years ago. The whole thing is over. If you’re at a party where the host is giving out those memory-eraser pens from “Men In Black,” then you can quote “Borat.” Otherwise, don’t.”
I don’t have a problem with people being sick of “Borat” quotes — I’m sick of them too — but I think there is an arbitrariness to Kelly-Clyne’s piece. He lists ten things you should never quote, and ten things you should quote, and there’s a significant amount of overlap between the two lists. Don’t quote “Chappelle Show” sketches about Rick James, he says, but do quote sketches involving Nick Cannon. Mostly, these lists read like one film lovers’s personal tastes. That’s why we need a standardized set of rules for movie quoting, rules that move beyond simple subjective judgments to acknowledge the pleasure of quoting without denying that pleasures’ limits. Sort of a “The first rule of Fight Club is…” thing.
I feel like I need more time to mull The Rules of Movie Quoting. But this is a solid first draft:
RULE #1: If you don’t know it, don’t quote it.
Like I said, I love a good movie quote. But if you don’t have a quote right, you shouldn’t be reciting it to others. Now that the Internet has made this kind of knowledge so much more accessible, there’s really no excuse not to have a movie quote’s wording and phrasing exactly right. The only thing less cool than quoting a movie is quoting a movie incorrectly. Do it, just do it right. “I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT… Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.”
RULE #2: Respect and understand your audience.
There is a time and place for movie quoting. But there are also wrong times and wrong places for movie quoting. For example: if you’re in the theater, waiting for a sequel, don’t sit there and quote the original movie. We all get it, the first movie was great; that’s why we’re here to see the second one. This is the cinematic equivalent of wearing a band’s T-shirt to their concert. “Don’t be that guy.”
RULE #3: Go for the deep cuts.
A repertoire of movie quotes is like a stock portfolio: diversity is key. Back in the Stone Age (pre-2000), movie quotes were about shared experience. Now, they need to become more about connoisseurship. To a lowest common denominator movie quoter, the question “What’s that from?” is a conversational kiss of death. It shouldn’t be. Quoting something obscure can be a pop culture gateway, a chance to share something you love with someone who hasn’t discovered it yet.
“Borat” is a fun movie, but we’ve all done it. Same for “Austin Powers” and “This is Spinal Tap” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Instead, try something a little more unusual: “Wet Hot American Summer,” or “Quick Change,” or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commentary track for “Conan the Barbarian.” Be different, but remember: “just because it’s loud doesn’t mean it’s funny.”
I think this is a really good starting point but I welcome your feedback and suggestions in the comments section below and at my Twitter page. If you don’t like it then “up your butt with a coconut.” No refunds if you disagree with me, either. “Consider your refund escaping this death trap with your lives!”