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Death of a Fucking Salesman
September 29, 2011 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Glengarry Glen Ross endures mainly as a spectacular display of verbal warfare and alpha-male gamesmanship. There’s a musical quality to it, with a great composer and a great chorus hitting the complicated runs of broken dialogue and solos that weave into profane poetry and nuggets of philosophical wisdom. Perhaps the greatest sign of the movie’s success, owed equally to Mamet’s script and this cast, is that it does a great sales job in itself, convincing us that there’s nobility to men who lie for a living — a bill of goods we’re all too happy to buy.

... this film is the sort of subversive art that used to get people blacklisted. No one wants to hear that America is a perverted whorehouse, where people come together only out of selfish need. No one wants to know that they too would lie, cheat, and steal in order to maximize their own bottom line, especially when so many want to believe in the benevolence of big business.

Trivia note: The only words spoken by a woman in the film - "Slow tonight" - are performed by Lori Tan Chinn, who played Iris the hairdresser on Roseanne.
posted by Trurl (67 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
David Mamet's original play differs from his screen adaptation in significant respects that make it even bleaker.
posted by Trurl at 8:56 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Alec Baldwin has been coasting off his ten-minute tour de force here for nearly twenty years, and who could blame him? It is, for my money, one of the most galvanizing opening setups any film has ever had, and the rest of the thing's not too shabby either.

After watching it I went on a Mamet spree. American Buffalo is pretty OK, House of Games is better, and I can even find a soft spot for Steve Martin's villain turn in The Spanish Prisoner, but Glengarry Glen Ross is really the high water mark, where his particular voice and idiom found their perfect characters and material. Wonderful script, wonderful cast, one of my all time favorite films.
posted by chaff at 9:06 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is the scene, on the off chance that anyone here hasn't watched it many times.
posted by chaff at 9:09 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just rewatched Glengarry Glen Ross on Netflix the other day. Phenomenal film, one of my absolute favourites.
posted by xekul at 9:14 PM on September 29, 2011


I made $97 last year.

I love that scene, not only for the compelling, riveting asshole played by Baldwin, but for the last look at what a job like that was like before the computer revolution. Leads on file cards, a delivery of said cards via briefcase providing the hinge for the entire plot. Wild. Not a computer sitting on a desk anywhere (though by 1992 or so this wouldn't have been true for much longer).

Baldwin's character is the only one I admire in the entire cast. I wouldn't want to hang with him, but he makes no excuses about who he is or what he does, and when he says he could go out and make himself $15,000 in two hours, you don't doubt it.
posted by maxwelton at 9:23 PM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also has the perfect soundtrack. It's pretty much a masterpiece through and through.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:24 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the best casts in a film, ever. Lemmon is great. Pacino hadn't totally gone over to his yelling mode. Harris, Spacey, Baldwin, Arkin. Not a weak link in the bunch.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:30 PM on September 29, 2011 [14 favorites]


I think I may have been on shrooms at the time...

He took off his watch, and said that line about "this cost more than your car" (or something like that), and in my head I saw him taking his watch off, and dropping it on one of the cars of the guys there and the watch just crushing the car.

That's my story about the movie.

And Salesman Gil from Simpsons and catching that character's reference.
posted by symbioid at 9:30 PM on September 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Third prize is I'm your father.
posted by rhizome at 9:34 PM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Utterly spellbinding when Alex Balwin says, "Coffee? No. You don't DESERVE coffee" to the man who is about to get coffee.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:35 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I worked in a sales office back in the early days of digital satellite TV. Several of us knew the movie well, and would often quote it to each other after taking sales calls over the phone or with walk-ins. "I got my balls back", "But, my daughter", "What's my name? Fuck you, that's my name", etc were thrown about depending on if there was a deal signed (and those early Dish Network and DirecTV packages were a total scam). Usually, it was more malicious passive aggressiveness rather than just in good fun, and we all ended up kind of hating each other for it.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:37 PM on September 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh man, and how fuckin' meta... Selling them on selling.
posted by symbioid at 9:37 PM on September 29, 2011


I tried to do that famous monologue for an acting class. It took about 10 tries before I could even approach that level of alpha. I REALLY should have chose a Woody Allen one.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:37 PM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Goddamn, been a while since I watched that scene...that's totally my current boss: "Do you have the balls to make this measurement Asshole? Well do you?"
posted by Chekhovian at 9:44 PM on September 29, 2011


I really wish, in the credits, that Alec Baldwin had been credited as "Fuck You."
posted by Ice Cream Jonsey at 9:48 PM on September 29, 2011 [39 favorites]


The other thing that warms my heart about David Mamet is that in his book On Directing Film, whenever he wants a go-to example of a perfect movie he talks about Dumbo. Yes, the Disney cartoon about the baby elephant. I watched it again after reading the book, for the first time since I was a child, and he's right, it's really good.
posted by chaff at 10:20 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


My favourite is Pacino ragging on the Indians.

"Patel?! Patel?!!"
"If Vishnu himself came down..."
posted by Meatbomb at 10:21 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


it does a great sales job in itself, convincing us that there’s nobility to men who lie for a living

It does?

a bill of goods we’re all too happy to buy.

We are?

That is not the way I experienced the movie at all.
posted by ericost at 10:26 PM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is one of my all time favorite movies, although not for the memorable catchphrase early part, but for the ways they all come apart. I've always felt like each character embodies s a specific facet of American masculinity, and the movie brutally exposes the weakness of each archetype. Also, Alan Arkin's performance is always overlooked. He's so good in this movie.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:41 PM on September 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


I tried to do that famous monologue for an acting class

Hell, I tried to block out a scene from the play for a directing class.* My main problem was that the friends I got to do it were just too good at it, and the professor knew they'd pretty much taken the scene and run with it, rather than me actually directing them.

If you're in college, and trying to find a minor that will be utterly useless to you in life, look no further than a minor in theater.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:44 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Alan Arkin's performance is always overlooked

I definitely agree with that. Kevin Spacey, too, is pretty phenomenal in the film, and for me, it was pretty much the first time I'd seen him in a film. He clearly holds his own in the movie, and he owns the role of the viscious office manager.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:49 PM on September 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Am I the only one that interpreted Alec Baldwin's character as completely full of crap about how successful he was?
posted by Yowser at 10:53 PM on September 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


Mamet is right about the structural perfection of Dumbo, but I would guess he also likes it because it's one of the most bruising, relentless, emotionally exhausting films ever made. It's an exercise in cruelty for 95% of its running length with a redemptive, upbeat ending which doesn't actually remove the memory of all that's gone before. It's not only more punishing than any kids film made in the last 30 years, it's more brutal than a Saw and Requiem for a Dream double bill. Kids were tough in those days.
posted by joannemullen at 10:53 PM on September 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


Finally! An opening for my favorite piece of Mamet trivia. Who was Mamet's roommate at Goddard College? Dr. Katz! (And in somewhat related celebrity undergrad roommate trivia, Peter Wolf [J. Geils Band] roomed with David Lynch at B.U. But that's a whole different kettle of fish - which is in the percolator.)
posted by wensink at 11:05 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's an exercise in cruelty for 95% of its running length with a redemptive, upbeat ending which doesn't actually remove the memory of all that's gone before.

I saw Dumbo a lot as a very young child. I think this may be spot on. I may have to rewatch it now.

I think GGGR is a prime example of executing an adaptation of a play as a film. A visual artist I knew had me watch this when I was just getting into writing dialogue. I don't know that I could think of a way to repay him. But I'm going to drop any notion of appraising the stylistics; I just want to say something about the substance.

If this movie had been shown to me as a teen I believe that I could have saved lot's of people, including myself, many headaches. The easy jobs to get where I lived were sales jobs. I didn't really have the context to view them as such and it took me a few years to realize that I hated sales. Mostly because of the way the people who were teaching me how to sell were not making me cognisant of the fact that I was "selling" something to people. If I could have seen a film like this I could've been like, "Oh, this sucks, but I see what I have to do to get the job done" or I could've been like, "Hmm, sales really isn't for me but it's nice to see how it works for the people who are in to it". After three years of experience, I chose the latter.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 11:18 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one that interpreted Alec Baldwin's character as completely full of crap about how successful he was?

That's an interesting ontological question. I don't think we can know, at least working from the text, but clearly in the profession there is often an aspect of "faking it until you make it", with a leased BMW and a borrowed Rolex. I have known salesmen and half of it was appearance and chutzpah.

I know I couldn't possibly do this job; any time I've come close to such a situation I've failed utterly. I'm closest to the mensch of Shelly Levine than any of the other guys, but I can't even summon the faintest glimmer of the BS job he eventually pulls.

That is not the way I experienced the movie at all.

It's a shattered, feet-of-clay nobility. These men are broken, but trying, too pure of heart to be the assholes they need to be, and most of them know it deep down. But they must provide, and they know nothing else. I think that's the nobility that's being implied.

The film is also about the corrupting influence of this daily lying, and also the lying they do to themselves, and by further implication, the families for which they are providing.

Not a computer sitting on a desk anywhere

Once, I worked in a car dealership as a third-party guy. The sales staff had computers that were 100% locked down. They could only visit the dealership's website and those of the automakers they sold. They weren't allowed any non-filtered e-mail, browsing, posting, or anything. The reason was that they would start undercutting each other by going out there and trying to get leads, put craigslist ads, disrupting other dealerships, and all sorts of other unacceptable practices. Whether these tethers were ethical or necessary isn't the debate I mean to have: it's that the same sort of control was exercised.

Actually, I had the opportunity to spend time in a couple more dealerships. One was pretty much the genteel old-timey dealership like I knew from my home town, another was a freakish assembly line of the downtrodden and a credit mill (and I mean that in the grinding sense as well), yet a third was something between a high-traffic DMV office and a souk, and the one I first mentioned had a clean, corporate air and big, friendly region-wide advertising. It was just as full of the ugly practices underneath. A hierarchy of sales staff, a friendly-enough but ultimately potentially back-stabbing competitiveness, and utter moral cynicism about the whole affair, such as the people who they could "get into a car" but who they knew would not be able to afford the payments and lead to a quick repo -- a car they could then sell again.

There was also a minuscule sales staff, once, where I worked in a converted hotel room (in the old Chicago Doral -- now Millennium Park Plaza), with a guy who was a plumper, jollier Shelly, a hard-nosed woman who could have been played by Sigourney Weaver ca. Working Girl, and a young boss who was a skinny Alec Baldwin (even when Alec was skinny himself), who had a fur-wearing floozy of a girlfriend. (I provided IT support.) It was an insane mix of personalities, and you could feel the daily grind wearing away at everyone.
posted by dhartung at 11:55 PM on September 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


David Mamet’s Fatal Conceit:
Substantively, Mamet’s book will annoy longtime conservatives the way teachers’ pets annoy their classmates. The kid simply tries too hard. He’s ingratiating. “I speak as a reformed Liberal,” he announces as if in front of the parole board.

Perhaps a better comparison is to the door-to-door cultic propagandist. There’s something unsettling about the intensity, the totality, of his post-Damascene convictions...

...With startling self-assurance, he informs us that “polar bears are not, in fact, decreasing but increasing in population; the earth is not, in fact, warming.” And: “Carbon dioxide is not harmful to the atmosphere. There have, in the past, been periods, much colder than today, when the CO2 in the atmosphere was twenty-five times what it is today. Carbon emissions offer no threat whatever to the planet.”

How can Mamet possibly know this with such certainty? How much has this “reformed Liberal” thought about climate science at all? Whatever one’s opinion of global warming, and of the environmental movement more broadly, is it not obvious that Mamet is clutching a new holy book and believing everything in it as a matter of course?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:58 AM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one that interpreted Alec Baldwin's character as completely full of crap about how successful he was?

I'm imagining an updated GGGR with Blake as a now defrocked Madoff type, his long scam finally revealed, prison term served, life in shambles etc.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:14 AM on September 30, 2011


If you like that then you need to watch They Maysles film Salesman, a documentary about bible salesmen in the 1960s. It's incredibly good (& real)
posted by DanCall at 3:13 AM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seven favorites for this thread? Put those down. Favorites are for closers.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:04 AM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Substantively, Mamet’s book will annoy longtime conservatives the way teachers’ pets annoy their classmates. The kid simply tries too hard. He’s ingratiating. “I speak as a reformed Liberal,” he announces as if in front of the parole board.

It's almost ironic, how Mamet has become one of his own characters from Glengarry: a fraud of a salesman, clawing and scratching desperately in an effort to convince others of his newfound right-wing zealotry.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:25 AM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I, too, love this film and the play as well. I am surprised that no one has mentioned some of the other scenes of the film, such as when Arkin and Harris are talking in the car and their dialogue becomes a sort of fugue of repetitious banter : "they killed the golden goose", etc. Or the scene near the end where Lemmon regales Pacino with his sale... It's a hunting story, with a warrior returned to describe his success, and I don't know about you, but for a moment I so want it to be true and real, but something tells me it cannot be.
posted by grimjeer at 4:56 AM on September 30, 2011


Metafilter: Favorites are for closers.
posted by Renoroc at 5:22 AM on September 30, 2011


Baldwin's character is the only one I admire in the entire cast. I wouldn't want to hang with him, but he makes no excuses about who he is or what he does

Then you must really admire Dick Cheney. Baldwin is indeed a total bullshit artist, he's an actor as are many of the players in Mamet movie. I play a game during Mamet movies trying to pin down the players who are acting and those who are being. Hell, I try to do that in life as well - with the actors far outnumbering the be'ers.
posted by any major dude at 6:15 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've worked with a lot of people in the US who view GGGR as aspirational, attempting to mimic the "strength" projected by Baldwid.

That's just fucked to me.
posted by Lord_Pall at 6:17 AM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's almost ironic, how Mamet has become one of his own characters from Glengarry: a fraud of a salesman, clawing and scratching desperately in an effort to convince others of his newfound right-wing zealotry.

Curiously, despite that zealotry, he removed the previously mentioned "If Shiva handed this guy a million dollars..." scene from the recent Broadway revival in deference to Hindu sensitivities.

The film is also about the corrupting influence of this daily lying, and also the lying they do to themselves, and by further implication, the families for which they are providing.

For me, the most masterful touch in the script is [SPOILER ALERT] how the coup de grace of Levene's destruction comes from learning how the customers have lied to him.

Finally, no GGGR discussion is complete without "The Ultimate Abuse Mix".
posted by Trurl at 6:35 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one that interpreted Alec Baldwin's character as completely full of crap about how successful he was?

I haven't seen the movie, only that scene, so I don't know the sale/scam they were running. But I always assumed that the Baldwin character was taking cut of all of the sales i.e. something like what happens in MLM. So, in a real sense, he is selling sales to an office full of suckers who are making money for him but will never make enough for themselves.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:53 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one that interpreted Alec Baldwin's character as completely full of crap about how successful he was?

It's the leads.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:03 AM on September 30, 2011


I am surprised that no one has mentioned some of the other scenes of the film

There are no bad scenes in this film. Baldwin just provides the memorable standout.

Pacino hearing Lemmon's success story (and Harris spewing bile). Pacino on the job with Jonathon Pryce in the lounge. Spacey (Will. You. Go. To. Lunch!). Absolutely, Arkin and Harris in the car (Arkin's fragmented dialogue is so perfect). It's all gold.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:07 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Actually, after rewatching that Baldwin scene now it seems a bit trite to me. I think sometimes we value intensity for intensity's sake, and allow ourselves to be duped into thinking something has intrinsic merit. I mean, the movie as a whole is a good one and there are lots of interesting takeaways, but it seems that there's more nostalgia than substance with the Baldwin scene.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:28 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yowser: "Am I the only one that interpreted Alec Baldwin's character as completely full of crap about how successful he was"

Not at all. In real life, it seems I recall that most blowhards who come on like Mr. Fuck You tend to be hollow characters. For me, the interesting thing in the plot is that the others are completely motivated by FU's speech, to the point where their actions violate group cohesion.
posted by telstar at 8:30 AM on September 30, 2011


The Baldwin clip gets treated like an easily excised standalone scene because it's Alec's only one in the movie, in contrast with everyone else who gets at least 2 (Pryce). But though it happens early, there's no replacement for watching it in context -- having some moments to get to know the characters before they suddenly find themselves confronted with this. This is not any group of guys potentially getting the steak knives, or fired. This is Lemmon, Arkin, Harris, and Pacino. The scene just becomes this bluster clip on its own, but it's more than that.

But I liked The Big Kahuna, too, and it's nowhere near as well put together as GGGR.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:37 AM on September 30, 2011


GGG - a staggeringly great play and movie. Movie features the best ensemble cast you'll ever see. Jack Lemmon's failure to be nominated as Best Actor is criminal. (Pacino was nominated as Best Supporting Actor, but lost).

There's nothing like Ed Harris (Dave Moss) and Al Pacino's (Ricky Roma) blow-ups.

I come into the fuckin' office today, I get humiliated by some jagoff cop. I get accused of...I get this shit thrown in my face by you, you geniune shit, because you're top name on the board...

What you're hired for is to help us--does that seem clear to you? To help us. Not to FUCK-US-UP...to help men who are going out there to try to earn a living. You fairy. You company man.

By far the most violent movie I've ever seen - a verbal knife fight.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:42 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, the most masterful touch in the script is [SPOILER ALERT] how the coup de grace of Levene's destruction comes from learning how the customers have lied to him.

What always struck me about that twist was that Levene apparently went out and "closed" that sale after having stolen the good leads. An attempt to cover his tracks? A parting "fuck you" to the firm? A sense of worth reinvigorated by the bold theft? A lingering remnant of the true sales ethic, if there is one? I've never been able to figure it out.
posted by Urban Hermit at 8:45 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Big Kahuna runs circles around GGGR for tapping into the existential angst of a working life in a post-industrial America. I think too many people searched it out after falling in love with GGGR and unfairly compare the two. Kahuna doesn't bludgeon you with the intense and masterful performances of GGGR but it can cut you twice as deep with its silence.
posted by any major dude at 8:57 AM on September 30, 2011


Well, I hope my comparison was not unfair. When I say "not as well put together", that's in the context of a film that I think hit no wrong notes, which is an insane standard. But GGGR couldn't be TBK if it tried. It's a different beast. And as you point out, it uses very different tools (to great effect).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:08 AM on September 30, 2011


Durn, your comparison was totally fair, originally I was guilty myself of comparing the two. It's hard not to considering they are about sales, adapted from plays and feature Spacey. It's just that I had the chance to see it for a second time recently and was blown away by it mostly because I wasn't comparing it to GGGR as I did on my original viewing. Check it out again if you get the chance.
posted by any major dude at 9:27 AM on September 30, 2011


Phil: The question is, do you have any character at all? And if you want my honest opinion, Bob, you do not. For the simple reason that you don't regret anything yet.

Bob: Are you saying I won't have any character unless I do something I regret?

Phil: No, Bob. I'm saying you've already done plenty of things to regret. You just don't know what they are. It's when you discover them. When you see the folly in something you've done. And you wish you had to do over. But you know you can't because it's too late. So you pick that thing up and you carry it with you. To remind you that life goes on. The world will spin without you. You really don't matter in the end. Then will you attain character. Because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself all across your face.

posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:37 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cocoa is for cobblers.
posted by drezdn at 9:47 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you like that then you need to watch They Maysles film Salesman, a documentary about bible salesmen in the 1960s. It's incredibly good (& real)
posted by DanCall


I've assumed the GGGR was based, at least in part, on that film.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:14 AM on September 30, 2011


I don't know what's wrong with me, but I was bored and annoyed by GGGR. "The LEADS! I GOTTA HAVE LEADS" OK OK, we get it. The leads. Desperation. It was a one-note drone for way too long. A boring script about boring people. (who yelled, and were played by famous actors, yeah but still boring.)
posted by msalt at 10:23 AM on September 30, 2011


What always struck me about that twist was that Levene apparently went out and "closed" that sale *after* having stolen the good leads.

When Levene is crowing about having closed the Nyborgs, Roma says, sounding surprised, "You closed them this morning?" I can't think of any reason why the timing should strike him as noteworthy unless he suspects that Levene stole the better Glengarry leads the night before. Consider that after Levene is taken into Williamson's office for questioning by the police, when Aaronow shows up and asks "Have they caught the guy?", Roma replies, "No. [pause] I don't know."

I think we can also assume that Roma knows the close is worthless. The Nyborgs are notorious enough that Roma, Moss, Aaronow, and Williamson all recognize them by name. Even Levene, the day before, remembers them from a previous pitch as unable to "afford a fucking toaster". This gives considerable pathos to Roma patiently listening to Levene's recap and saying, "Great sale, Shelley."

The play is far more brutal - beginning with Levene asking Williamson to give Roma the weak leads, and ending with Roma ordering (blackmailing?) Williamson into giving him half of Levene's commissions*. (Also the revelation that Roma has been getting the best leads from Williamson on the side.) Exposing Roma's filial statements to Levene - "the way you taught me", "there is a man I would work with" - as the same kind of bullshit he peddled to Lingk.

* Apparently, Roma doesn't realize that Williamson has already taken steps that insure there will be no future Levene commissions to steal half of. Ironically, with the Moss-Levene conspiracy exposed, Aaronow is now assured of his steak knives and continued employment in the job he hates.
posted by Trurl at 10:33 AM on September 30, 2011


In a strange, twisted way, what makes this film truly relevant today is not the sellers, as much as the product being sold.

Real estate.

Yes, crappy real estate in Florida, but real estate all the same, just like the houses, condos, coops and McMansions that were snapped up by unqualified buyers during the recent boom. The salespeople selling this stuff were more Annette Bening (from American Beauty) than Alec Baldwin--everyday people, for the most part, with fair-to-middlin' ethical standards. It was the machinery of the banks that duped the buyers, not the salespeople in most cases.

But when you get to the CEOs of these banks, they're cut from the same cloth as Baldwin. Case in point: Angelo Mazilo of Countrywide. The tan matches the attitude.
posted by Gordion Knott at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gordion check out Sayles' Sunshine State. Considering what as taken place since it's basically the Network of the real estate industry. Yet another warning gone unheeded.
posted by any major dude at 10:57 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always loved Jack Lemmon. I especially love him in "The Apartment," which is one of my favorite movies. (Please rent it and watch if it you've never see it -- or even if you have.) I'm also a Mamet fan (I've directed many of his plays and acted in a few of them), so I was very excited when I heard Lemmon was going to be in the movie version of GGGR. And, when I saw it, I loved his performance.

Then, in grad school, I got cast in a production of the play, in Lemmon's role. It was absurd. The character is supposed to be at least in his 50s and I wasn't even 30 yet, but so goes college theatre.

By the time we closed the show, I knew the whole script by heart. I decided to rent the movie and watch it again, and I was SHOCKED to find out that Lemmon was paraphrasing the whole thing. I am 99% sure he was paraphrasing and not working from a rewrite, because all the other actors were spot on. Except fot the added scene (the Baldwin one), the other actors were speaking Mamet's exact words, almost unchanged from the play. Only Lemmon was using new lines. And in almost all cases, his versions were way weaker than Mamet's.

Lemmon was pretty old when he made the film, and I read interviews with him, towards the end of his life, when he complained he had trouble learning lines. So I guess no one corrected him. Either they were on a tight shooting schedule, and there just wasn't time to keep reshooting until he got the lines right, or ... who wants to correct Jack Lemmon?

It's too bad. I still love his performance on a character and emotional level. But Mamet's dialog is so exacting, trenchant and tight. I wish Lemmon had found a way to deliver it correctly.

If you ever want to see an example of an actor making up his own version as he goes along, watch the movie while following along in a copy of Mamet's script.

Which reminds me of another story: in my college production, we had a mishap one night. I had just finished one of the big Shelly Levine speeches, and I was sitting down at my desk, shuffling papers. I all the sudden realized that everything had gotten really quiet. Usually, by this time in the play, that character Lingk (played by Jonothan Pryce in the movie) comes in and there's dialog between him and Ricky Roma (Pacino in the movie). That dialog wasn't happening.

I looked up, and the actor playing Ricky was looking really nervous. Our Lingk hadn't entered. Turns out, the actor was in the bathroom or something. He thought it was much earlier than it actually was.

Suddenly, Ricky turned to me and improvised, "So, you made a great sale today, huh?"

I realized that we had to cover until Lingk entered. So I said, "OH yeah! A GREAT sale."

Ricky paused for a moment and said, "Yup. yup. yup. A great sale ... a fucking great sale."

I said, "Sales like that ... those are the ones your grandkids tell THEIR grandkids about!"

And we continued in kind, coming up, as best we could, with about three minutes of improvised, Mametesque dialog, until -- FINALLY -- Lingk realized he'd missed his entrance.
posted by grumblebee at 1:42 PM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


each character embodies s a specific facet of American masculinity, and the movie brutally exposes the weakness of each archetype

Interesting. I'll have to rewatch it with this in mind, because half the reason I dislike a lot of Mamet's more recent work is precisely the uncritical acceptance, even adoration, of certain notions of masculinity. I'm thinking specifically of Spartan, Redbelt, and The Unit. (To be generous to him, and out of respect for his previous work, I should admit the possibility that I'm just too unsophisticated to understand what he's doing in these later works.)

(The other half of the reason I dislike recent Mamet is that he makes con/heist movies where the cons/heists don't make any damned sense. Redbelt has a bit of this, and it's a central feature of Heist and The Spanish Prisoner. Whatever he likes about that kind of story, it's sure not what I like about them.)

(Oh, and the third half is that he's taken to directing, and when he directs his own dialogue, it sounds horribly artificial. It's really weird, because in other people's hands it's the most natural dialogue I've ever heard.) (With the possible exception of The Dude.)
posted by stebulus at 1:45 PM on September 30, 2011


(Oh, and the third half is that he's taken to directing, and when he directs his own dialogue, it sounds horribly artificial. It's really weird, because in other people's hands it's the most natural dialogue I've ever heard.) (With the possible exception of The Dude.)

I agree with you that when Mamet directs his own stuff, his dialog sounds stilted. This is because it's FAR from naturalistic. That's not a fault. It's what I love about Mamet. He's one of the only writers working today who is writing (good) heightened dialog. To make dialog like that sound natural takes a huge amount of skill. A so-so actor won't be able to pull it off. (Sadly, every Acting 101 student -- especially the male ones -- want to do Mamet.)

When I audition actors for Shakespeare plays, this is one of the main things I look for: the ability to speak heightened language naturally. Some extremely talented actors don't speak Elizabethan English as it it's just the everyday way they speak. But if they don't have that ability, or if they can't find it in rehearsal, they'll sound stilted. Actor who CAN do it are magical.

And it's a really complex tight-rope walk. Because while you want the language to sound relaxed and natural, you don't want to totally descend to the level of water-cooler banter. You want it to be natural AND heightened. If you want an example of an actor doing it right, watch Kenneth Branagh in "Henry V."

Mamet is almost as hard as Shakespeare in this regard. People don't think that's the case at first, because Mamet is a modern playwright. But his language is really, really tricky.

This is why the BEST examples of Mamet you'll see come from people like Pacino, Baldwin, Paul Newman ("The Verdict"), etc. They are simply great actors who are experts with all sorts of language. They are confident people who make the language their own, rather than being cowed by Mamet. (The worst Shakespeareans are often the ones who are terrified by the fact that they're speaking Shakespeare. They're too reverent. The best LOVE Shakespeare, but they also see him, on some level, as just a guy who wrote stuff. It's that tightrope, again.)

Which is sort of a way of saying that when Mamet directs, the dialog sounds stilted because the actors he casts aren't good enough. But it's also because HE'S not good enough, as a director. He doesn't know how to cast actors who can make his writing sound natural. And he doesn't know how to help the ones who can't do it, do better. (Hint, David: let the actor paraphrase in his own words. When he's able to do it that way, and it sounds really natural, gradually move him over to your words. Then have him play with your words in dozens of ways. Have him shout them, whisper them, do them with a silly French accent... Make him lose all fear of them. Get him to enjoy the taste of them and see within them all their expressive possibilities.)
posted by grumblebee at 2:02 PM on September 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Hm. I guess what I'm seeing as "natural" in Mamet's dialogue is the, um, fracturedness. His characters work out what they're going to say as they're saying it, and they don't think in an organized way, so it comes out all scrambled. They're still able to communicate, more or less — the context helps, the fact that the listener can decode the mental processes helps — but it's not cleanly structured speech. (For contrast, Aaron Sorkin, whose dialogue is much more organized and articulate than everyday speech.)

Mamet is at least using this one element of natural speech, which most writers don't. Maybe that's what's fooling me into thinking it's naturalistic. (It's certainly what prompts the comparison to The Dude.)
posted by stebulus at 2:46 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dr. Katz!!! Whoa.

(My kids hate it when I spend a whole evening monopolizing the tv to watch 12 Dr. Katz episodes, but it's worth it.)
posted by sneebler at 5:47 PM on September 30, 2011


Yes, stebulus, he does write fractured dialog -- characters making things up as they go along, changing their minds mid-thought, etc. Even if it seems naturalistic, it's darn hard to say in a way that sound natural.

This is partly because, though you and I also speak in a fractured way, we each have our own sort of fractures. Each persons ums and uhs are unique to him. It's very hard to take on someone else's verbal tics and make them convincing.

Verbal tics are mostly unconscious to the person making them. The actor, speaking Mamet's dialog, must be conscious of ever tic without being self-conscious.

Most playwrights don't put that burdon on the actor. Most playwrights write in (more or less) complete sentences. Actors can add in idiosyncratic stammers and stutters of their own.

Here's the opening of the play version of GGGR. Try saying Shelly's lines out loud, making them sound totally natural. (When I played the part, it took me weeks to pull off).

John...John...John. Okay. John.
John. Look:
(pause)
The Glengarry Highland's leads,
you're sending Roma out. Fine.
He's a good man. We know what he
is. He's fine. All I'm saying,
you look at the board, he's
throwing...wait, wait, wait, he's
throwing them away, he's throwing
the leads away. All that I'm
saying, that you're wasting leads.
I don't want to tell you your job.
All that I'm saying, things get
set, I know they do, you get a
certain mindset... A guy gets a
reputation. We know how this...all
I'm saying, put a closer on the job.
There's more than one man for the...
Put a...wait a second, put a proven
man out...and you watch, now wait a
second--and you watch your dollar
volumes...You start closing them
for fifty 'stead of twenty-
five...you put a closer on the...

WILLIAMSON
Shelly, you blew the last...

LEVENE
No. John. No. Let's wait, let's
back up here, I did...will you
please? Wait a second. Please. I
didn't "blow" them. No. I didn't
"blow" them. No. One kicked out,
one I closed...

WILLIAMSON
...you didn't close...

LEVENE
...I, if you'd listen to me.
Please. I closed the cocksucker.
His ex, John, his ex, I didn't know
he was married...he, the judge
invalidated the...

WILLIAMSON
Shelly...

LEVENE
...and what is that, John? What?
Bad luck. That's all it is. I
pray in your life you will never
find it runs in streaks. That's
what it does, that's all it's doing.
Streaks. I pray it misses you.
That's all I want to say.
posted by grumblebee at 8:04 PM on September 30, 2011


(script).
posted by grumblebee at 8:05 PM on September 30, 2011


Try saying Shelly's lines out loud, making them sound totally natural.

Oh, you don't have to convince me that this kind of dialogue is hard to deliver. I know it is.

Your analysis of why —verbal tics are unique to the person, overriding them is hard— makes sense, as does your analysis of why Mamet can't get his actors to do it.

(I guess one way to think about it, just amplifying your point a bit, is that this aspect of verbal style is just as automatic and habitual as one's physicality — it could maybe even be considered a kind of physicality.)
posted by stebulus at 6:44 AM on October 1, 2011


The flip side is that once you click into it, you REALLY click into it, and you have the fantastic experience of living in another world as a native of that world. That's the thrill of becoming an expert at heightened language.

I'm (alas) unilingual, but I imagine it must feel similar when you study a foreign language for years and finally reach a point where it feels totally naturally conversing in it. It's a very powerful feeling.

Your analogy to physicality is a good one. If you're learning to dance -- or a new type of dance -- it can feel really awkward and stilted at first. But when you get to a high level of comfort with it, and it becomes a part of you, it's an amazing, amazing feeling.
posted by grumblebee at 8:49 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian: I'm imagining an updated GGGR with Blake as a now defrocked Madoff type, his long scam finally revealed, prison term served, life in shambles etc.

... forced to accept a $400,00 consulting job from an old friend, just to get him back on his feet, and soon after a partner position (non-voting, of course, in keeping with the terms of his parole) at a marketing/law/energy firm. Barely pulling in half a mil for the first year.

Barely getting by.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:46 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Broom, if you're thread stalking me, you've chosen my most boring performances to view. Regarding your accusation in the Tai Chi thread, yes I did read the post, I didn't watch all 800 hrs of youtube videos that he linked to (slow bandwidth at the time), but I did do some reasonable sampling of the videos.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:37 PM on October 4, 2011


Chekhovian: nope. And, for the record, my reply here was just a sarcastic comment on rich-man-karma. Not even aimed at you.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:39 PM on October 5, 2011


Defunkt Theater in Portland has a new production of Glengarry Glen Ross with women cast in some of the key roles.
posted by msalt at 1:51 PM on October 22, 2011


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