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Why We Quote Movies

Our obsession with movie dialogue.

There was a time when being well read meant something. A well-read person could stand among his peers and quote Alfred Lord Tennyson and be thought highly intelligent. Thank goodness those days are gone.

I’m sure as soon as talkies replaced silent movies, it was only a matter of time before people put down their books, headed to the local Nickelodeon, and learned every line of dialogue from “The Jazz Singer.”

Great literature, as wonderful as it may be, just doesn’t cut it in the modern world. I would get laughed at if I stood before my peers and said the following: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not yield.”

On the other hand, if I were to stand before my friends, especially the film geeks, and quote a line from the latest Bond film, then I would get nothing but praise.

While I love quoting movie dialogue, I don’t believe all movie quotes are created equal. In fact, some quotes are more equal than others, to borrow from “Animal Farm.” I’m talking the movie, not the book.

For me, the “Godfather” films are the pinnacle when it comes to quotable dialogue. And I say this, not only because the lines from the movies are so wonderful, but because they are also so versatile. Take, for instance, one of the best, and easily one of the most known lines of dialogue from “The Godfather II” – “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.”

If you are a parent and find yourself in front of your children and no one is willing to spill the beans (their own little omerta) about who broke the vase, then you lean in and whisper in the ear of the kid who is weakest. “I know it was you, Timmy. You broke my heart.”

The same line can be used if you are the type of person who lives a life that qualifies you to be a guest on “Maury.” Think your baby mama is unfaithful? Have a beer with the usual suspects and then lean in and whisper the famous line. Just be careful not to get Keyser Soze’d by the one who did it.

I think quoting movie dialogue is done by so many people because the world we live in requires us to cut to the chase. It requires us to be less elegant than the men and women of yesteryear.

A lot of the more learned types among us might say the reason people quote from movies is because people don’t read anymore. This is not true. People today read. We read MovieLine, Entertainment Weekly, and Roger Ebert’s movie reviews.

Movies seem to be tailor made for the world we live in. You go into a person’s house today; you don’t head to their bookcase. Well, unless you’re some kind of nerd.

If you’re like me, you check out people’s movie collections and see if you can quote movie dialogue that they know. That is, if they have good taste in movies.

I hate to say it, but, yes, I am a bit of a snob. I’m a movie snob, albeit a popcorn movie snob. I worship at the altar of Hollywood blockbusters.

I’m a simple man, but I’m not above appearing smarter than I really am. For instance, when quoting dialogue from “Diehard,” I always quote this line from Hans Gruber:

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. Benefits of a classical education.”

Now the truly learned among us will probably know exactly where that line came from, but not me. I’m a little too busy to spend time with my nose in a book. Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.

That line is courtesy of John Hughes. But I’m sure you already knew that.

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