Quote unquote

Posted by · 2:56 pm · January 4th, 2010

Tom Hanks in Forrest GumpIn one of yesterday’s comment threads, a bit of a discussion built up concerning the quotability (or otherwise) of “Avatar,” and how this factored into its potential pop-culture significance.

It’s a subject that was also brought up a while back by Cinematical’s Erik Davis, who wondered whether the film’s oft-repeated refrain of “I see you” was a calculated attempt to enter popular conversation. I agree with him that the line seems tooled for that specific purpose, which is precisely why I have a hard time seeing it catch on in a lasting way. (That, and the fact that any sensible person know that “I see you” can only be preceded by a cry of “Peekaboo!”)

Cinema’s most quotable quotes are rarely designed to be as such. This is also the conclusion of a handily-timed LA Times article, which details the backstory behind now-classic lines from “Cool Hand Luke,” “Forrest Gump,” “Sudden Impact” and, uh, “A League of Their Own.” (Must be an American thing.)

Joseph Stinson, the first-time screenwriter who dreamt up Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead … make my day” speech for “Sudden Impact,” admits he thought from the get-go that it was “a pretty good line,” but adds, “”If you set yourself up to write that one-liner that’s going to be iconic, you set yourself up to never have it happen.”

Oscar-winning scribe Eric Roth says much the same thing, though he allows that a potentially iconic line can reveal itself at the read-through stage. He goes on to describe the rather amusingly mundane circumstances by which “Forrest Gump”‘s most quoted line came about:

I tried to create aphorisms that didn’t particularly make sense, but they seemed to make sense within the context of this character saying them,” he said in a phone interview. “My own mother used to say, ‘Handsome is as handsome does.’ I had Forrest say, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.’ ”

“Life is like a box of chocolates” was originally as much as Roth wrote, he recalled. “Upon going through the script, Bob demanded, ‘What the hell does this mean?’ I said, ‘You know, you never know what you’re going to get.’ And that’s how the line came about.

More here. It’s an fun read — even if it offers no insight into the complex writerly process that brought about “Orange mocha frappuccino” from my 49th favorite film of the decade. You can’t have everything.

→ 15 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

15 responses so far

  • 1 1-04-2010 at 3:10 pm

    Mr. Milich said...

    I watched The Terminator last night to be reminded of when James Cameron used to actually make good movies, and I realized that every single line that Schwarzenneger speaks is a classic line. Not because of how it was written. But because of the deadpan of Schwarzenneger’s delivery.

    “Uzi 9-milimeter.”
    “Sarah Ann Connor?”
    “Fuck you, asshole.”
    “I’ll be back.”


  • 2 1-04-2010 at 3:15 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Exactly. Another reason a writer can’t create an iconic line independently. It’s a kind of alchemy.

  • 3 1-04-2010 at 3:33 pm

    aaron said...

    yeah, never did understand why “da ooozi 9-milimeeeta” never caught on . . .

  • 4 1-04-2010 at 4:33 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I’m quite embarassed to say this but it had been so long I had seen the original Terminator that I had forgotten where and when the original line “I’ll Be Back” was spoken in the film. I recently saw it again and that was truly outreageously brilliant.

    Otherwise I don’t think”I See You” was meant as something lasting, not even with the song titled that way. “I didn’t sign up for this shit” was the line I loved the most in Avatar, just for the coolness and deadpan delivery of it.

  • 5 1-04-2010 at 4:39 pm

    Loyal said...

    I don’t know, I’ve been going around telling people I’m going to “eat your eyes for Jujubes.”

    I’m just really excited to be witnessing the birth of the biggest film of all-time. I was 20 when Titanic hit and not as into the Oscar game as I am now.

    I see you Guy Lodge.

  • 6 1-04-2010 at 4:53 pm

    Mr. Milich said...

    I’ve seen, assuming Avatar goes #1, the biggest movie happen 6 times, though technically, Jaws was the year I was born.

    Each in their time…

    Star Wars
    Jurassic Park

    I’ll take the first 4 any day…

  • 7 1-04-2010 at 4:56 pm

    Marshall said...

    You would think that in 15 years, Cameron could have come up with something better than “I see you.” Throw “Avatar” in the corny romantic climaxes on top of “Jerry Maguire” and “you complete me.”

  • 8 1-04-2010 at 5:19 pm

    Loyal said...

    You’re funny Marshall. Avatar is in your top 20 of 2009 and all you can do is gripe about its screenplay.

  • 9 1-04-2010 at 5:20 pm

    Chase K. said...

    If people are quoting lines from “Avatar” in 15 years, may god have mercy on us all.

  • 10 1-04-2010 at 5:22 pm

    Chase K. said...

    “I’m just really excited to be witnessing the birth of the biggest film of all-time.”

    Tap the breaks.

  • 11 1-04-2010 at 5:40 pm

    Loyal said...

    pump the brakes Chase, pump the brakes.

  • 12 1-04-2010 at 10:06 pm

    RichardA said...

    From Titanic’s My Heart Will Go On:

    Every night in my dreams
    I see you, I feel you
    That is how I know you go on.

    Far across the distance
    and spaces between us
    You have come to show you go on.

    Near, Far,
    wherever you are,
    I believe that the heart does go on.

  • 13 1-05-2010 at 1:52 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Richard just quoted that song from bare memory.

  • 14 1-05-2010 at 4:11 am

    aspect ratio said...

    I don’t really feel like the “I see you” was Cameron trying to create a quote. Even if it’s as simple as “I’ll be back”, in Avatar it’s more of a cultural greeting, like how the Eskimos would rub noses or something like that. Nor does it have the delivery that surely made “I’ll be back”, “Hasta la vista” etc. iconic lines.

    Most awesomest quote from a Cameron film has to be Schwarzenegger telling the terrorist “you’re fired” in True Lies. :D

  • 15 1-05-2010 at 4:50 pm

    THE Diego Ortiz said...

    It should have been Schwarzenneger as the main bad guy in Avatar.