Tuesday, February 21, 2006


The first time I noticed this technique, I was watching John Carpenter’s The Thing. In the film, an alien creature with the ability to assume any form terrorizes a group of men in an isolated research base.

In this particular scene, the alien has assumed the shape of one of the men, but then begins to distort. The neck stretches impossibly and tendons snap. The head detaches from the rest of the body as the other men watch in disbelief. The head, now upside down on the floor, sprouts spider’s legs and grows two antennas with eyes on the ends. Even for this film, it was almost too much. They had reached the outer bounds of their reality. Just then one of the men says, “You gotta be fucking kidding.”

This kind of dialogue can save you when you think you may lose your audience. Sometimes audience members need a representative within the narrative. It allows you to address and dismiss their concerns so that they can stay engrossed in the story.

A very famous “Address and Dismiss” is in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when they are trying to escape the super-posse by jumping off a cliff into a river.

When Sundance admits he can’t swim, Butch laughs and says, “Well, hell, the fall will probably kill you!”

This example cuts the audience off at the pass, so to speak, before they can say, “Give me a break, there is no way they could make that jump!”

In Tootsie, we must believe that the other characters believe Dustin Hoffman is a woman. There are many comments made by other characters about how unattractive Tootsie is. This is an excellent use of “address and dismiss.”

All of these examples get laughs from the audience. I think it’s because it’s another kind of truth-telling. It’s a tricky tool because it could pull people out of the scene. It is a kind of wink to the audience that lets them know the storyteller knows that maybe she’s gone too far; but when used correctly, it is seamless—invisible.

1 comment:

Jamie Baker said...

This makes sense to me.

I felt that in the original 3 Star Wars films the HAN SOLO character often did this for the audience. When the OBI-WAN jedi mumbo-jumbo stuff was getting a bit too self involved he'd say something like "where'd you dig up that old fossil?" and allow us a more tongue in cheek view into that world.

The new ones are lacking any of that, and take themselves way too seriously...