These precious commentaries were on the Pioneer Special Edition LaserDisc. A different commentary by Foley is on the DVD release. It’s a pity they couldn’t get the Jack Lemmon commentary from the old LaserDisc. Well, Cinephilia & Beyond and filmschoolthrucommentaries comes to the rescue. (NOTE: For educational purposes only.) Needless to say, the special edition Blu-ray+DVD of ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ is a must have (Amazon).
LD commentary 1: Director James Foley
LD commentary 2: Actor Jack Lemmon [mp3]
“Listening to this veteran player speak for an hour and a half on his craft makes you realise how fluffed-up and pretentious most ‘modern actor’ commentaries are by comparison. Lemmon views acting in a practical way and concedes that you need to have a love for it; he not only discusses GLENGARRY but finds parallels to several of his other films as well, along with several amusing anecdotes about the old studio system. Ever the consummate professional, he never ‘names names’ when he has anything remotely negative to say. To my knowledge this is only one of two audio commentaries recorded by Lemmon — if you like this actor you’re guaranteed to enjoy listening to him reminisce.” —Herschel Gelman
How many passes does it take to create perfect dialogue?
That’s a really good question. I’m not sure I know the answer. I do it fairly spontaneously, and then sometimes, for various reasons, it has to be recrafted. I used to be really good at that, but it gets more difficult as I get older just because my brain is failing. I have less brain cells because long before any of you guys were born, there was something called the ‘60s. That’s where the brain cells were. —The Writer’s Craft: A David Mamet Interview
David Mamet: The Playwright Directs is a short television documentary produced in 1976 where Mamet tries to convey his rehearsal methods for a play. He uses two early short plays as examples, ‘Dark Pony’ and ‘Reunion.’ Mamet is such a no-nonsense individual who never minces words with his cast, that it’s fascinating to see him direct his actors in a fast-paced, hectic manner like a character out of one of his own plays. The end result is a lesson in how Mamet directs his actors and the importance of giving his characters a motivation and how that affects their actions in the drama.
MAMET’S THEATRICAL ROOTS
- “You gotta put your ass on the line and use the audience. Period. The reason that theatre evolved that way was because the progress of the theatre on the stage aped and recapitulated the mechanism of human understanding, which is: thesis, antithesis and synthesis. And one learns to lead the audience ahead by giving them just enough information to make them interested, but not enough information so that they warrant surprise and punchline. Which is the way a joke is structured.”
MAMET ON DIRECTING
- “Your chances of making a living or making a better living are increased by writing something that you would want to write badly enough that you would actually go out and raise the money to direct it. You’re much better to do that because otherwise you’re just going to waste twenty years waiting for the good will of your inferiors. If you really, really want to make a film—go film it for God’s sake, go steal a camera and get it done rather than trying to interest some second-class mind to help make your script a little bit worse.”
MAMET ON EXPOSITION
- “The trick is—never write exposition. That’s absolutely the trick. Never write it. The audience needs to understand what the story is, and if the hero understands what he or she is after then the audience will follow it. The ancient joke about exposition used to be in radio writing when they’d say, ‘Come and sit down in that blue chair.’ So, that to me is the paradigm of why it’s an error to write exposition. Then exposition came out of television, ‘I’m good, Jim, I’m good. There’s no wonder why they call me the best orthopedic surgeon in town.’ Right? And now the exposition has migrated or metastasized into the fucking stage direction. ‘He comes into the room and you can just see he’s the kind of guy who fought in the Vietnam War.’ So the error of writing exposition exists absent even the most miniscule understanding of the dramatic process. You gotta take out the exposition. The audience doesn’t care. How do we know they don’t care? Anybody ever come into the living room and see a television drama that was halfway through? Did you have any difficulty understanding what was going on? No. The trick is to leave the exposition out and to always leave out the ‘obligatory scene.’ The obligatory scene is always the audition scene, so when you see the movie, not only is it the worst scene in the movie—it’s also the worst acted scene in the movie. Because the star has to do their worst, most expository acting to get the job. Leave out the exposition; we want to know what’s happening next. All our little friends… will say to you at one point, ‘You know, we want to know more about her.’ And that’s when you say, ‘Well, that’s what you paid me for—so that you would want to know more about her.’”
MAMET ON CON-ARTIST TALES
- “In every generation the cunning rediscover that they can manipulate the trustful and they count this as the great, great wisdom of all time.”
PROFESSOR MAMET’S READING ASSIGNMENT
- “I suggest that everyone get Francis Ferguson’s edition of Aristotle’s Poetics. Read it once—it’ll make the point—and then retire to your typewriters. [Screenwriting’s] all about working on it and working on it until it comes out even. There’s really no magic to it. There really isn’t. They say that Bach could improvise a toccata and I’m sure he could, but I don’t think anybody can improvise a screenplay. Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces is another great book where he goes through the Hero’s Journey and explains that all Heroes Journeys are alike whether it’s Jesus or Moses or Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Dumbo. Every Hero’s Journey is exactly alike because that’s the way that we understand our own Hero’s Journey—which is the story of our own life. We’re given a problem, we disregard the problem, it’s given to us again, and finally we’re called to an adventure and we find ourselves unprepared and we find ourselves in the belly of the beast like Jonah, who’s eventually spewed onto a foreign land in the second act and little friends come and help. It’s true. Whether it’s Mickey the Mouse or whether it’s John the Baptist or whether its Joshua—it’s the same thing according to Joseph Campbell. The little friends come and eventually the problems of the second act rectify themselves so that the third act is a reiteration of the first problem in a new form. Not how do I live with the fact that the taskmaster is killing the Jew, but how do I bring the Torah to the Jewish people? So the third act becomes the quest for the goal and eventually the hero achieves his or her goal and that’s the end of the movie that started since frame one.”
David Mamet’s screenplay for ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ is the best screenwriting school you can ever get. (NOTE: For educational purposes only.) Thanks to samgolightly and the great folks at Write to Reel, the BEST screenwriting community out there.
- The writer’s craft: a David Mamet Interview
- 10 screenwriting tips from ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’
- The professional world in David Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’
- David Mamet papers now open for research
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