Repeat After Me

Media, The Arts

The Independent reports that scientists at Cornell University have created a computer program to break down the formula behind some of cinema catchphrases. Computer scientist Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil (possibly bothered by the fact that his name will never become a catchphrase) wanted to check political speeches and news bulletins to pick out the best lines, but they were a problem, so his team turned to films to understand what drives certain lines into popular culture.

The researchers found that the more memorable quotes were made up of word combinations unlikely to appear elsewhere in the film. But the grammatical structures of the quotes tended to be ordinary. And there’s more use of the indefinite article rather than the definite article, verbs in the past tense and the use of pronouns other than “you”.

The best quote, according to Mr Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, was: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” from Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. He said: “That quote ticks a number of boxes. It has the general aspect but also it has an unusual combination of ‘my dear’ and ‘damn’.” He also pointed to other general quotes such as the opening of Star Wars: ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.’ There are some trends you can pick out of the language. It is no silver bullet; for example, a phrase like ‘I’ll be back’ isn’t easily categorised.”

In other words, from a bunch of scientists who could be doing something useful we get graduates from the School Of The Bleeding Obvious telling us that catchphrases could be anything.

Memorable Lines

Actually, most of the catchphrases used among my group of wierdo friends don’t come from any of the standard films.
They include; ‘Hello. Goodbye.’ from Michael Crawford’s Scottish dancing attempts in ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’, ‘I’ll refund the money then, shall I?’ from Ken Russell’s ‘The Boyfriend’, which also spawned ”Let’s face it darling, the closest you got to the West End was Harrow-On-The-Hill’ and (hissing) ‘Play it like Rita!’

From ‘The Producers’ (original version) we got ‘Kindly tender my compliments to the chef’ (the rejoinder being ‘Kindly tender half a buck’) and a dozen others including ‘Filthy, disgusting boids’ and ‘Gu-da pu-day’, Ulla the Swedish secretary’s attempt to answer the phone in English.

Mike Leigh’s ‘Secrets & Lies’ gave us Brenda Blethyn’s squeaky ‘You all right, darlin’?’ and ‘Shifty little bleeder, walks like a crab.’ From ‘Life Is Sweet’ we got ‘Hello Wendy, brought you a pineapple.’ Virtually every line of ‘Abigail’s Party’ became quotable, especially; ‘Beaujolais. Lovely. I’ll just pop it in the fridge.’ and of course ‘Tony. Hands. Come through.’. Old war films are rather good for this – ‘I say, are there any Germans here?’ comes from a British war movie we saw on TV, and is still used by us years later. And ‘It’s all getting a bit French,’ from the virtually lost UK film ‘Funny Bones’. Even more inexplicable is ‘You used to call me your little Blue Lamp Baby’ spoken by Joyce Grenfell in a St Trinian’s film.

The strange thing is there are no Hollywood blockbusters in the bunch at all. We seem to find local intonation much funnier.

10 comments on “Repeat After Me”

  1. Jez Winship says:

    Mike Leigh’s always comes up with good, quotable lines, partly because his characters are often created with quite broad brushstrokes. I do ‘brought a pineapple’ too, along with ‘I really respect you, Wendy’, and (referring to beds), ‘orthopaedic, this’, all from Timothy Spall’s odious but oddly endearing character. I get quite a few from Meantime, too, often delivered in Colin’s asthmatic, introverted mumble – ‘I’m not a muppet’, and ‘don’t call me that’, and Phil Daniel’s ‘don’t stink it out, Frank’ (not a classic, I know, but it’s partly about context and memory). Plus Johnny’s weak puns and visual gags from Naked: referring to a discus wielding classical figure as a ‘pizza delivery man’ and saying he’s not ‘Homerphobic’ because he quite likes The Odyssey. I suppose this (delivered in Mancunian for added effect) and the ‘I’ll be back’ quote (which is nothing in itself) shows that accents play a part in memorable lines, too, and give people the chance to air their skills as impressionists. Brenda Blethyn’s tremulous, vaguely imploring ‘sweetheart’ is another good one to end any slightly nervy or fussy statement.
    My wife likes doing the Frank Spencer line ‘there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots’ from Some Mothers.
    I suppose the research will go towards producing a way to clinically calculate phrases which will worm their way inexorably into our subconsciouses. Word viruses, as Mr Burroughs put it.

  2. Sam Tomaino says:

    A “not-blockbuster” movie I used to quote was from “The War Lord” (1965) with Charlton Heston. At one point, Guy Stockwell, playing Heston’s brother utters, in a sarcastic way, “I love the speech of scholars.” The speech at the time was less than scholarly. I used it whenever we were getting a little too deep in geek-talk

  3. Helen Martin says:

    The no old, bold pilots statement is familiar here but not from Some Mothers…. It’s such a true statement that it must have wandered far from home.

  4. Jozafeen says:

    Some of my oft-bandied phrases are from big movies, but rather dated ones…
    “What, these bleeds?” Dean Martin in the out-takes from The Cannonball Run
    “We’re going to need a bigger (insert word here)” Jaws, obviously.
    “Stick to the path, beware the moon” and “You made me miss!” – the fantastic Brian Glover in American Werewolf In London. We are in spitting distance from Barnsley so have an excuse.

    Most are from television though – “He’ll never sell any ice cream going at that speed”; “Lovely Babs, no idea what her name is”; “Covered in bees!”; “Dead as that squirrel”; “I hope all your doughnuts turn out like Fannys”; “Four candles” and, the only recent one, always delivered in Hilary DeVey’s cig-heavy northern drawl, “You’re making my foot itch”.

  5. Adam says:

    ‘Bring us back a monkey’ – came from some 50s adventure film, set in the 1700’s. Can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, or why a bunch is students in the early 90’s would be watching it. It stuck, and is still trotted out now (much to the annoyance of partners).

  6. Gretta says:

    I may just have to pinch ‘Homerphobic’. 🙂

    I forever drop AbFab, Dr Who and Eddie Izzard lines into things, but these are some I have purloined from the big screen…

    “Nice to meet you kid, you’re a real horse’s ass.” – The Sting
    “Oh shut up, we enjoy it!” – A Taste of Honey
    “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.” – The Italian Job
    “We’re taking this bloody car to Invercargill, boy.” – Goodbye Pork Pie
    “Hey…Mister…” – Arsenic and Old Lace
    “Top of the world, Ma!” – White Heat
    “Nobody’s perfect.” – Some Like It Hot
    “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” – Star Wars
    “What kind of hokey sh*t is that?” – Jumping Jack Flash

    And one of my fave pieces of dialogue, from Sullivan’s Travels…

    “It died in Pittsburgh.”
    “Like a dog.”
    “Aww, what do they know in Pittsburgh?”
    “They know what they like.”
    “If they knew what they liked, they wouldn’t live in Pittsburgh!”

  7. Bob Low says:

    As another contributor quoted a line from the immortal Morecambe and Wise, perhaps I might be forgiven for the following-

    Ernie-”They’re playing cricket on the telly”
    Eric-”They’ll fall off”

  8. RobertR says:

    Not from a movie or TV – but from the Archers and to only be said in Ruth Archer’s rising Geordie shriek “I’d look like a Munchkin”.
    And from Corrie “Woman Stanley, Woman!”

  9. Steve says:

    “Oooh – monstah!”
    approximately 7,000 (dubbed) Japanese Science Fiction films from the 1950’s.

  10. Ken M says:

    “My watch says it’s time to go” – must be said in Richard Todd’s voice.
    “Love and hate are horns on the same goat” – should not be said in Richard Todd’s voice.

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