Sunday, August 24, 2014


By Kimberly Johnson

Fahgeddaboutit if you eavesdropped on Tony Soprano’s plot to whack a rival mobster.
Ain’t nothing goin’ on now but the rent, ah; a whole lotta bills and my money’s spent, And that’s on my bad foot, whoa uh if you finger-snapped to James Brown’s “Get On The Good Foot” during the Oldies hour on the radio.

I like the way people talk. I like figuring out where a person’s from by listening to a distinct dialect and a home grown speech pattern. I received an earful when I viewed Jersey Boys and Get On Up on the silver screen. These are definitely dialogue-driven biopics. Watching Frankie and the Boys duke it out reminded me of Tony Soprano and the gang.

Back to Tony for a moment. His nasal-sounding, high pitched tone made all that killing, crying and whining in therapy sessions worth it. I found out that there are over five New York-New Jersey-Connecticut accents that are recognizable—go figure.

As for James Brown. His raspy intonations and funky inflections gracefully piloted the movie. South Carolina is nationally known for its Gullah dialect, but the Godfather of Soul put the Savannah River area—Beech Island—Low Country cadence on the map.

Here’s my two cents: Dialogue, whether, it’s in a script or song, links you to the overall project.  The scriptwriters lassoed the ebb and flow of these distinctive speaking styles to enhance the movie-going experience.

According to an industry insider, dialogue is when a writer invites a reader to listen to a conversation between his characters. Dialect is when a writer opens the window and lets you hear the uniqueness of his characters. I believe the scriptwriters for Jersey Boys and Get On Up capture that sentiment. Maybe a blend for an Oscar winning performance?

And, yes, I’m talking to you.


Laura Puccia Valtorta said...

James Gandolfini was not nasal or high-pitched. Italian-Americans make up 15% of the American population and most are not from New Jersey.

What gets me is the stereotyping that goes along with the speech pattern. When I met James Brown at a fundraiser, he was memorable, unique and somewhat disgusting. He did not fit into any stereotype, no matter how he talked.

WritePersona said...

Dialect for the writer of novels is a two-edged sword. Agents advised me to moderate, or virtually eliminate, dialect in my antebellum writings, the reason being that readers won't take the time to decipher renderings of speech patterns. To maintain a historical tone, I've tried to give the gist of such speech in as little patois as possible. I don't know if this applies to screenwriters.