Saturday, July 11, 2015

BY POPULAR DEMAND: THE TOP TEN MONOLOGUES!

Okay, still stuck in no-internet, no-computer world and this sucks, but I can still get some word done. I-eh, I, I can do a Top Ten List! People seem to like those, so let's put out a quick poll while I got a few hours at the library.

4 HOURS LATER

Okay, let's take a look. This TOP TEN LIST will be on... (Drumroll, Looking at results) hmm, monologues. (Shrugs) Okay, MONOLOGUES! I actually know quite a bit about monologues. Monologues are a little more specific than you might think. They are simply a character speaking a lot of words. A monologue actually has to be spoken to somebody. That doesn't preclude the possibility that the person they're talking to is themselves, but it can't just be somebody speaking say, inner thoughts or commenting or what's going on, or giving narration, that's probably more accurately a soliloquy. If you're familiar with stage productions of "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest", the Native American is giving soliloquies, not monologues. A James Bond villain extrapolating on how he's about to kill Bond and take over the world, to James Bond, that's a monologue. Actually this is still pretty wide open, not only can monologues occur in film and television but really any form of literature. Novels, plays of course, most stand-up routines, hell a speech is technically a monologue.

Monologues are hard by the way. Hard to write, but more than that, hard to act. Every legitimate actor has at least one good monologue in their back pocket that they can pull out and perform at a moment's notice for an audition. It is the standard of determining a good actor or not, how they handle a monologue. And it is a bit counterproductive to how actors usually work. Especially film actors, normally with films, less is more and the camera can capture numerous emotions in the face alone, not to mention storytelling through editing,  that you often don't need as much dialogues, and monologues especially can seem awkward. "Dirty Harry" say "Go ahead, make my day." is often more powerful than any speech I can come up with. In theater, you can claim that it's a little different but still it's usually somebody reacting to what's going on as oppose to who's doing the action they're reacting to. This is when monologues can really be powerful. The best actors can convey all this emotion and drama with very little. The greatest actors can find all those emotions in those sea of words they have to spew.

So, how do you determine the best monologues? W-well...- um, I-eh, hmm. I have no real idea, but I'm gonna try anyway. There's definitely a few that I keep coming back and am inspired by, or ones that are for one reason or another really special, but to figure out the best of the best (frustrated sigh) hmm, Well, I'll try, but I'm definitely wishing that I had read/seen more plays at the moment. I also wish I was an actor and would be required to study more of these, more thoroughly, but still, I'm fairly comfortable with this list and I imagine most of you guys will too, but let me know if you think I missed anything.

Alright, enough stalling, let's count down folks!

TOP TEN MONOLOGUES!

10. "GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS"-"Always Be Closing (Brass Balls)"



Amazingly, this most infamous of David Mamet speeches, was not in the original Pulitzer Prize winning play. It was created originally for the feature film and written specifically for Alec Baldwin, but now is apart of nearly every stage production of "Glengarry Glen Ross". His character, comes in, as a favor to, give a motivational speech of sorts to the crew of salesman, all of whom's jobs are on the line. It's the speech that gives the character that much more desperation in a field infamous for desperate characters, especially in literature. It's filled with curse words and coarse language and the infamous use of brass balls as a prop, and it freaks everyone, especially the audience out. He comes in, raises hell and threatens everybody, and we believe every word when he says, first prize is a car, second prize a set of steakknives, and third prize, you're fired. Mamet is a master of language and dialogue and the art of the con, and nothing's a bigger con than salesman. A successful salesman is of course the greatest con man of all. For all we know, this character could just be a physical aberration plotwise, just a manifestation of everybody else's fears of their upper bosses. Yet, it's been mocked and copied ever since by everyone. It's the ultimate speech about business by Capitalism Personified, and I do have to give it extra points for being a rare movie speech that actually enhanced an original play.


9 "GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER"-Spencer Tracy's ending speech. 



For those curious on things that were close to making my list, I came close to putting a few speeches from "To Kill a Mockingbird" on here, and I am a little annoyed that somehow I wasn't able to find a good courtroom scene on here, but I realized pretty quickly that I had to put a Spencer Tracy speech somewhere in here. Not to mention, Stanley Kramer needs to get in here as well, so, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" is a great film, but honestly, I generally only like to watch the ending speech in this film and frankly, the movie wouldn't work without it. I couldn't find the speech in it's entirety, but it's a bit of an eleven o'clock speech, which is a theater term form, normally a song, usually a marathon of previous song that sum up and recap everything before, but from his perspective, as the shocking story of a white daughter bringing home a Black husband who for reasons of drama puts a ticking clock on Tracy in order to accept him or he'll leave the daught-, ugh, yeah, the movie doesn't work as well as on repeated viewings, but the speech is magnificent. It was Tracy's last performance, earning him an Oscar nomination, He summizes the situation and everything about his world collapsing up until now, even though the characters are liberals themselves, the reality of the situation has flummoxed them until now, and it's finally being accused of not having love in his heart that finally shocks him back. The fact that the love for his wife Christina he argues about is played by his longtime lover Katharine Hepburn only makes the scene even more emotional. Tracy gave a lot of great speeches, "Judgment at Nuremberg", "Boys Town", "Inherit the Wind" was one that I thought about as well, but this is really the monologue that I think about when I think about how great Tracy was and really, if this goes wrong in any way, this whole really important and seminal film doesn't work. It probably helped earn Screenwriter William Rose a Oscar for the screenplay, few actors would otherwise be able to pull this off.


8. "THE WEST WING": "TWO CATHEDRALS"-"President Bartlet Talking to God"



Aaron Sorkin will show up multiple times on this list, to what should be nobody's surprise, he's easily the best writer today and his plays, films and television shows are renowned for their incredible dialogue. Usually between numerous people, occasionally you can find him giving his characters amazing monologues. "Two Cathedrals" was the name of "The West Wing"'s second season finale episode, and in the middle of the movie, President Jeb Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen, has just attended a funeral service for his secretary who suddenly passed away right as he's about to make a groundbreaking decision on his Presidency and reveal a major secret to the American public that could lead to his impeachment. He's a Boston Irish Catholic, alone in a church and the most powerful man in the universe is literally calling out God. It's stirring a man losing and challenges his faith at the same time, he even goes into Latin at certain points to make it clear to him, just in case he doesn't hear. There's so much going on at this moment and yet, it's still a rage against and to God, that might still, to quote another monologue that somehow didn't make this list, sound and fury signifying nothing. It's beautiful, yet stirring. It's one of the best episodes of one of the best shows of all time, and right in the middle of it, is this startling monologue from a man, literally with the world on his shoulders, knowing it's about to crumble before his eyes, and wondering if it's worth putting back together or not. There's been characters who have called out to God before, but nothing quite like this.


7.  "GEORGE CARLIN: CLASS CLOWN"-"The 7 Words You Can't Say on Television"




Stand-up comedy is in some ways, all monologues. Well, some things in stand-up aren't but still, it's a guy talking to an audience essentially. But he is actually performing and sometimes what they say is powerful. Originally showing up in the public conscious in it's original form on his album "Class Clown", George Carlin's most famous routine, "The 7 Words You Can't Say on Television", actually led to a Supreme Court case that drew the line for indecency on American television that still stands today. It's also just one of the funniest pieces of observational humor ever. Amazingly, this is only the 3rd highest monologue from the field of stand-up on this list, (And clearly you should realize by now that if I'm not obligated to stick to one medium, so I won't) but you can argue that this is certainly the most important stand-up routine of all time. That alone puts it on here, but it's probably also the most influential. Not only, commenting on society's taboos, but Carlin's fascination with language is on play here that he analyzes to death better than anybody, seeking out the reasons and usages of the taboo of the words. From a stand-up comic who, would often go back and repeat and rethink old routines, it would be over twenty years before he stopped regularly updating this routine and making it a prerequisite for his act and HBO specials. At some point, pop culture started to turn around towards Carlin's routine and some of those words are actually somewhat usable on television nowadays, but the power and influence of the routine still reverberates throughout both television and stand-up comedy.


#6: "RICHARD PRYOR: LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP"-"Freebase" and "Hospital"




This and Carlin's "7 Dirty Words..." are pretty much neck-and-neck to me, but what I give a slight edge to Richard Pryor's "Freebase" and "Hospital" routines, is that, this is probably the moment that I think standup comedy turned into an art. Appearing on both the comedy album and his stand-up documentary, "Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip" documents both his experiences with freebasing cocaine, and then documents the infamous incident where he literally blew himself up supposedly freebasing. (Note: I couldn't find a great complete cut of either the album or the performance from the movie on Youtube, so this is a version of the album that's still somewhat edited) Starting with his conversation and friendship with his crackpipe, the voice of the crackpipe, being based on Richard Nixon, and then, going slowly and inevitably into the incident that led to him on fire and running down the street, before getting to the hospital, and then being asked for an autograph. Pryor's work, not only was known for being controversial, but what really separates him from the other greatest comics of his time was how personal he made his material, but here he's confronting infamy and yet, he's still managing to make a greater commentary within his own life and within his own work. Basically everything built up in Pryor's life and career meet up. The film was I believe, recorded during his first or second performance post the freebasing incident and it's that rare moment when reality, infamy and commentary come together in any art form, much less stand-up.


5. "RICHARD III": ACT I, SCENE I-"Now is the Winter of Our Discontent..."




I seriously thought about just writing down ten Shakespeare monologues without any explanations, and leave this blog at that, and frankly I could've. But, I decided to be a little more inventive but it's still pretty impossible to not include Shakespeare on this list. Still though, which ones? Well, truth be told, I'm more partial to "MacBeth" than "Richard III" and yeah, I did think about "Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou, Romeo..." especially since I'm disappointed in myself for that I couldn't find any space on this list for a monologue that's traditionally spoken by a female; that sucks, but in terms of a Top Ten, I think "Richard III" is a little more relevant and prevalent in literature and culture. This is especially so when you consider that this is really an early occurrence what we think of today as "Breaking the fourth wall." It's the opening speech of the play, and he's telling the audience what he's about to do, and then we see him do it. It might not be the first example, but it's definitely the most influential; hell, just watch an episode of "House of Cards" and you'll see that "Richard III" is alive and well. Essentially, "Richard III" is a guy who's not only performing for all the other characters as he schemes and kills his way to the top, but he's also doing it for us, performing specifically for our enjoyment. "Now is the Winter of Our Discontent..." is a perverse and startling opening, and never moreso in this film version, when Sir Ian McKellan performs it, first as this grand speech to a crowded ballroom, but then finishes it, by talking directly to us, in the john, while he's taking a piss, like it's a speech he's given a million times before, and only he knows he true meanings in his words. It's a great, menacing speech no matter how it's given. It's sardonic, Machiavellian, cynical, and sinsiter all at one and definitely the best opening monologue of any of Shakespeare's plays.


4. "THE NEWSROOM": "PILOT/WE JUST DECIDED TO"-"We're Not the Greatest Country..."




It's been almost four years and I'm still seeing people passing clips of this monologue around on Facebook and whatnot like it's some new prophetic speech about this modern world. I don't know if I'd go that far, but, damn, it's a great monologue. Ever after "The Newsroom", the best TV show this decade was unfairly canceled too soon, "Were Not the Greatest Country"..." is still amazing and I never get sick of hearing it. The opening of the Pilot Episode of Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom", titled, "We Just Decided To" begins with Will McAvoy, the cable news anchor mostly known for being, generic and likeable than a hard-hitting or opinionated anchor is forced into answering a question from a nervous college students at a Q&A with a pair of his more activist media rivals and that's when he suddenly and voluntarily decides to destroy everything and everyone, including and especially his career and his carefully crafted image. In one felt swoop, he says everything you're supposedly not supposed to say especially at his job, and it's actually unbeknownst to him a relieving and freeing experience but mostly in the moment, it's a full-on assault knockout blow to the modern American Dream myth. The monologue is credited with earning Jeff Daniels a well-deserved Emmy and remains a calling card for both American realists and ideals who believe our best years are behind and yet, that it's possible for America to return to their honor prominence in the world. Even from a man who's known for great speeches and monologue, it's clear that this will be the one from Aaron Sorkin that will truly be remembered and echoed for years to come.


3. "25TH HOUR"-"The Fuck Monologue




At first glance, this feels like something that Spike Lee would've come up with on his own, but actually the original version of this was in fact in David Benioff's original novel "The 25th Hour" but this ranks not just as the best cinematic monologue, not only because of what's written, but how Spike Lee finds a new way of shooting a monologue. Not just the news footage and the montage of New York City, but the interesting new approach he takes to having a character talking in the mirror, which, yes, I know some of you are wondering where, "Boogie Nights", "Raging Bull" "Taxi Driver" and even "On the Waterfront" are on this list at this moment and how I can rank this one so far ahead of them, Yeah, I probably could've found room for a few of those, "You Talkin' to Me" does seem a bit missing from this list, but-eh, seriously, how come more actors don't try to memorize this monologue? This is such a perfect monologue! And just on the simplest levels, a man lets out on everything, and everyone, the world practically, or at least the city he lives in, before finally turning the blame on himself, going through all those inner emotions.... Whew! The first major film to take place in New York City after 9/11, Montgomery Brogan, played by Edward norton, has one last day of freedom before going to jail for seven years for drug trafficking and in the literal shadow of two towers, while trying to tie up loose ends, he also comes to terms with his actions and the consequences thereof. In a way, the monologue could be a synecdoche of his entire day's journey, his life's journey, or we could reflect on the time and call it a microcosm of many people's thought at that time, but I prefer to look at it in the moment. There's so much blasts of emotions from him, and then to successfully be able to turn it around back to him, this is an actor's monologue. If I ever think about it, I'd look into staging a theatrical version of this movie, just to see this speech performed in front of an audience; I'm actually a bit shocked nobody's tried that yet. It's one of Spike Lee's very best films and it's an absolutely amazing monologue.


2. ANY BOB NEWHART STAND-UP ROUTINE





Seriously. No, I'm not gonna pick one, you can't pick just one of Bob Newhart's. Bob Newhart is the greatest monologueist around. Not Carson, not Letterman, not Jack Paar, not Leno, not Pryor, not Carlin, no!, Bob Newhart is in a league of his own when it comes to monologue, in every sense of the word. Nobody is better at talking to people who aren't there than he is, nobody has come up with more ingenious monologues than him. I know this, because,-, well, let me tell you a story, some of you know this but I am a produced playwright outside of this blog, but the reason I can say that is because I once had a monologue performed. It's called "Rest, Peacefully", remind me one day and I'll post it here, (Hmm, I should post some of my other writings here sometimes too, hmm.) It's not bad; it's actually unbelievably simple, it's a guy giving a eulogy to somebody he despised. On the surface, it's simple, but this started as a project in a playwrighting class to write a monologue, it was actually my fifth attempt at trying to write a one-page monologue. Because the other four times I tried it, I got halfway through, before I suddenly realized that I was literally re-writing a Bob Newhart routine, each time! That's how good he is at this. A monologue is a person talking to other people, yet, he's alone. You think those routines of him talking on the phone are easy? They're incredibly sophisticated and difficult to perform. I posted his very first recorded routine (Which actually was recorded the very first time he performed stand-up, he worked behind the scenes mostly previously) of his, "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue" on his groundbreaking album "The Buttoned-Down Mind of Bob Newhart", which along with his follow-up, earned him a Grammy for Best New Artist, (Yes, Best New Artist, look it up; they didn't have a Comedy Album category at the time) but any of his routines, are just masterclasses in how to write a monologues. Seriously, to any writer out there, whether you do comedy or not, study Bob Newhart and you will learn everything you need to know about monologues. Understanding situations of monologues, understanding how to write in dialogue that's not there, understanding how to get the audience to understand who those other people are saying without hearing them, they're entire sketches of people, but all performed by one man. Not all the characters, just one character, that Bob Newhart's performing. Even the dated ones are funny as hell and still are unbelievable monologues. "The Cruise of the U.S.S. Codfish", "Driving Instructor", "Introducing Tobacco to Civilization", "Nobody Will Ever Play Baseball", "Police Lineup", "The Krushchev Landing Rehearsal"... these are spectacular monologues. Seriously, you want to really know about monologues, study Bob Newhart. Then try to write one, and you'll quickly realize why Bob Newhart's entire work gets it's own spot here.


...AND NOW, THE #1 MONOLOGUE OF ALL-TIME!

C'mon? Did you really think anything else would be number one? Anything else could be number one? Please, I mean, alright, fine, arbitrary, the easy pick, Orson Welles is right, it's actually completely unnecessary to the play, but...., c'mon. We all know what it is. Say it with me, (Clears throat). To be, or not to be-, that is the question....
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune....

#1. "HAMLET": ACT III, SCENE I-"To Be or Not To Be...."




Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-.... yada yada yada, you should all know it.

It's amazing how often and how different this one monologue, And yes, it is a monologue, and a silloquoy, one can be both, and that's how great this is, and how great Shakespeare, you can really interpret this in hundred of different ways, play it many different ways and they're always powerful, always successfully. It's unbelievably iconic, we still parody it today, it's still repeated today, hell they're still stealing from the speech to come up with titles for other projects. Including this show, if you don't know that clip above, it's from a Canadian TV show called "Slings & Arrows" about a Shakespeare company trying to put on a show. Worth looking up, and this clips goes over just how much is in this speech and how interpretive is. It shows how actors' tackled a monologue and or any piece of dialogue really, how they shape the written word on the page, and give it meaning, and all the possible approaches to monologues that can be given, and no monologue has as many different approaches than this one. "Hamlet"'s the best play ever written, by the greatest playwright and this is the greatest monologue from the play. Is Hamlet acting, going crazy, actually trying to make a decision, or has he already made up his mind what he's gonna do,... This is easily the greatest monologue of all-time.

So there you have, the Top Ten Monologues. I'm sure you guys will have some thoughts, and I'd like to hear them. I'll write on other things later.



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