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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
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June 14 2006

The language of Deadwood, Mamet and Whedon. Fascinating blog entry which amongst other things compares Joss' and David Milch's style of writing.

Interesting idea about season seven and how the show become more about Buffy than actually being her... i'd never thought of it like that before
That was a beautifully written piece - expressing much of what I've thought of Milch's writing style in a way I could never have said it. And the comparison with Whedon is apropos, because both are noted for their dialogue - even though they are extremely different in style and tone.
"Josshole"? Ooooooo-kaaaaaaaay.

Otherwise, an interesting article. Is it just me, or are there suddenly a lot of mentions of Deadwood and Joss in the same sentence? ;-)
That's an interesting bit of blogging, good link Simon.

Unfortunately i've never seen a Mamet play on stage but in the films of his I have seen i'd say his dialogue is a lot less naturalistic than Joss' or Milch's. In Deadwood when characters speak it feels slightly written BUT that's because it's, IMO, absolutely true sounding 19th century speech which was obviously more formal in some ways. Joss has mastered dialogue which is clearly manufactured but sounds like it could be said by the right people. With Mamet though I often feel his dialogue is too 'chosen', too thought through (don't get me wrong, it's still fantastic to listen to) and if this works really well in some contexts (e.g. 'Spartan' where the central character is very closed off and only shows the world the parts of himself he's specifically decided to) i'm not so sure in others.

That said he uses this kind of 'chosen' property to create a certain type of character very well (i.e. the kind that really chooses their words ;) and stylised dialogue can work brilliantly in genre stuff or to create a context and maybe highlight the bizarre within the banal (e.g. the, IMO excellent, modern noir film 'Brick' which uses highly stylised, unrealistic speech to create an emotionally true world lurking one step to the side of reality).

I think the author makes a good point about how people choose to present themselves with language since even today, in our (arguably) less class conscious times, most people will have put a speaker into a particular socio-economic box by the time they've heard a couple of spoken sentences. Al Swearengen, for instance, uses language very deliberately to position people to his own ends, either to schmooze with high rollers or to categorically state his alpha maleness to the people around him (usually by an abrupt escalation in cursing).

(I also agree that the author raises a great point about how in S7 Buffy became the object of the show which I think is why a lot of people didn't like her in that season since we weren't meant to be Buffy anymore, we were meant to judge her - and find her wanting, just as the Potentials did. Kind of like that aspect of growing up when you realise the world doesn't revolve around you, you're just another farty like everyone else)

ETA: Why do I now have an image of JW, T-shirt pulled over head, running around shouting "I am Joss-holio !" ? That'll last the afternoon at least ;)

[ edited by Saje on 2006-06-14 13:35 ]
Fascinating piece of blogging. I'm always interested in thoughtful considerations of how people write, and it's often the writing that really sucks me into film or television (although I'm also hugely affected by the visuals). I have resisted getting involved in another show that demands my attention on a regular basis, so I have watched only one episode of Deadwood -- and that was in s1. I admired the quality of the episode, but I just didn't have the time to get involved. I can see now that I am going to have to rent or purchase the DVDs -- apart from all the rave reviews I've seen by other Whedonesquers, I think this piece on the writing just clinched it.
Ah, so that's why I'm enjoying Deadwood so much. I hadn't put it down to the language before, but now I think about it, the language is a large part of the attraction.

I'm not so sure about it being "absolutely true sounding 19th century speech". It sounds rather stylised to me, not that I claim to be any authority on the subject. For that matter, does anyone really know just how people spoke back then? There are no audio recordings and probably very few written records of genuine vernacular speech from that time. (I don't think you can judge from novels.) Of course, even dramas set in the present day don't reflect how people really speak, and they would probably be much less appealing if they did: full of ums and ahs and unfinished sentences.

Besides that, there have been a few expressions used that struck me as rather modern, though I can't recall any examples right now, and I could be wrong about them.

Still, "true" or not, I love the sound of it (obscenities and all).
tichtich, by "true sounding" I mean it has the feel of truth about it not that it's necessarily factually accurate (though, even then, maybe 'absolutely' was stretching the point a bit ;). It's like in a Le Carre novel where his characters talk about various espionage related subjects. Possibly (even probably) totally made up but it really sounds like how they might speak. Or in other words, if they don't speak like that then they bloody well should ;).

As you say though, it's kind of hard to tell how people really spoke in the 19th century and no scripted dialogue will ever sound like real speech because the unnecessary ums, ahs, errs, sort ofs, basicallys and huhs will have been removed (reading a raw transcript of even the wittiest speaker in normal conversation, say a Stephen Fry or a Joss Whedon, shows that even their speech is chock full of these sort of verbal tics, pauses and non-sensical meanderings).
"... curiously externalized seventh season, in which Buffy herself became to a degree an object of the show's gaze rather than its shaping consciousness ..."

An object of the show's gaze. I'm still thinking about that one. Certainly, we see how others view Buffy in Storyteller and Empty Places, but what else in S7 supports the interesting notion that Buffy had become the show's object, rather than its "shaping consciousness"?
That statement about Season Seven really resonated with me. I have actually heard something like that before.

Someone pointed out that in Season Six actually, Buffy wasn't talking to any of her friends. All of her thoughts and feelings were more or less kept to herself. Things happened to her, we watched, we no longer felt them with her. We didn't really know what she was thinking or feeling because she didn't tell anyone, including us.

This was much more pronounced in Season Seven in my opinion. I for one had no clue what was going on her head.
The comment about S6 and S7 really makes sense...considering Buffy had just come back from the dead, and wasn't really one of "us" anymore.

But, besides that, absolutely fantastic article...I loved reading it.

His comments about writers and their dialogue-speak really encouraged me, since I found that it holds true with a lot of the dialogue I've written thus far...maybe I'm NOT screwing my screenplay over after all! :-D

By the way, billz, count me in on the whole "Josshole" confusion. I'm not sure if it's a funny nickname...or just an off-putting obscenity. I'll get back to ya. ;-)

[ edited by UnpluggedCrazy on 2006-06-14 21:53 ]
David Milch has said that when developing "Deadwood" he tried being more accurate to the period in regard to dialogue and couldn't make it work - it sounded like a parody, not an engaging drama.

His Deadwood dialogue is highly stylised and certainly a big attraction for me to the show. In a way it's like a Shakespearean Western - you have to concentrate to understand, you can't passively watch Deadwood. (Which may be why viewership for the series has been low - because it asks more of an audience.)
Keith G, Deadwood was HBO's second highest rated show (after The Sopranos), last season.

And can I just say how good it feels to see mention of Deadwood on my favorite site?

Keith G, I was wondering if anyone else was going to mention the S-word. The only thing I have ever been able to compare Deadwood to is Shakespeare. I would not consider the dialogue naturalistic in either case - no-one is that articulate - but 'heightened' is a good word for it. It is simply so beautiful that, like all good art, it more perfectly captures and expresses meaning and emotion than anything more prosaic could.

Deadwood is so conspicuously good, in the sense that it makes no apologies for its complexity and demands that the audience works to keep up, that I have always struggled to compare it to Joss's work: he has always been proudly accessible and I love that about him. I've always known that Deadwood and Joss's shows were on a par quality-wise, but apart from knowing it was something to do with language, I've never quite been able to articulate for myself where their similarities lie. Fascinating post.

Any Whedonesquers out there who have not given Deadwood a try - seriously, do. If you have to choose only one show to watch, choose this one.
Wow. Remarkable blog post, that. All stuff I'm subconciously aware of but could never, ever manage to express verbally. Great stuff.

And I'm just going to skip over any urge I might have to comment on Buffy and move right on to heartily agreeing with pevensie (and about a dozen others) in suggesting that all Whedonesquers give Deadwood a shot. It truly is the most remarkable show on television.

Giving props to BtVS, which is the bar none the best show ever to grace the airwaves, I've got to admit all this Deadwood love is giving me goosebumps.

Whedonesquers are so cool.
My HBO subscription has been renewed almost exclusively for the promise of more "Deadwood." This series just grabs you, that's all I can say. Wacky (but true) example: I went to see a great but (unfortunately) not-so-famous singer/songwriter when she had a gig in a very cool club in LA; well, the guy who plays "Charlie" on "Deadwood" was in the audience...and he got at least as much attention as the acts on stage! No wonder this show appeals to many of the same people who are Joss fans; it's all about language and structure, which so many shows so sadly lack.
The "Shakespearean Western" comment put me in mind of Steven Berkoff's play "West", which is written in a kind of pseudo-Shakespearean style (along with his "East" and Greek"). Berkoff's West is the west of London, so I'm going way off topic. But these plays have the kind of stylised and playful use of language that we're admiring, so may appeal to others here. Give them a try if you get the chance. I assume that fans of Buffy will have heard enough London slang (from Spike) to have no trouble with the dialect. ;-)

By the way, am I the only one who is reminded of Firefly every time I hear the start of Deadwood's theme music? Sigh.
By the way, am I the only one who is reminded of Firefly every time I hear the start of Deadwood's theme music? Sigh.

Nope, you're not the only one. And I LOVE the opening title sequence for this show... very haunting.
I think Simon's stalking me and mine. First me, then Wax, what next? A link to my brother's site? Not that he'd mind the traffic...but anyway, a typically excellent post by Wax Banks. (I deleted a funnier, far more profane version of this for fear that some of you haven't seen Deadwood.)

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