Cinematic dialogue in Sideways: Words with subtext

In the previous post, I wrote about what does the word cinematic mean to me. If we apply it to the dialogue, than we are talking about subtext.

Speaking with subtext is a great way how to talk about difficult or delicate topics, like the first sexual experience between you and your partner. You almost never talk directly in this situation, you don’t say out loud what you really mean or want. Speaking with subtext in this case is great – for several reasons: It’s fun, it’s romantic and it leaves the other person with certain space for his/her imagination and fantasy.

Talking about subtext reminds me of a screenwriting book by Xander Bennett, here is an excerpt from the book:

“If you can say the same thing with subtext, use subtext instead. Better yet, see if you can achieve the same effect using action instead of dialog. Screenwriter Scott Myers likes to talk about the scene in Sideways where the protagonist and the romantic lead are talking about their favorite wines…except that, no, they are not. “requires constant care and attention”, “fragile and delicate”, “constantly evolving” – they are actually spilling their guts about how they see themselves. It’s a beautiful scene. But what if they had really been talking about themselves, without the “buffer zone” of wine to create some emotional distance? It would have been awkward, simplistic, and on-the-nose.”

I won’t write about what the movie is about, because others already did, so I’ll leave you this time with a script excerpt from the movie, with the dialogue scene Xander Bennett was talking about.

The wine dialogue scene:

MAYA
Can I ask you a personal question?

MILES
Sure.

MAYA
Why are you so into Pinot? It’s like a thing with you.

MILES
I don’t know. It’s a hard grape to grow. As you know. It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet that can grow anywhere and thrive even when neglected. Pinot needs constant care and attention and in fact can only grow in specific little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing growers can do it really, can tap into Pinot’s most fragile, delicate qualities. Only when someone has taken the time to truly understand its potential can Pinot be coaxed into its fullest expression. And when that happens, its flavors are the most haunting and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet. MILES   I mean, Cabernets can be powerful and exalting, but they seem prosaic to me for some reason. By comparison. How about you?

MAYA
What about me?

MILES
I don’t know. Why are you into wine?

MAYA
I suppose I got really into wine originally through my ex-husband. He had a big, kind of show-off cellar. But then I found out that I have a really sharp palate, and the more I drank, the more I liked what it made me think about.

MILES
Yeah? Like what?

MAYA
Like what a fraud he was.

MAYA
No, but I do like to think about the life of wine, how it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer or if it rained… what the weather was like. I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it’s going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive — it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks — like your ’61 — and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good.

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