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Screen & Stage
January, 2008

Coyote Morning

Nondialogue Dialogue
A view into visual stimulation of the emotions
By  J.R. Kambak

A look, a moment, minutes of silence can convey volumes of story and plot lines.
ondialogue scenes can capture what you want to say in half a page. Contrary to the Hollywood-fresh cinematic cliché sound byte, the nondialogue scene is equally the narrative courier – the abstract canvas, upon which vivid unnamed landscapes of life become identified, integrated into the plot's transitional phases.

Nondialogue is our most common language and to put it into a screenplay is a sign of a scriptwriter's mastery of this perception. To grasp this, think of it in terms of a diagnosis and part of the motivation of the environmental dimensions of recognition. It's like walking down the hallway corridor – the narrative theme – looking into rooms and through the windows leading off on either side.

We are always speaking with the invisible verbal communication – both externally and internally – within our interpersonal relationships. Capturing this in a screenplay, nondialogue brings more impact to your storytelling, developing an emotional bond with the audience – "I know your pain," for example. Nondialogue flirts with us in silence, but it bursts with verbal impact within our consciousness.

What I want to stress here is the benefit of breaking the homogenizing Hollywood model of active-interaction nondialogue splice cuts. Instead, strive to develop a new pedigree complexity that points toward insight as the omniscient narrator – just as Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkvosky did with the long shot most notable in The Stalker. It is not essential, but it is conjectural.

Nondialogue dialogue can be used as plot progression - the fervent link between the protagonist and antagonist, for example, acting upon the irony between them. In this context the tantalizing Samurai warrior's dressing of Nathan Algren (played by Tom Cruise) in The Last Samurai – Bushido (screenplay by John Logan) is a classic rearrangement of our love scene perceptions – truly an Akira Kurosawa cinematic vocabulary. The faces, the gestures, the situation of a deeply rooted plot point as an ingenious blend of East and West resolution fuse this visual narrative.

Taka (played by Koyuki) widowed by Algren, gives him the most honourable gift – her husband's Samurai uniform – in preparation for his inevitable death in battle. In this nondialogue scene, we see the social portrait of two cultures becoming one, overpowered by the circumstances that shape their relationship.

In the gentleness of an established mutual attraction between them, we witness the elements of humanism that evoke empathy drawing us closer to Algren as Taka robes him in elegance, a value for which her culture lives. The modus operandi still addresses the key theme, the frontal assault of a modern military degradation of the Samurai. Algren has earned her respect by demonstrating that the soul of the Samurai warrior lives in his heart, just as it did with her husband.

"Success is a journey, not a destination." – Zen saying

As an artistic insight into the critical flow of the script's story, the nondialogue scene exhibits the writer's ability to emulate his own stroke of genius. It demonstrates the writer's understanding of and archetypal resonance with the character. The effect is a disquieting build-up of desire for us to want to know more.

Nondialogue takes the form of intense close ups, or long shots, cinematic text that operates at the highest levels of the psychological and philosophical path of the plot's abstraction. It can come across as a symbolic visualization or in the traits of a character that explain in the end their ultimate conflict. Nondialogue frees characters from having to always explain themselves in the function of a suture between scenes – both technically and subjectively, but always naturalized.

I am exuberant about nondialogue scenes that invade and fill me with a qualitative shift of emotions from the stark physical reality I am watching on the screen. In this regard, nondialogue scenes often involve the intensity of close-ups, rearranging the diverse human landscape that takes us beyond motives and thoughts in order to rearrange time periods.

A distinct testament to this is Roman Polanski's The Pianist. In this film, the visual culture determines the protagonist's nondialogue progression into desperate survival as we witness the psychological stressor of humiliation over time and the maladaptive features of genocide. The nondialogue scenes strike the audience with an understanding of the social consequences and reason for reflection.

Our immersion in Polanski's planned progression through the deprivations of a Polish classical pianist – Wadislaw Szpilman (played by Adrian Brody) – into the state of a starving zombie is the result of an extraordinary application of nondialogue. The ambiance roars with the inhumanity that crushes the creativity of this individual – the relentless wheezing of his exhalations and the despair that if he were to touch the keys of the piano within his reach, it would mean certain death.

We live on the edge of his enduring hopelessness, based on a true story in the Warsaw Ghetto where, at the end of WWII, only 20 out of a 100,000 people remained. This is the compelling essence – the rape and deprivation of Szpilman's talented passion – expressed without dialogue for the better part of the film. That is nondialogue dialogue.

"It was some kind of realization you know, realization that anyone is capable of anything at the given time in the history." – Roman Polanski

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J.R. Kambak is a regular IN correspondent and award-nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. E-mail:

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Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

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