Beyond Vassar

About Books

By Georgette Weir and Toni Sciarra Poynter '81

Overhearing Film Dialogue
By Sarah Kozloff
Associate Professor of Film
University of California Press, 2000


At the very end of her study of film dialogue- a work that she happily calls a defense of the spoken word-Sarah Kozloff acknowledges that "my chief ploy has been seduction by quotation." Her seduction may lead a reader not only toward her arguments-that dialogue is a crucial component of films and not an offhand accessory to the visuals; that there are genre conventions to film dialogue just as there are visual conventions; and that "dialogue patterns are related to the underlying gender dynamics of each genre"-but also straight to the local video shop, where one eagerly hunts down the films that are the source and subject of much of Kozloff's commentary.

Kozloff divides her subject in two sections. In the first, "General Characteristics," she reviews the function of dialogue in narratives, the structural and stylistic variables of both written and spoken dialogue, and the integration of dialogue with the other elements of filmmaking in the creation of narrative works. In part two, she focuses on dialogue in four film genres-westerns, screwball comedies, gangster films, and melodrama-and looks at the characteristics that mark each genre. Screwballs, for example, typically feature irony, double-layered meaning, verbal chaos, "sonic bedlam," courtship through verbal play, and "unruly women who blather or speak frankly."

Kozloff frequently cites works of film and literary theory as well as the text of films themselves. Overhearing Film Dialogue is a book for both students and buffs.

— Georgette Weir

The Barbarians Are Coming


By David Wong Louie '77
G.P. Putnam's Sons /MarianWood Books, 2000

The Barbarians Are Coming is an impressive debut novel that mixes themes of the immigrant experience, a father-son story, and a young man's self-reckoning. David Wong Louie gained critical acclaim with his 1991 short story collection Pangs of Love, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Review First Fiction Award and was praised by Carolyn See as having "broken the silence of Chinese men in America."

The Barbarians Are Coming deepens Louie's exploration of this theme through the perspective of 26-year-old Sterling Lung, American-born son of Chinese immigrant parents, as he struggles with conflicting desires to be a good son, define his future, fulfill his ambitions, and accept himself. Louie has said, "The Chinese regard white folk as barbarians. And in America, they regard their own kids as barbarians. But these kids see their own parents as barbaric as well."

These tensions are quickly evident in the novel. Instead of becoming a surgeon as his parents-who toiled in their laundry to give him the opportunities they were deprived of-had hoped, Sterling graduates from an elite cooking school and becomes a chef at a Connecticut ladies' club. His relationship with his Jewish girlfriend frustrates their wish that he marry the Chinese bride his mother has selected.

Presenting Sterling as an alien in both the world of his family and the one he now inhabits, Louie intertwines absurdity with serious contemporary themes as the novel heads toward its conclusion, combining a dead-on sense of dark comedy and a deep understanding of the heart. Currently Louie teaches in the Department of English and the Asian-American Studies Center at UCLA. He lives in Venice, California with his wife and son.

— Toni Sciarra Poynter '81