Oh, the depths to which I've sunk! Yesterday, I heard the cast of Seinfeld on "Live with Regis and Kelly" and they were discussing the critical role of rhythm in dialogue. Stop snickering! I wasn't watching Regis and Kelly. The kids left the television on. Really. I was busy ordering books at Barnes and Noble online with a gift card from my mother (happy birthday to me!). Of course, when I heard discussion about scriptwriting and dialogue, I did step away from my computer and pay attention.
Now, puhleeeze stay with me on this. I think it's important.
The point made by the Seinfeld cast was that producers and directors rarely, if ever, allowed any of them to deviate even one word from the script. It wasn't that the cast didn't have good ideas, but the rhythm was critical to the comic value of the dialogue. No flexibility.
Okay, so botch up the rhythm and the laughs are gone. That's the first thing you learn in Stand-Up-Comedian 1.01, right? But, I'd heard it before related to script writing.
Ted Elliott says something similar on the Pirates of the Caribbean commentary. There was a portion of dialogue that one of the actors felt was too harsh or brutal or out of character. I don't remember it exactly so if you want a direct quote, put your DVD in. Ted's response was not an objection to change in dialogue as long as the rhythm didn't change. Flexibility as long as the rhythm doesn't change.
Okay, that got me to thinking about other films, programs, and characters who relied heavily on the rhythm of the dialogue. All the examples that come to my mind, however, seem to be for comedic effect. At the moment, I cannot not come up with a single non-comedic situation where I think changing the rhythm of the dialogue would ruin the dialogue.
So, this is my quest: to find out from screenwriters and from studying films if rhythm can be critical in non-comedic situations. I'll report my findings later.