Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good
She was very, very good
But when she was bad, she was horrid.
Remember that nursery rhyme? Well, let's change it up a bit.
There was a handsome guy
Who gave a battle cry
Anticipating warfare cruel and torrid
And when the speech was good
it did just what it should
But when it was bad, it was so pitiful I can't finish this poem.
I just watched Alexander. He gave the longest pre-battle pep talk that I've ever seen on film. Even the soldiers were stretching, yawing and checking their sundials. It was weird. It felt like twenty minutes of boring exposition.
So, this got me to wondering -- what is the purpose of the pre-battle speech in film? Does it have a purpose other than exposition or is it just a standard prerequisite of any war story?
BRAVEHEART - In Braveheart, William Wallace gives a pre-battle speech that became a defining moment in the film. What differs it from the same narcoleptic moments in Alexander? Wallace's speech tells us as much about his character as it does the justification for the battle. It gives us another piece of Wallace's motive for being there instead of serving solely as exposition.
"Yes. Fight and you may die. Run and you will live, at least awhile. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance to come back here as young men, and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but the will never take our freedom?"GLADIATOR - Maximus gives his troops a similar speech in Gladiator -- similar because it, too, is a look inside the motives of the leader. But because it tells us what the men believe about life and death, Maximus' speech also serves as exposition.
Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be and it will be so. Along the line, stay with me. If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled for you are in Allysium and you are already dead. What we do in life echoes in eternity.TROY - This film has two pre-battle speeches -- Achilles' speech to his Myrmidons and Hector's speech to battalions of Troy. Achilles' speech is about his character. He wants his name to live forever.
Myrmidons, my brothers of the sword. I'd rather fight alongside you than any army of thousands. Let no man forget how menacing we are. We are lions. You know what's there waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it. It's yours!Hector's speech is also about his character. Hector is a servant of Troy.
Trojans, all my life, I've lived by a code and that code is simple -- honor the gods, love your woman, and defend your country. Troy is mother to us all. Fight for her!KINGDOM OF HEAVEN - This pre-battle speach is not a speech. As Balian prepares Jerusalem to defend itself, he gives no pep talk. But he believes that no man is a servant to another and makes each man a knight by administering the same oath to them that he took at his father's deathbed. This serves no expository purpose that I can see but solely demonstrates the character of the leader.
Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless. This is your oath (he slaps a young teen as his father slapped him) and that is so you remember it. Rise, a knight!I think all of these examples work, but why do they work? The one thing I see in each one is that the battle speech, like other dialogue in the film, also serves to reveal character.
ALEXANDER - So why does the speech in Alexander not work for me? Aside from being entirely too long and boring, it has several long pauses of silence as we watch an eagle or inaudible shots while the opposing army looks at each other. Even if we wanted to care at the beginning of the speech, by the time it's over we're too exhausted to give a rip how the battle turns out.
You've all honored your country and your ancestors and now we come to this most distant place in Asia where across from us Darius has at last gathered an army-- (cut from speech to no audible dialogue and follow long descent of an eagle and then go back to Alexander mid sentence) -- but look again at this war and ask yourselves, who is this great king who pays assasins in gold coins to murder my father, our king in a most despicable and cowardly manner? Who is this great king Darius who enslaves his own men to fight? Who is this king but a king of air? These men do not fight for their homes. They fight because this king tells them they must. When they fight, they will melt away like the air. We are not here today as slaves. We are here as Macedonian free men! Some of you, perhaps myself, will not live to see the sun set over these mountains today but I say to you what every warrior has known since the beginning of time, conquer your fear and I promise you, you will conquer death! When they ask you where you fought so bravely, you will answer, I was here this day at Gaugamela for the freedom and glory of Greece! Zeus be with us!
Conclusion? Well, first of all, I think pre-battle speeches have to serve some purpose other than pure exposition but what I don't know is if it's critical that the speech also reveal character. And second, typing that last speech made me drowsy. I'm going to take a nap now.