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Small Talk: Last weekend Sumana and I went to the Museum of the Moving Image and saw 2001, a movie I probably hadn't seen for ten years. Apart from the big-screen visual spectacle, I was struck by how phatic 2001's dialogue is. Some of the dialogue does exposition, but almost all of it is small talk that would be instantly cut from a work of prose.

From memory: Heywood Floyd makes small talk with an elevator operator. He's met on the space station by a guy who makes small talk with him. He places a phone call so he can make small talk with his daughter. He makes small talk with some Russian scientists (inc. one played by Leonard Rossiter!). They try to draw him out but he doesn't take the bait.

Floyd holds a meeting where nothing is decided: he just asserts his place atop the pecking order and says to maintain the status quo. He makes small talk with the pilot of the moon shuttle. (We don't even hear this, it's just shown under classical music. It is clearly small talk.) On the moon buggy he talks to some guys about sandwiches (there is also some non-phatic stuff here, about the excavation of the monolith).

Cut to Jupiter mission! Dave Bowman and Frank Poole and HAL watch themselves on TV, giving an interview full of small talk. Frank gets a birthday message from his parents full of small talk. Dave makes small talk with HAL, and then finally, just before intermission, we see what in terms of traditional plot is an important conversation. HAL shares his concerns about the mission and then reports the impending failure of the AE-35 unit. Beyond this point, although the dialogue still has a flat affect, it's not phatic. It's all about important stuff.

I'm not complaining. The preponderance of small talk was clearly a deliberate decision and it works. The banality of the dialogue contrasts with the wonders onscreen during the dialogue-less majority of the film. But I'd never noticed this about the dialogue, because the last time I saw 2001 I wasn't a fiction writer.

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