I barely heard the conversation at first. I couldn’t quite make out all of what was being said. But I looked out the window at an angle I could see the long black tails of the dogs wagging in the immediate vicinity of our back door, but I could not see their bodies. I knew who they were and how unlikely it was that they would be having a conversation like what I heard. It was clear that the points being made came from someone with another purpose in mind other than being let back into the house so that they could curl up on the spare “dog” couch for a nap.
So what did it mean? At the time I understood clearly that the dogs only represented the actual speakers. The dogs were being employed as a comfortable and recognizable form to me, trusted surrogates. They were after all, my dogs and my friends. So the things they were saying were to be trusted as well. At least I understand that to be the intention of the presentation. I mean, who would doubt the veracity of their own dogs?
It’s true that over the years I’ve been friends with them, about nine years on average for the pair, they’ve been wrong about many, many things, especially in their interpretation of the importance of certain events. The import of, say, opossums crossing the back deck in the night. But I have never known them to deliberately pass on as true, information which they knew to be false. That is beyond the range of any dog. The species in its entirety has a trustworthiness that is the envy of the rest of the animal world. At least in my humble opinion.
It’s true, and thankfully so, that dogs do have a sense of humor and they employ it regularly to our benefit. But it is never at the expense of others and never cruelly. So as I heard them apparently speaking outside my back door, I took it for truth that they believed the substance of what they were saying.
Let me take a moment to assure you, the reader, that I was aware this was a dream. That much was clear to me quickly after seeing that it was my dogs making the points I was hearing. This will be clear to you, if it isn’t already when you hear that they were arguing the relative importance of the writer, the director and the actor when interpreting dialog in a play or film. I firmly believe that my dogs enjoy movies as much as the next dog, but even they would agree and hold with the universal position that says that all art is a collaboration between all of the parties involved, including the audience.
I believe this too and so this elaborate presentation with talking dogs seemed a great deal of trouble to go through to point out the possible different viewpoints. Since it was a dream, I also understand that there were likely no outside agents introducing information into it. It was all coming from me. So I can only guess that I needed to review the arguments in order to solidify the information to myself.
I won’t bore you with the entire conversation as I’m sure you understand the points being made as well as anyone. But I will say there was a lot of repetition, a lot. I asked for that so that I could try to accurately remember what was being said. Having said that, it all became blurry the moment I awoke.
The dream also had some college professor-types in it taking the part of the dogs from time to time. But truthfully, the professors covered very little territory that the dogs hadn’t already gone through to my satisfaction and advanced none of it any further. After all, the various claims of the importance of vision and past experiences, the concept of “fresh eyes” in the interpretation of a screenplay or script can all be clearly made and in some cases are even self-evident.
This even includes the writer of the piece who originated the plot and dialog. Speak to any writer and ask them if they’d ever been surprised by an interpretation of something they themselves had written. They will admit this and sometimes it can form the fertile ground for meaningful introspection. Also don’t forget that these are Labrador Retrievers that we’re speaking of.
In example of the dream, I include the following.
The smaller and younger of the dogs, Smudge, said. “The director is employed to make the project come to life and so bears the ultimate responsibility, most of the time in close consultation with the author, of executing the project so as bring about the desired effect.”
I thought this was a good point. It’s true that in some case the director is the author and I think in those cases, the whole project rises and falls on the vision of that one person, unless special relationships exist with the actors. But for example in a play being performed daily or at least repeatedly, there are understudies for all the parts and especially for the main ones. In such cases, the director’s job takes on added weight in guiding the production so that the audiences are not in danger of seeing many wildly different versions of the same play.
Then the older dog, Scout, said. “But the director is powerless when the moment comes to bring the individual part to life. This is the job of the actor. The chosen actor is not a random assignment such as the third man pulling on a rope. But even the third man on the rope becomes so because of some minimal characteristics; sex, age, strength, maybe height, I don’t know how such things work. But my point is, an actor in a part is there because he or she brings with them some characteristics plus the ability to make you believe they are the part they play.”
Of course I had to agree with Scout here. He’s not only older but the more circumspect of the two in many ways. It was very true. Those who can, do. The actor is the end-organ of the production. The director may be an actor too, quite a few are, but the jobs are different. Many times you hear actors say what they really want to do is direct. That’s probably because they see the increase in the influence of creativity the director can have over a production. An actor acts a part, a director directs a hundred parts.
But still the director must let each actor play their part. The army general that tries to manage each soldier is doomed. Organizational structure makes large projects possible and so there are assistant directors to work on subsections of production while the director manages them all but at the bottom of the structure is the actor, and reading or saying or standing or running has to be acted or performed, to make the part work and tell the story.
The first dog, Smudge, the younger of the two by almost two years, said. “Don’t forget the writer or writers.” He made a good point here. Many times the writer of the screenplay is not the writer of the source material. “The writer saw the story as a whole.” Smudge chuckled at his unintended pun here. Most dogs have a fairly broad and common sense of humor and are not above the pun. “The writer sees the entirety and how all the pieces fit. The writer is valuable not for just providing instant rewrites and additions but to add the voice of wisdom in how changes will affect the entire structure. Besides snappy dialog, this ability to act as the story’s arbiter and referee and protector is a most valuable role. He who ignores the writer, does so at their peril.”
I was surprised here because I’ve never heard Smudge speak with such conviction and surety. Even in a dream. If you knew Smudge the way I do, you probably wouldn’t be surprised at his strong feelings and passion but his obvious grasp of abstract concepts would make you take a second look at him.
Here Scout nodded as he considered what Smudge was saying. “You’re right. I see that. I just keep returning to the fact that when the movie ends, what usually stays in our mind is the memorable acting you have seen, that and twists and turns of the story. The effect of editing and direction are mostly lost on the casual audience. Sure, they can be summoned. If someone grabs you and says; consider how that movie was put together. Think about the music and lighting, the camera angles, the rapid fire way the scenes changed or the slow dissolves between them. Only then do you slow down and see the hand of the director. It is hidden and hidden mostly by the faces and actions of the actors.”
Scout was right, there. The director’s work was hidden, except from those looking for it. The actors were the audience of the director more than the people sitting in the theater seats.
“You’re right,” Smudge said with his ears lowering. “But that’s part of the magic, the way it works. We watch and see something like real life or something completely beyond real life. But either way, it happens right in front of our eyes like a trip to the Vet out the window of the big car. And for a little bit, we can’t tell the difference between that and real life. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
And so both dogs stood by the back door, looking through the screen and the glass of the door. Waiting to see someone notice them and walk over to let them in. Both of their tails wagged because life was good and they are best friends and what’s better than being with your best friend in the world.
Their plan was clear. Come in go over and check their bowls to see if someone put some food in them, maybe get a quick noisy drink. Then walk around the furniture back to their dog couch and climb up on it and lay down. From there they could listen to the goings on in the house, responding when needed but mostly just drifting off into a light sleep while the world spun on around them.
I really have no idea why all this was necessary. Maybe it’s a way of getting information into the front rows of my mind. Ready to influence what I do and how I process things. But I’m glad I have dogs to help me get through my day and my night.