Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!

Last week I asked a few friends to take a look at the American Film Institute's list of Top 100 movie quotes, pick a quote or two, and I'd write a blog post about it.

Since I hadn't written any blog entries lately, I figured this would be a fun exercise -- a way to get myself back in the habit of writing with the subject matter already provided.

Now, this doesn't mean I'm going to spend the next few weeks writing about movies, Hollywood, or film making. The idea here is to use the quotes as inspiration, more or less.

The first quote selected (thanks, Kevin) was #36: "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" It's from the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

In it, a character named Gold Hat (played by Alfonso Bedoya) is trying to convince Humphrey Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs that he and his men are Federales (Mexican police), and not bandits. Dobbs inquires about their missing police badges, after which Gold Hat utters the famous line.

What happens next? I have no idea. To date, I've never seen the movie. Like many, many other people, I always thought this quote originated from Blazing Saddles, where the line is "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"

Of course, I personally cannot hear this quote in any form without thinking, inevitably, about the 1989 comedy UHF starring "Weird" Al Yankovic.

In that movie, about a failing television station run by "Weird" Al and his misfit friends, the character Raul Hernandez (Trinidad Silva) gets a shipment of animals for his wacky Raul's Wild Kingdom show. The delivery man reads the manifest aloud ("one aardvark, one flamingo, four porcupines, two armadillos, three badgers") when he is suddenly interrupted by an incensed Raul. "Badgers? Badgers?! We don't need no stinking badgers!"

Comedy gold.

But I'm not here to talk about comedy, humor or badgers. What struck me as interesting about this quote was how it was mis-quoted, then re-appropriated numerous times, and not always in the places we remember, or that are most obvious.

After all, Treasure was aped by the Monkees (pun intended), who in turn had their modified dialogue quoted in Saddles, and further modded in UHF. But it all hearkens back to the original.

In a way, that's part of the creative process in almost all media these days, from books and movies, to TV, music and video games. We borrow or steal, not verbatim or with an act of plagiarism, but in a way that makes something our own while still paying homage to that which influenced or inspired us.

Sometimes this is very subtle, like a figurative wink or nod to our creative progenitors. Other times it's more obvious, like a big hug, a way of saying "thanks" to our heroes that blazed the trails we now tread.

Think about it: without Tolkien's epic, would we have Harry Potter? Dungeons & Dragons? World of Warcraft? Without Bram Stoker or Anne Rice, would Stephenie Meyer have penned Twilight? Was The Hunger Games a result of some subconscious creative juices blended and squeezed from the fruits of labor done by Asimov, Philip K. Dick, or Jules Verne?

Some comparisons amongst those works are obvious, and others are like little "Easter eggs" left by the creator(s) to be found by astute fans. But it all goes back to what influences us, and how that influence, that knowledge, and those past experiences plays out in our own craft, whatever that may be.

If you're a creative type--author, designer, artist, and the like--feel free to sound off in the comments and list your biggest influences. How does that inspiration come out in your own work? Have you ever been thanked or recognized by one of your own heroes? Most importantly, do you have any badges?