1983, Books, Non-Fiction

Glengarry Glen Ross (1983) by David Mamet

I have seen the movie twice, at least, but a long time ago. The first time I saw it I was (more than) a little too young to fully appreciate it. The second time I saw it, though, I felt like everything Mamet was saying about American sales tactics in the early 1980s applied to both the lenders and the traders who caused the Great Recession. I don’t know if that’s a compliment to Mamet that he was so prescient or a damning indictment of the US version of capitalism. Notably, I’ve also never seen the play.

The first thing anyone who has seen the movie but not the play needs to know about the play is that Blake doesn’t exist in the play. For some fans of the play, that’s a good thing but for someone whose experience of the play is entirely through the film, it’s really jarring. The play feels incomplete somehow, which is totally unfair.

I still think the play works in its critical examination of masculinity and sales tactics. It’s arguably more subtle than the film.

But reading Mamet on the page is, for me, quite different than watching him. It’s hard to imagine the dialogue live, I just don’t have that kind of imagination. I’ve never actually seen any Mamet plays live but I’ve seen most of his own movies and multiple adaptations of his plays and I am very used to his rhythms (though it’s been a while) but on the page they really don’t have the same feel. I definitely think reading one of his plays does him a disservice, unless you can really hear the dialogue in your mind.

I think this is an essential American play of the 1980s but I also would recommend seeing it, or watching the movie, instead of reading it.

8/10 for the book version

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