Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Yore accent sucks, y'all hea-ah?

I've just given up on The Drowning Pool, the second of two movies that starred Paul Newman as Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer but with his name changed to Lew Harper. I just couldn't take those crappy Southern accents. Or maybe the accents were too good – too studied, that is, to be anything but a distraction.

In any case, the movie is safely back in the store. Now I think I'll sample Macdonald firsthand, through The Moving Target, the first Archer novel and the basis of Harper, the first Newman/Macdonald movie.

Have you ever given up on a movie because an accent drove you nuts? If not, what similarly little things will put you off a movie or a book?
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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37 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Brad Pitt in The Devils Own is in a class by himself.

October 07, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh snap Adrian, but I reckon this lot could give him a run for his money.

Tom Cruise in Far and Away.
Richard Gere in The Jackal.
Kevin Spacey in Ordinary Decent Criminal
Actually anyone attempting an Irish accent makes me laugh, rising up two octaves and adding 'a'tall and 'bejaysus'' to a sentence does not an accent make. Cate Blanchett did the best Irish accent I've heard in Veronica Guerin, quite impressive.

Hi Peter*

*waves.

Arlene

October 07, 2008  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Although I can't be specific, almost every American doing any accent varies from so-so to horrible. We don't hear them enough to be familiar with them, I guess.

October 07, 2008  
Anonymous Scott Parker said...

What I find odd is that Americans doing an accent usually stink but foreigners doing American accents pull it off. Guy Pierce and Russell Crowe in "LA Confidential" great. Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood" not so great. You'll like The Moving Target. I just read and reviewed it for the first time this past summer.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, all. Maybe some cable network ought to ask viewers to vote for the worst movie accents ever, then show the winners in a Ghastly Accents Week.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And then there's Brad Pitt's mumbling as an Irish traveler in Snatch, where he at least appears to be making fun of bad Irish accents -- or is he disguising his own inability to do a good one?

Hi, Arlene.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Scott. I'll take a look. I found a nice old paperback of The Moving Target, which ought to enhance the experience of reading. Well, I think it was from the 1960s, which means it isn't exactly nice, but should still impart some nostalgia to the proceedings. I'll look for your review.

I agree that Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe were superb in L.A. Confidential, and I haven't seen Robin Hood, but has any successful, reasonably well-respected actor been nonetheless subjected to as much ridicule as Kevin Costner has?

Scott and Patti: I wonder if American movie actors simply have a different approach to acting that leads to all these problems with accents. Maybe they ought to read, travel and listen more, and spend less time straining to capture the accent.

I've never acted, but I picked up a subtlety of Irish accents recently that I had not noticed before. Irish authors will often have characters say "fook" when they want to call attention to accent. But the Waterford fan sitting next to me at the hurling final was constantly saying something that sounded more like "Ah, fer foch's sake!"

So, if I play an Irish character, that's my starting point. I ask if the two pronunciations typify speech from distinct regions of Ireland, and then start my work from there. But foch, Tom Cruise doesn't have to do that kind of work, does he? He can get by on his star quality.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Once was pretty challenging. At times all I could catch was the profanity.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Were the accents any good? Did they seem stilted of over the top? I'm not sure if that movie has turned up on any of the bad-accent lists I've seen.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger N/A said...

Peter,

I thought Jon Voight pulled off an Irish accent in his portrayal of an Irish policeman in "The General."

I've been to Ireland a few times, but perhaps only an Irish native can truly judge.

As for horrible accents, how about Stallone's awful South Philly accent in the Rocky films? "Hey, yo. How you doin?"

Stallone lived on the Parkway in Philadelphia, and he never lived in South Philly, where I was born and raised.

But then again, I interviewed Joe Pistone, the FBI undercover agent known as Donnie Brasco, and he said that as an uncover agent he knew accents, and he has friends in South Philly, and I didn't sound like I was from South Philly to him.

I also can't think of a film that has South Philly, or Philly accents right.

Paul Davis
daviswrite@aol.com
www.orchardpressmysteries.com/crime_beat.html

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha. A lot of people probably think Stallone's accent is the South Philly accent. I live in South Philly, and I can't stand all the jocose references to supposed Philly accents: the newspaper columns and ads that think they're being clever when they say "fuggedaboutit" or, even worse, "woodah."

Joe Pistone's comment on your accent was interesting. Maybe it's a sign there is really an infinite group of micro-accents, with subtle gradations between each. Or maybe the accents just start smoothing out the closer one gets to Washington Avenue.

My most recent bad-accent experience was Demi Moore in "Flawless." I know her character is an American who has been living in England for years, but the uneasy mix of accents just grated on my nerves. My guess (and I see that others have guessed similarly) is that she simply could not manage to sound convincingly English, so someone decided to make her character half-English, half-American, sort of. The movie never explains, for instance, what an American is doing on the board of a prestigious British diamond trading company.

But her accent is not as bad as her godawful portrayal of the character as an old woman in 'frame' scenes before and after the movie's main action.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Scottish guys cant do Irish accents either:

Sean Connery - The Untouchables
Billy Connolly - The Last Samurai
Gerard Butler - that thing where he dies and leaves notes for whatshername who played the boxer that Clint Eastwood kills.

October 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

These actors just need to do a better job of analyzing what makes an accent distinctively Irish or Italian or what have you. That's difficult, but it's what these guys get the big bucks for.

Last night in a bookshop I heard a guy talking on his cell phone. He was obviously Irish, though if you had asked me to specify what about his accent and his voice made it distinctively Irish, I might have been at a loss. Knowing nothing about regional Irish accents, I had to rely on other clues as to his religion and region, such as the Celtic sweat jacket he was wearing. (It turns out he was from Armagh. He asked for flyers for the Declan Burke/John McFetridge reading that he could hand out at the bar where he works.)

October 08, 2008  
Blogger Snail said...

I've been put off a book because of the accents. A friend recommended a Martha Grimes novel, without any hint of irony and/or malice, as far as I could tell.

I couldn't cope with the appalling representations of ... well ... what I suppose were meant to be cockney accents. I don't actually recall anybody saying 'Gor bless ya, guv. You're a toff,' but it was of that standard. And if that wasn't bad enough, Grimes' cheerful cockney chappies were also slipping into some cartoonish northern dialect mid-sentence.

Mind you, that wasn't actually the worst thing about the book. I have never asked that friend for any more recommendations.

October 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Grimes is no Dickens, is she?

October 08, 2008  
Blogger N/A said...

One of my favorite writers, Mark Twain, wrote as an explanatory in "Huckleberry Finn" that "In this book a number of dialects are used to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidence and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

"I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to sound alike and not succeeding."

I'm curious to discover what your Irish readers thought of Jon Voight's Irish accent in "The General."

- and Peter, I grew up and live south of Washington Ave, down on Oregon Ave, but I spent some years in the Navy, living in California, Southeast Asia and Europe, so perhaps my accent has been watered down...

Paul

October 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read "Huckleberry Finn" some years ago, and I seem to recall that explanation. Dialect humor has fallen far since the standards Twain set with a good, old-fashioned sensitive ear, inquisitive mind, and hard work.

I grew up in Montreal and would occasionally get asked if I was from New York long before I had ever been anywhere near there. What with mobility and mass media, accents are probably not as distinctive as they once were. They may even have become something of a fashion accessory, another aspect of identity to be shed or modified at will.

How about it, readers, esepcially Irish readers: What do you think of Jon Voight's accent in The General?

October 08, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I dont know what's more eccentric Voight's accent in The General or his political views?

October 08, 2008  
Blogger N/A said...

Mr. McKinty,

I'll bow to your knowledge of Irish accents, but as for Voight's political views being "eccentric" you are dead wrong.

His views are in line with at least half of America - and perhaps more than half - we'll see next month.

Voight was a typical anti-Vietnam War leftie, but he has moved right, beginning with his correct assessment that his fellow Vietnam War protesters didn't see fit to protest the horror inflicted by the North Vietnamese communists on the South Vietnamese once they took over.

The mass murder, imprisonment and suffering was so great that thousands of Vietnamese risked high seas, murdering and raping pirates, and the overcrowded camps to escape the communists.

He later became a national security conservative after we were attacked on 9/11, as did many other Americans.

Paul Davis
daviswrite@aol.com

October 08, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Oops...

That was a can of worms.

Well, Paul, I think we can both agree that Voight's prose style could maybe do with a little polishing.

a...

October 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not sure anyone ought to be listening to Hollywood stars on politics, whether Sean Penn from the left or Jon Voight from the right.

October 08, 2008  
Blogger N/A said...

Peter,

I agree that Hollywood actors do not always make the best political commentators.

As Philip Marlowe, a man I think we all love, once said to another character, "Have you heard the expression ignorant as an actor?"

Adrian,

Yes, I agree that Jon Voight is a better actor than writer.

And to be honest, I'm not sure I agree with Voight's idea of subliminal messages creating a God-like figure...

Crime, and crime fiction, is more interesting than politics and politicians.

Paul

October 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had not heard that Marlowe line. It's another reason to love Chandler and respect his powers of observation.

I liked very much that Paul Newman managed to channel his political convictions into action rather than moronic statements. I would have more to say on the subject of idiot actors, but others have said it better than I could (in fact, the vacuity of movie stars' political pronouncements often renders commentary superfluous), and discussion could only inflate the self-importance of said actors.

October 09, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, Paul

Chandler has the final word (as usual) however you might like this:

Seinfeld and Shandling

Jerry Seinfeld starts talking about actors. His rant begins at 7:20

October 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Criminy, let me get some sleep, will you? I have a convention tomorrow.

I wish I could remember the source of the most, er, devastating indictiment of Hollywood actors' vacuousness that I've seen. It was either the Onion or Spy, and it consisted of a box of unadorned quotations.

Perhaps Seinfeld and Shandling will persuade me to break my silence on this subject. And congratulations on your mastery of coding that had bedeviled you for so long.

October 09, 2008  
Blogger N/A said...

The Chandler line about actors comes from "The High Window."

Alex Morny is a former actor who runs a nighclub and casino. Eddie Prue is his bodyguard.

"Morny's a good head," Eddie Prue said.

Marlowe responds,

"He's the fellow for whom they coined the phrase "as ignorant as an actor."

Paul
daviswrite@aol.com

October 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It may be time to reread "The High Window." Chandler's sense of humor is on my mind in any case, having been cited by Declan Burke at last night's Noir at the Bar reading.

October 09, 2008  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I made it through to the end of the Coen Brothers overrated 'Fargo', but the accents seemed far too exaggerated, and, given the Coens nature, I suspect they were given something of a put on.

In contrast, I love M.Emmett Walsh's accent in 'Blood Simple'; in fact his performance, and character is the movie, for me.


as for the question about Jon Voight's accent in 'The General', I'm sure I thought he got it spot on, at least an identifiable Irish accent, although I wouldn't be sure of the particular cop

August 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I liked Fargo better than I did some of the Coen brothers' other overrated movies, but the accents didn't bother me. But you may be onto something a reader of the blog who comes from Minnesota said he, too, found the accents overdone.

In re Voight, the problem with accents, as I speculated in the post, is that they're too spot on, and - obtrusively accurate.

August 24, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I don't recall Voight's accent as being obtrusive; perhaps it might have been his character, but I seem to recall thinking he got the character spot on, so I wouldn't have noticed him after the initial assessment of his accent.

I've just noticed a 5 movie Paul Newman box-set, including the two Harper adaptations, available from Amazon at £10.99, plus p&p
(they include various commentaries and other extras).
From the comments I've read on 'Harper', though, it would appear that film might have had an inappropriate lightness of tone

August 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Were any of those comments you read on this blog? I made a couple of posts about Harper. One of them discussed at some length not so much an inappropriate lightness of tone as some embarrassingly dated touches of Sixties weirdness. Unlike with Modestly Blaise, though, these did not constitute the totality of the movie and thus did not ruin it.

That same post discusses some Chandler connections, both through Ross Macdonald's early debt to Chandler, and some casting parallels with the Howard Hawks version of The Big Sleep.

August 24, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just watched it; I fought my way past those accents, all the way to the end, although its far from a great film.

There was probably too much Paul Newman and not enough Harper, although I'm not much of a Newman fan, anyhow; for the most part I think the director got the tone right, and the whole 'messed up family schtick'

I wonder how much of Walter Hill, and how much of Ross Macdonald is in the final film, though?

I enjoyed Murray Hamilton's over-the-top performance, although I think Rip Torn would have been a better fit.
Nice cast, though Joanne Woodward's character was underwritten
And Melanie Griffiths just wasn't a good enough actor for her role.


I spotted the strains of 'Killing Me Softly' in the soundtrack, but I thought the composer might have ripped off some of the phrases, as the song was never played, straight

August 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Did you say you had read the novel on which the movie was based? I think I heard some time later that the moviemakers had transferred the location to Louisiana, so the accents were unnecessary.

Walter Hill -- I liked The Warriors and The Driver but blamed Hill, perhaps unfairly, for the weird ending grafted onto The Getaway (1972). And I agree with you on Melanie Griffith.

August 24, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

No, I haven't read the source novel.

I think you should blame Steve McQueen for that 'Getaway' ending: I think that was the conclusion I drew from Polito's Jim Thompson biog.
'Southern Comfort' is another decent Hill movie, although '48 Hours' hasn't endured; 'The Long Riders' is an enjoyable enough Western, as is 'Streets of Fire'

Ry Cooder did some great soundtracks for him

August 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember reading up on Steve McQueen's role in the change after I saw The Getaway, but I still thought of Walter Hill as a willing servant of the dark side.

Robert Polito -- another scheduled guest at Philadelphia's own Noir Con in November.

August 25, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

If you haven't read that biog., yet, no doubt you will have swotted up on it, in time for the convention.

I don't think Walter Hill has made a decent movie in over 20 years

August 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I talked a bit with Polito at the previous Noir Con two years ago. A pleasant chap, he was, but then, most people are at these affairs, because they're there to talk about what they like, and they know what they're talking about. I don't remember the subject of Polito's talk, possible because it was at some ungodly hour of the morning.

August 25, 2010  

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