Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Issue of Movie Accents

From Film School Rejects:
English language films tend to do something films from other parts of the world rarely ever do, and that is use accented English as a stand-in for a non-English language. You don’t, for example, see Germans making films where everyone is walking around New York City speaking American-accented German. (Sounds ridiculous, right?) We frequently even take it one step further, and just sort of sub in British-English accents for anywhere European, especially in films dealing with the upper echelons of society. It doesn’t matter if it’s the court of Louis XVI of France or Alexander II of Russia — it’s the Queen’s English for everybody. There’s a particularly delicious irony one feels watching a featurette for some Paris-set period piece in which the costume and set designers are going over the huge lengths they went to in the name of historical accuracy while the characters are all speaking in British RP.

Look, I’m not some starry-eyed idealist. I get why movies do this. American audiences, in particular, have a reputation for avoiding movies that require reading — that is, films with subtitles — like the plague. Non-English-speaking audiences are more used to dealing with subtitles or the sad joke that is most dubbing. While I can hardly even imagine the farce that is watching a film supposed to be set in your country in which the dialogue has to be dubbed into your language, I understand why it happens (even though it’s absurd).

It is perfectly valid to call out, say, Russell Crowe and/or Kevin Costner’s attempts at Englishness in their respective Robin Hood adaptations, or about 90% of all non-Irish attempts at various Irish accents (Cameron Diaz in Gangs of New York, Gerard Butler in P.S. I Love You, Tom Cruise in Far and Away, the list goes on). Once you venture into judging accents originating from non-English-speaking regions when the language being spoken by the actor is still English, the territory becomes a lot more complicated. (Read more.)

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