Friday, November 25, 2011
the incoherent accents of Hugo
Saw Hugo. It's more for big kids than little ones, imho. I enjoyed it and found its retro-whimsy entertaining, but the 3D is frustrating for someone who wears prescription glasses. It has a talented cast of veteran British actors who don't get nearly enough screen time (Kingsley may get a best supporting actor nod come Oscar time). Also, I'm an unabashed Chloë Moretz fan, and she is every bit as good in this film as I expected. She is one of the best teen actors in history and she keeps getting better. She has the facial expressiveness of Brando, and I don't say that lightly. Unfortunately, the film rests on the performance of its lead, Asa Butterfield, who is, sorry to say, flat and unconvincing as the orphan genius tinkerer Hugo. Partly this is because his dialogue is awful and clunky. No one talks that way, especially not a scared orphan. He also lack the facial expressiveness of Moretz but is in constant juxtaposition with her, so he pales even the greater in comparison.
For a little linguistic aside (since this is The Lousy Linguist, not The Lousy Film Critic), the film is set in Paris, but everyone has an English accent, including the Atlanta born American actress Moretz. Rumor has it she auditioned for Scorsese with the accent and he didn't know she was American (though I find this hard to believe since she has been a well known actress for several years now).
Moretz did an acceptable job affecting the British accent, as far as I could tell, though I'm not that good at spotting phonies unless they're really bad. I did detect the occasional break, though. More to the point, why is everyone speaking with a British accent in Paris!!!
Accents in movies are a storyteller's way to set the mood, so to speak. I find it to be one of the most incoherent, yet successful, tricks in the movie biz. When Hollywood makes a movie about WW2, the Nazi's all have German accents.
But here's the linguistically incoherent part. Back then, during WW2, when Nazis spoke to each other ... they didn't have accents! Not to each others' ears. When French people speak to each other in French, they don't sound foreign to each other. They sound like native speakers. Yet, Hollywood (and other film markets too, I'm sure) has decided that "sounding foreign" sets the mood for a film set in a foreign land. Even more incoherent is when film makers think they are being more "authentic" by having actors speak in foreign accents, when, linguistically speaking, this is about as INauthentic as you can get. When native speakers of any language speak to each other, they don't sound foreign. Yet, when audiences watch films set in foreign lands, the key to making the audience feel the sense of authenticity, is to make the actors sound foreign. Cognitive dissonance anyone?
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