Monday, January 18, 2010

Accents Have to Make Sense

I have a love/hate relationship with the TV show 24. I keep giving it another chance, and it keeps letting me down. But hey, this season's in New York! So I've gotta see what that's all about.

But let me just say a word or two about accents as a dramatic choice.

I'm sure most of you have seen Schindler's List. The Nazis speak English with a German accent; the Poles speak English with a Polish accent. I remember when the movie came out, it took me some time getting used to that. I couldn't help but wonder why all of these people were speaking English with accents. But look, I get it: I mean, Spielberg wanted to get asses in seats too. So it's not like he was going to have all of the actors speaking German or Polish. He was already asking a lot of us by making us sit through a black and white movie.

Anyway, after a while, I slipped into the overall atmosphere of the film, and the accents were all a part of it. I got over my initial hangup and went with it.

In other movies or TV shows, there are characters for whom English isn't a first language. Let's take the current season of 24, a whole two episodes in. The president of an unnamed Islamic republic speaks to the US president in his accented English. But then when the foreign president speaks to his chief of staff, in this case his brother, they still speak English. I would think it might be a lot easier and, dare I say, more realistic if they spoke in their native tongue to each other.

But okay, it's TV. And let's face it: the typical viewer of 24 is lazy and meatheaded. So I get why they have the characters speak in accented English to each other. Fine. I can go with that too.

Then there are times that accents are used dramatically and it flies in the face of any sort of logic. This use of accents by writers or producers or directors or whomever makes this choice is stupid and dishonest.

Remember Die Hard? I think Die Hard is a total blast. Alan Rickman's performance of Hans Gruber as the German baddie is just terrific. Alan speaks the entire movie in a German accent. Except for one pivotal scene in which he comes face to face with Bruce Willis's John McClane. Pretending to be someone else, Hans Gruber puts on a perfect American accent. If this guy can speak English without an accent, why on earth does he have a German accent normally? It doesn't make sense, and it's a ridiculous flaw in an otherwise totally great movie.

They pulled that shit again in the first two episodes of 24. There's a bad guy speaking with a Russian accent throughout most of the first couple of hours. Then he meets up with a friend in Queens. (Queens!) And suddenly he's speaking in an American accent (with a hint of Queens even). But when he reveals himself to his "friends" as the baddie he really is, he goes back to the Russian accent. If he can speak perfectly fine English, why the fuck wouldn't he always speak perfectly fine English? It doesn't make any fucking sense! And it's stupid.

Dear Hollywood Accents Committee,
Stop being stupid.

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At 5:25 PM , Anonymous jeff said...

In Gruber's defense, he led a multinational team of thieves and so would have had a need for a common language. He actually does speak in German a couple of times throughout the film.

Speaking English WITHOUT a German accent (or using an American accent) would have required even more concentration than simply speaking a non-native language, and so he would only do it when the stakes are extremely high, as when he is confronted with McLane.

Logic restored; enjoy the film with a clear conscience.

At 7:06 PM , Blogger Carrie said...

In Stoppard's Rock'n'Roll, Czech characters speak heavily accented Czech when speaking to English speakers, but perfect English when speaking to one another. It takes a moment to figure out, and then is genius. It reveals how slow you think someone is for not having full command of the language. But then Tom Stoppard is no dipshit. Unlike the Hollywood Accent Committee action team.


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