Date: Tue, 2 Aug 1994 12:47:00 EDT


Subject: Forrest Gump

Mike Picone said:

# Also, whoever coached Tom Hanks seemed to be using a composite

# speech model that included the dropping of post-vocalic /r/ in a

# way that is upper-crust and is not characteristic of rural

# Alabama. And his vowel qualities usually strayed from what one

# would expect to hear coming from an Alabamian. Since he's

# supposed to be `slow', some of this, I suppose, may be an attempt

# at creating an idiolect, but it seems more likely to me that,

# once more, it is that Yankee audience that is in mind and must be

# served up something that resembles their stereotyped perceptions

# of Southern speech.

Could it be that getting an accent right is just too difficult to

expect an actor to be able to do?

I was thinking about this last week as I watched Martin Sheen make a

fool of himself trying to put on an old-fashioned, upper class

southern accent to play Robert E. Lee in _Gettysburg_. At first I was

just annoyed by the exaggeration of a few characteristics of the

target accent -- sharp falling tone contours on stressed syllables,

stressed auxiliaries (and no contractions), rising clause-final

intonations, etc. -- but then I started wondering about how Sheen

would actually learn to do it right. Wouldn't he have to have a native

speaker on hand to model every single line? And wouldn't that native

speaker have to be a pretty good actor himself in order to get the

phrasing right for the required context?

I think it's worth pointing out too that Hollywood butchers more than

just southern accents. In _Gettysburg_ Sheen's accent sparkled in

comparison to the pitiful attempts at Maine accents by "Joshua

Chamberlain" and his soldiers, and surely we can't forget the horrible

parody of a Boston accent by "Charles Emerson Winchester III" on

_M*A*S*H_ (David Ogden Stiers is actually from Peoria, I believe), or

John Hillerman's ("Higgins") rendition of RP on _Magnum PI_.

I agree that poorly done accents are irritating, but what's the

solution? Surely we can't restrict roles to actors who are native

speakers of the characters' accents -- can we?

David Johns

Waycross College

Waycross, Georgia