Date: Tue, 2 Aug 1994 12:47:00 EDT
From: "David A. Johns" DJOHNS[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UFPINE.BITNET
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?