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Pennsylvania's Most Interesting Blog

10 Oktober 2005

Dialect coach to the STARS!

First of all, thanks to those who peruse this blog and shouts out to those who comment and keep our blog world morphing into funner and funner stuff. It sure is fun, and I thank you for your support (Bartles & Jaymes, 1985).

Today's Most Interesting Thought is one I have had for a while but a recent online interview I found prompted me to just blog it. Now, I love films. And I love language in films. I enjoy listening carefully for details. Heck, I love language in general, it is a beautiful thing. One thing I do not like much, however, is dubbing. You know what I mean, that one same male voice does Bill Cosby, Tom Cruise, Denzel and Steven Segal in that monotone German, Spanish or whatever drone. Yeesh. Subtitles are a next best thing, but do they convey the languaculture (Agar, 1995?) so uniquely portaled by an actor's voice? Am I looking at dubbing through a primarily linguistic lense? Can this get me a job?

Flash back to me seeing the movie "Flightplan" a few weeks ago, starring Ms. Jodie Foster, one of my fave actresses for like a long time. It's not that I necessarily love (or have even seen for that matter) all her movies, but she has had some seriously whopper performances and she seems selective and smart about what she does, and I think it's more that she's been in films as long as I can personally remember watching movies. Yep, I'm talking "Freaky Friday" and "Tom Sawyer" and "Napolean and Samantha" or whatever it was called with that lion that scared me, films we watched at the after school film showings at Robinswood Elementary, where they'd serve popcorn and that nasty (albeit at the time, divine) orange drink from McDonald's at intermission, and where the kids would be all "you look like Jodie Foster", probably because, let's face it, what other famous person were they going to compare my blondie tomboy in braids self with at the time? Whatever the case, it made me feel cool even though any similarities may have faded, since, with apologies to Foster, well, we can't all look like me now, can we.

Anywhoo, so seeing "Flightplan" reminded me that'd I'd seen "A Very Long Engagement" some time in the summer (called something with "fiancielle" and "dimanche" or something in the original name, please excuse my French--and the spelling). Now, as I was watching this 'le film', trying to keep track of the, well, very long 'histoire' of this tale, I noted this one side character, Madame So-et-So, and I was like, hang on? Wait a minute there, that is Jodie speaking damn fine French, what's up with that? I found it actually quite distracting, as it temporarily interrupted the 'Frenchness' of this film, to see a familiar American face, yet one making sounds that fit right in. But then I got into it and her French is freaking excellent. Which gets to the larger picture of how we construct what we think should include "Frenchness" or "Americanness" or "Germanness" or whatever. Why should it flout cinematic norms? Why does it seem so marked to me? All the applied linguists in the house are getting antsy, I feel you!

So I did some quick looking online about the film and sure enough, she had this small role and she went to a French school in L.A. or wherever and it's her second langauge and all (something I'd know nothing about how that feels) she also apparently does the French dubbing on the DVDs of her movies.

Ah HA.

Dubious, however, I test this claim by going out and renting one of her films to see if this is true. I get "Panic Room" (stellar camera work, hot damn!), listen to her 'regular' (that's what some people call English...scary, huh?) voice and then flick the audio over to French.

A dubbing revelation. It was the SAME voice albeit in French. Oh my gosh, the first dubbing I have ever seen that didn't give me heebie-jeebies. Have you ever heard dubbing in the player's own voice? It's quite the change, and I'm thinking that more actors need to be doing this. And as luck would have, it, I was reading some more stuff on "Flightplan" and I ran accross this interview (see middle part). Thank goodness I can put my accute research skills to use when I'm not doing work things. I have no idea how reliable this source is, but assuming it's somewhat accurate, I have some idea that yes, doing your own dubbing is hard work and not many do it. But there may be linguists involved. Or more importantly, people who want to create a cinematic experience with attention to the pivotal role that an actor's own voice plays. And lip movement is a big part of it; you can't replicate the script exactly cause it's just not gonna fit, so you have to play around with it and how many people get into THAT? It's not like there is a lack of multilingual actors out there. I might just have to make room for Foster on my "Top Ten People You'd Invite To Dinner" list so we can chat further about this phenomenon.

Now. Do you ever notice how there are practially no DVDs with a German audio option? This can't be purely market driven. Ever notice how Ashton Kutcher is on the rise? Are you putting two and two together like I am?

As it is, I already have too many interests (which is super neat when you're trying to write up a research agenda) but I'm thinking some work way on down the road claiming that the original voice of the actor across languages makes for better dubbing and better cinema, but that you've got to get directors to hire actors who can do this, and audiences who are clued in to appreciate it. But since I do pronunciation coaching for a pittance by default in my classes that I teach, why not think about doing it where I'd earn way more money, be way more rock star, and hang out in trailers and drink lattes while waiting for the next client to do the next scene? ("More spit, Orlando, more spit on that 'ch' sound! No, less spit, Orlando, FEEL the 'ch' sound!")

It's simply marvy to muse over.

PS: per the interview, I looked over the first few scenes of "Panic Room" again and Jodes, you look so totally preggers there, no matter how you hold that bag over your front or wear that sweater. I also think the fact that your boobs change major size over the film gives something away. Way to kick some serious booty on the bad guys though. I bet that's one tough whippersnapper now.

Gentlemen, if you like thrillers and cleavage, this is your flick. Now, is cleavage sexier in English or French? Inquiring minds what to know.