Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just begging for some British accents

As I was watching Red Riding Hood this weekend -- not at the drive-in, as originally planned, but in a dumpy theater in Marina del Rey -- I became acutely aware of the need for fake British accents in films set at some point in the nebulous past.

Without them, you are even more aware of the fact that people are just parading around in costumes.

We tend to tease movies set in times of antiquity for their reliance on generic British accents, even when the action is not set anywhere near England or its colonies. As an extreme example of that, I laughed at the fake British accents in 10,000 B.C. -- not only was there no English language at the time, but there was probably no language, period. We tend to think of those people as communicating via pre-linguistic grunts. Then again, we also tend not to think of them as fighting with woolly mammoths, so that was not the film's only problem.

But the alternative is not usually what Mel Gibson did in The Passion of the Christ or Apocalypto, where the language genuinely spoken by the characters was the language used. Sometimes the alternative is to speak with an accent appropriate to whatever region of the world it is, but that can be really hokey if the actors can't pull it off. (And tends to seem racist if the action is set in Asia, for example.) The more common alternative is to just strip away all artifice and let the actors speak in their own regular voices.

Which is what Catherine Hardwicke decided to do in Red Riding Hood. Many of the actors in this movie are Americans -- notably excepting Julie Christie -- and they talk like Americans. Like modern-day Americans. This leads to a number of problems, not the least of which is that it reminds everyone that this is frivolous teen fare -- not unlike Hardwicke's own Twilight.

Surely, part of why most things in Red Riding Hood seem frivolous has to do with Hardwicke's direction. I'm not usually one to single out the directing in a film, such that I say a film was "badly directed" --- that may certainly be the case, but I tend to blame the director for the overall failure, not for "directing badly," per se. But this film was the exception, where I watched the stultifying acting and thought "This movie is badly directed."

But part of it has to do with those American accents for sure. They seem anachronistic, because they remind us that there was no country called the United States when the events of Red Riding Hood would have transpired. England, on the other hand, has been around since -- well, since 10,000 B.C., it would seem. So British accents never seem anachronistic, even in a movie about cavemen. Sure, they're ridiculous if you think about it -- but most people who watched 10,000 B.C. did not think about it, and the accents just sounded right.

American accents do not sound right in a movie like Red Riding Hood. Surely, with higher caliber actors and a better director, they'd sound more right. But they are ultimately hamstrung by how modern they sound. Which just leads a person like me, who watched the movie for some good art direction and possibly a creepy wolf-on-girl sexual encounter, to think all the more about a teen-oriented contraption like Twilight.

I don't have anything more to say on the subject, but I thought I'd leave you with a little personal anecdote from the experience of seeing Red Riding Hood. You may remember that back in January, I lost my wallet at an illegal double feature of The Green Hornet and Blue Valentine -- illegal in the sense that I paid for the first and snuck in to the second. (How could you not remember it, I keep making reference to it.) My wallet was ultimately found by the janitorial staff and turned in to their lost and found.

Well, this past Sunday I got to return the favor. As I was walking in to the bathroom to relieve myself before the movie started, I saw a wallet sitting on top of one of the urinals. You men will be familiar with the spot -- it's that area atop the flushing mechanism, where you sometimes rest things when you don't have any available pocket space, and you need your hands free to do your business. I was immediate struck by the appropriateness of finding this wallet, scooped it up, and brought it to one of the ushers.

It gives me an intense feeling of satisfaction any time I find a lost item, because I know I'll do right by it. I know that if I lost something, I'd want me to find. I love being the link in the chain that helps this person get their property back, that helps put a little spring in their step that day. Because if you've lost something important and then found it again, you know that the feeling is so good, you're happier than if you'd never lost it in the first place. Which can most certainly be a life-affirming sensation.

However, when I posted about it on Facebook, someone did make a comment that got me thinking, and I'm curious about your opinion. In this scenario, would you have turned it in to the theater staff, or tried to reach the wallet's owner directly? My commenter suggested that the person might have gotten the wallet back faster if I'd done the latter. I momentarily wondered about that, and realized that it's true -- either the theater staff could botch the return of the wallet, or the person who lost it might not realize that the theater was where they lost it. And even if there was no way for me to call the person, I'd have their address on their driver's license, and could probably find them on Facebook to send them a message.

But I ultimately decided that the course of action I took was the correct one. I thought the most likely outcome would be that the person would realize they'd lost the wallet before they even left the theater, and would know they had it coming in, because they used it to pay for their tickets. They'd go straight to the lost and found and would get it straight back. And I'd save them at least an hour or two of panicked retracing of their steps, before they'd have a chance to check Facebook for their message from me.

What would you have done?


Nicholas Prigge said...

I'd turn it into the theater! Immediately! My God, have you seen "Uncertainty"? Do you know what would have happened if you'd tried to get the wallet back to the owner yourself? It would have belonged to mobsters and they would have come after you. No good, man.

Vancetastic said...

Glad to hear it. And no, I haven't seen Uncertainty, but I want to now ...

Vancetastic said...

Nicholas, I'm not sure if you are receiving email notifications of additional comments on this post, but I just saw Uncertainty and am curious what you thought of it. I guess I felt a little unsatisfied by the ending, except that the film prepares you for the ending in the title itself. Even though we, the viewer, want some certainty in the conclusion of a film, how can we ask for it when we so rarely get it in life?

I also have a theory that the two separate stories shown in the film are not entirely random. My idea is one of the following:

1) The two stories are different based on the outcome of a pregnancy test. In Green, she's pregnant, which is why everything that happens is much more safe and domesticated, almost boring. It's necessary to protect the baby. In Yellow, however, they're willing to risk things like extortion because they don't have this additional responsibility to a child.

2) The Yellow story is actually a metaphor for the Green story, which is what's actually happening. The uncertainty (there's that word again) of their decision over whether to have the baby feels stressful and panic-inducing -- much like the decision to extort money from gangsters. The Yellow story is therefore a portrayal of the inner panic of their minds as they wrestle with this very tough decision.