Critiquing Actor’s Accents

I came across this video on Youtube where a dialog coach has a go at critiquing some of the performances that actors have given.  He is very magnanimous by saying that usually when there is a bad performance it is because the actor has not been given enough time to study.  But we all know that just as there are movies which are made on a shoestring or which are rushed, there are also people with tin ears. But he obviously can’t say that if he wants to work.  And I imagine lobbying for more time=more payments for him.

One thing I will quibble with here is that there really is  no generalized Tennessee accent.  He would probably agree with that even though he says otherwise in the video.  Tennessee is a long state.  The accent you will hear in the eastern portion near the mountains is substantially different than what you will hear in the western end near Mississippi.  And here is something that people in other regions of the country absolutely do not appreciate about Southern accents — they vary between city and county.

I can remember being horribly embarrassed by my father’s “country” accent when I was growing up.  He had been raised in the county and I was raised in the major city situated in that county.  I grew up and came to understand how horribly bigoted my attitude was, but much of the rest of the country still doesn’t understand how flexible our accents are.  Most of us raised in the city can “talk country” when we like and thicken or leaven our accents as the case requires.

When Walton Goggins was preaching on the show Justified he demonstrated one way in which it can be done.  There is a theatrical accent that can be affected by southerners which is more sing song in nature — it rises and falls, demanding attention.  And there are lots of other ways in which we can vary our accents.  So when an outsider tries to do it they hear all of this and just spit out a mishmash where inappropriate choices are made.  But when a native like Goggins does it then it is a thing of sheer and unadulterated beauty.

As I have discussed on here before, the cast of Justified by and large did a good job with their accents.  Walton’s of course was authentic. You could tell Art was from a city in North Carolina somewhere (which I think is true of the actor) and the female DA was definitely from Texas.  Ralan’s accent, though it got better, was always a bit sketchy with elements from lots of places.  It is easier to get by with that these days though because people move around so much that they can pick up elements from everywhere they have been.

The Walking Dead cast on the other hand does an absolutely horrific job at producing anything close to an authentic accent.  I cringe every time I hear them and it put me off the show for a long, long time.  I swear to God, I had no idea where those people were supposed to be from or where the show was set when I first started watching, and none of them have really improved.  The only one who sounded right was Merle.

But at any rate, it is interesting in that this video is like what they say about newspapers.  You run upon a subject you know something about and can spot just how far off the article is from reality, then you turn the page and just have to accept the rest of it with a grain of salt.  I don’t know who this dialect coach is, or if he is any good.  I am sure he is.  But I also know that I wouldn’t characterize anything as a “Tennessee” accent when there are so many of them.  Being a dialect coach would be a very challenging profession and require a good ear like a musician, or mixing engineer so I am sure he kind of dumbed things down for a wider audience.

Now here are some Germans trying to pronounce “squirrel.”

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