I agree with Irene's observation. One of my major 'irks' about this production was how unsuitable for radio it seems - like it was rushed to production and the writers weren't happy with it, either. I think it could be salvaged if the narration was massaged a bit (just the narrator's dialogue - I'm not even going to go into the narrator's tortured Brooklyn accent. It's like fingernails scratching across a chalkboard it's so totally out of place), and more time were given to the development of the characters (more time introducing them), so that their performances 'pop' and add more color and texture. I've listened to it twice now and I'm still going, "Which cousin just spoke? Who was that? Oh, who cares....just put Elmer on. I can understand him!" Undine's (Rebecca?) accent is just all over the place! I didn't want to rain on everyone's parade, but I admit now that I stopped paying attention to the damned thing after the first 5min! ("Oh, God! Just get to Elmer!" then, "Oh GOD! How's Elmer going to sound?! Poor Tom! Hope he had a good coach! Crap!!" biting one of my fingernails).
This whole play, for me, feels too much like it did when I finally saw Cambridge Spies: The level of contribution Tom's performance is making is basically carrying this whole production. Like Irene said, it's his subtlety. That's what is sealing the deal for me. Just as Spies could have been so much better, had it been brought up to Tom's level of precision and subtlety, so too, I think this play could really be something had it had more work in the writing to adapt it to radio more solidly and had all the characters been brought up to Tom's level of delivery. Tom's done so many other radio plays that didn't lose my attention, where all the characters were better developed and he didn't stick out like a sore thumb.
My other major 'irk' is everyone's accent in general, but Tom's. Not every person from this fictional Midwestern/Western town of Apex, Kansas, should have such a strong Southern accent, (They all sound like they're trying out for Gone With the Wind at their high school play!), especially not if they were worried about "fitting in" with NY society in the late 19th century. The strong Southern American accent wasn't as far north as Kansas then, and still isn't concentrated there.
Tom is the ONLY reason I am listening to this play, and will be the only reason I listen to it again - his accent and performance are that good! Tom's is the only truly Midwestern accent going in this thing - he sounds like many of my family members and friends here in Michigan and southern Ohio today and in generations past. He's absolutely perfect and he's doing it so well he's giving me shivers up and down my spine! It's all in the cadence and he's nailing it. There were only two mistakes he made, where I remember my little antennae pricking up and saying "Huh?" because he'd held onto a vowel too long or something, but other than that he's doing it wonderfully, with a poise, subtlety and cadence that all the others are lacking.
P.S. You know who else does a fan-freaking-tastic American accent? Tilda Swinton! Like a native! Wow!
Last Edit: Jul 7, 2018 10:37:44 GMT -5 by sobriquet
Shh! The walls have ears...and they would prefer that we whisper...
Post by trickypixie on Jan 6, 2010 17:52:43 GMT -5
I suppose you can make that argument, but subtly playing an unsubtle man seems somewhat counterintuitive from an actor's standpoint. But I do know what you mean. CS is my favorite of his work by far. And I'm sort of in love with Guy. In fact the only other character of his that makes me feel nearly as warm and fuzzy is John Ruskin. The two men who would never want me in a million years! Ah well, maybe wanting what I can never have is part of the attraction for me, hmm?
Also, you didn't even like Samuel West? I thought he was great as well.
...but subtly playing an unsubtle man seems somewhat counterintuitive from an actor's standpoint.
Well, that's why Tom Hollander is The Man, The Mac Daddy of all screen and stage - my personal gold standard that I now hold all actors to. Tom, for me, is a living, breathing primer of theatrecraft and thespian technique. By that I do not imply that he is rote, rudimentary or elementarily obvious. Never, never, never! (He has truly mastered the art of never letting anyone SEE him acting). Rather, I mean that he delivers performances of purest selflessness and highest art... and he does it in every project he takes on. He never 'phones it in' even on the tiniest roles. And that's true class and a level of professionalism I aspire to in my life.
Through Tom, an entire universe (theatre, acting) has been opened to me in the last few months that I never had the ability to view from this perspective before. Through Tom, the real person, I have a baseline against which I am now learning and developing my insight into his skills, which functions as a perfect lens of insight into other actors' skills, thus enabling me to learn the skills, the pedagogy and the language/lexicon of the craft for myself.
One man's body of work has brought us all here to Hollanderia, so by default that means we all have very good taste, and I love being able to share my observations and reactions to what I learn and/or perceive from Tom's performances and productions here with his fellow admirers. That said, and conscientious of the subjective nature of art, I did not like Sam West's performance in Spies. I found him wooden and one-dimensional, (he always seemed, to me, to be in the same "mood"), and not at all as deeply sinister as the real Anthony Blunt. I preferred Toby Stevens' performance over Sam's, and for me, that came in a distant second to Tom's in Spies. Perhaps I just do not like Sam West, because it didn't even register with me that he was in Desperate Romantics until I saw the credits. Some people don't like to eat tomatoes... some people love broccoli.
Shh! The walls have ears...and they would prefer that we whisper...
Post by beckettologist on Jan 6, 2010 22:57:41 GMT -5
This is certainly interesting and fun... I guess if a native midwesterner says Tom is nailing it (so to speak) then maybe I am wrong.
I figured out what it is about Tom doing American accents that bugs me. Again, hard to explain properly but today I was thinking about it and it is that when he speaks that way it is like he is possessed or *speaking in tongues*. Makes me want to chase away the evil spirit that seems to have gotten inside his vocal chords. Not that American accents are evil—believe me I am proud to be one—but I guess I take it as a corruption of his own beautiful voice. That *dark, powerful river* should not be dammed up.
As for others who do well with it, I would like to say (and I NEVER thought I would say this) that Joseph Fiennes seems to have improved vastly. When we were watching Flash Forward I kept forgetting that he is not American. Personally I don't think he is that great of an actor but he pulled it off in that show. Jack Davenport is another one that can do it on occasion but not consistently. Listen to me...like I am some sort of linguistic expert! Haha. I guess it all boils down to the fact that we each hear things differently too.
Lastly, I have to disagree with the assessment of Cambridge Spies. I thought they were all excellent in it. My problem is following the plot but not for any other reason than I have a hard time with stories about spies. I get lost as to who is who and who is a bad and who is good. For those of you that do not know it, Tom has expressed that that is one of his favorite roles that he has played. The other is Lawless Heart. One day I will watch CS again and REALLY pay attention to the actual plot.
Post by trickypixie on Jan 6, 2010 23:38:04 GMT -5
I grew up in Colorado, but some of my family is from Missouri, so my accent is definitely a hybrid. I'm not too familiar with Ohio and Michigan variations, so kudos to him if he's doing it correctly (though I still argue the rhythm and cadence seem ever so slightly off).
I've been acting for twelve years now, and studied it in school. If nothing else, I've learned that there are many paths to a brilliant performance and every actor has their own technique (or "method," though I hesitate to use the word because it can carry such a stigma in the theatre world!). For me, subtly playing a character with an over the top personality doesn't make any sense (as in, I couldn't approach it that way), but hey, some people act like tomatoes, and some act like broccoli.
Tom is one of my favorite actors, because he reliably turns a great performance each time. And I love that he can be broadly comic, subtly sweet, deceptive and villainous, and all and everything in between. Talk about range, huh? That's what I aspire to be. Sarah, we obviously agree on this! And it sounds like you've really caught the bug! I hope you break many a leg.
Speaking of Toby Stevens (who I wasn't a fan of in CS), I think Tom's Philby in The Company blew Toby's version out of the water a la the style of Cutler Beckett's death scene. Have you guys seen The Company? Chris O'Donnell is a pain in the butt but Michael Keaton was amazing. Tom's stutter is beyond adorable, too.
Deb, I noticed in the ads for Flash Forward that Joseph Fiennes had an excellent accent and was quite shocked. He must have got himself a good coach.
P.S. Can I just say how nice it is to have a lively conversation with such an intelligent bunch of people!? I feel like we're at an awesome dinner party right now. I think I need a glass of wine...
I've dated a couple British guys and worked with and for many others... don't let the accent fool you, girlfriend. Some of them are just as completely stupid as some of the Americans with a Southern accent.
I presume with this play though, we are ment to focus predominantly on the story, and the accents just need to be good enough not to jar and distract. Even to me, most of them didn't sound right, but I suppose they have limited time with dialogue coaches, and other work to get to, and it wasn't quite a case of oh no, it's Dick Van d**e in Mary Poppins all over again! lol
Now I'm laughing! Even as an American --I know that's a reeeeally bad accent. (Oh, by the way, sorry about those asterisk in his name: I think that's the site doing that-- kind of surprising when it pops up, isn't it??!)
I am so, so happy to read all this great commentary on this performance. I don't know where to start! So I'll start with Ange's good comments..
First of all, I think you make some great points here about the realities of radio drama -- time being a big one. Skill, experience -- serves very well in this kind of setting, I'm going to guess, so if you're casting, you want someone you can count on to hit the ground running. Lorelei King is a veteran of radio drama, and though her way of speaking grates on me, personally -- I don't doubt her experience, and why they'd phone her up first.... she seems to have made a speciality of glib-sounding American women, or maybe that's all I've heard her do. Some of the others are veterans -- of radio -- too. Tom might even be the relative newcomer, compared to say, Jonathan Keeble or Mabel Lipscombe. His skill stands him in good stead -- though I've heard him "do American" better -- or more naturally -- than this. He's not quite sure where Apex is, how far south...and how far west, but overall, it's okay.
Anyhow, production timelines could have been a serious concern, and can explain the varying skill with regional niceties. I can understand that completely, if the audience is the entire point...and in reality, perhaps there is some kind of "acceptable" rate for accents your audience (not a US audience) is not likely to quibble over. Fair enough. That's what you were getting at when you wrote, "we are ment to focus predominantly on the story, and the accents just need to be good enough not to jar and distract", seems like. Again, fair enough -- and good enough...for a topical comedy... or a sitcom, or a single American character in a Patricia Highsmith mystery.. but not here. Here, it matters.
Wharton was acutely sensible of the subtleties of behavior and "background" (spelled C-L-A-S-S) in the world of New York society...and part of her point with Undine, I believe, was to show what extremes she could go to, EVEN IN THAT WORLD -- due to the combination of her youth, her artlessness, the fact that her appearance was new and fashionable for the moment.
Her accent WAS different from theirs -- not wildly, but significantly. It is necessary that it be accurately done in order to establish who she was, and was NOT, in "society". The point wasn't her not-right "accent": Wharton notes that it was possible to overlook that, for all kinds of hypocritical reasons, but mostly because they wanted to. She was the fashion that season, so despite that she is actually a pretty terrible person -- she was "let in".
The "old money" people (like Ralph's family) saw right through her, and though they were careful not to engage with her, (or her pretty honest, straightforward parents), they didn't let it show -- which just let her climb higher and higher.
She's like some kind of awful Paris Hilton: how did this person get so famous??!
The fact that she *sounds* so different from the fashionable set - not just in accent, but in the things she says and the way she says them -- is key, particularly because in an AURAL version of this story, it's so obvious. What we know about her is conveyed by her petulant, flat whine -- played off of her parents' more rural, earthy, geographically-specific way of speaking. They are small-town, home-grown and okay with it: she is false and ashamed of them and her background- her yappy hybrid way of speaking shows it.
The Old Money people seem understated, secure and cultured, but their offspring are nervous and uncertain, and talk in a snappy patois "borrowed" approximately from drawing room comedy: smashing! And it's not just geography: Apex may be an unspecific mid-sized stock town, but "sophisticated" New York has its celebrity-watching lower class to promote the status quo, too: here's Mrs. Hinney. With her clippings, she would fit right in today, squealing and waving a pen in the background of every red carpet-arrival-video on youtube. Her accent shows that celebrity-worship isn't limited to small towns.
The correct accents stand in for very important subtleties -- they show the tension over identity: what is going to be the custom in a new country? The younger generation is embarrassed by country customs -- and the older ones can hardly keep up.
It was an ambitious project -- but I can well imagine the director saying to her cast, over and over, about the various American accents: get it right, folks: blow it and this is NOT going to work. It's a tightrope walk..... still thinking on the whole thing.
Irene, yes, by all means, the Apex characters needed to have different accents from the native New Yorkers, and even within the Apexers there had to be distinction. (I hope I didn't lead anyone off the scent by my observations and criticisms which were strictly about diction). Which, thank you thank you, Irene, for your comments about using the accents to distinguish class, you are so much better than I at clarifying things, but you touched on something that just set off a spark and brought me to another observation that I would like to posit to everyone... are you ready??
I think they bombed on ALL the accents! Even Tom's! But when I tell you why his still works it will make sense. (Gasp!!! "Holy crap!" "Yaaaaah!!" "Hisssss!" "Make up your mind!" I hear you all shouting).
I fear that perhaps it really is what Ange said, that they thought it was only necessary "...to not jar and distract..." I say 'fear' because I really did not want to admit that they blew it so completely. As Irene said, it matters... and boy did it really matter to our ears. (I'm such a Pollyanna that way, though, giving them the benefit of the doubt for too long). However, as per Irene's great explanation of the importance of class/alliances/ulterior motives in the storyline, I believe now that what happened was that the cast and crew were so focused on - and unfortunately too good at - stratifying and delineating just the 5 different "classes" of accents at work in the play, (very much the way it is used in Gosford Park, even though we had the luxury of visual aids in that production), that it's safe to say they focused too much on simply homogenizing those accents within the 5 "classes" rather than work on the correct delivery of each of them individually.
As Ange suggested, that would be all that is necessary, for a foreign-speaking ear. I think it really IS our American ears that are getting shortcircuited and irritated by the nuances! I do! All the different reactions to and impressions of them that we are having here this week is really indicative of how important they were/are to the story! (I'm not shouting, I'm just exclamating out of excitedness/giddiness!) And yes, I'm sure the director was telling all of them that they really had to "nail it or forget about it" but failed to drive it home that it had to be nailed at the individual level. Linguisitcally, they're "nailing it" at the macro level, (homogenizing the accents within the 5 groups), not the micro, failing to get it right at the individual character level.
When I listened to it, this is how "saw" the fabric that these people are weaving: the 5 distinct strata/classes of the characters and their corresponding accents that they do achieve:
1. Apex high/"wannabe" = Undine 2. Apex low-to-middle = Undine's parents 3. New York high/Society = Ralph, Van Degan, et al 4. New York low-to-middle = Mrs. Heeny 5. Apex outsider/dangerous/wildcard = Elmer Moffatt
Using my outline, if you listen to it again, Tom's accent is completely different from every single one of the other characters' and especially the other Apexers. I think this might be in indicator that what they were trying to do was highlight just how different from the entire ensemble Elmer Moffatt's "outside of the rules" character is. Again, since they only cared about delivering the accents at the macro level, they goofed the production for us over on this side of the Pond.
So why do I say Tom's accent still works? (I'm grinning from ear to ear as I type this!) It's just sheer dumb luck and coincidence that Tom actually also does the accent so well that he sounds almost native... almost. It gets passed our American ears, and they were already trying so hard to distinguish it from the others, that it just works! They may have been trying to do a Missouri accent for Tom, so that might be why Sara and I didn't mind it as much as the others. And while he is stiff with some of those things I mentioned, one can still tell that in typical Tom-fashion he's being absolutely, mechanically correct, like the good little musician he is! ;D
Oh, just so everybody understands, not everyone in Ohio and Michigan sounds that way, though - just my class of people, us lower-to-middle class folk from the farmlands and the woodlands. At university and at work I have to use my "I mean business" voice/speech to camouflage it for the snobbish people, and then when I have to use my "You are in serious trouble, now!" voice at work, I fall back into my farm country, wooly-woodswoman voice that sounds a lot like Elmer's.
P.S. Sara, I can't wait to see The Company! I love your analogy! (blowing Beckett and his boat out of the water). I saw a tiny snippet of a clip of Tom's Kim Philby and that was exactly my reaction. All I did was keep shaking m head saying, "Ohhhh, Toby. Poor, poor Toby." I had it reserved at the library because it wasn't at the video rental, but I got sick and lost my reservation. Gotta start over.
P.P.S. Irene and Ange - Yes! Dick Van Dyke's accent brings back such embarrassing memories for us Americans!! I was a little kid, and even then I thought, "What the heck is THAT?! He doesn't sound anything like he should! Is that supposed to be Cockney?!"
Shh! The walls have ears...and they would prefer that we whisper...
Post by greeneyedgirl on Jan 7, 2010 8:16:28 GMT -5
Excellent thread. What an intelligent and erudite group of women you are.
P.P.S. Irene and Ange - Yes! Dick Van d**e's accent brings back such embarrassing memories for us Americans!! I was a little kid, and even then I thought, "What the heck is THAT?! He doesn't sound anything like he should! Is that supposed to be Cockney?!"
I have watched the film many times(it's always on at Christmas), and his accent is so awful, it's actually good in that it just adds another layer of comedy to a fabulously entertaining film, and now, it would be hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
As to the subject in hand, it's so good to have informed comment on the accents, and to those of you from any of the geographical areas covered in this play, you will know all the subtleties and nuances intimately, but even for me, who has no particular knowlege of regional American accents, it was clear that all was not well....but, are we being too picky?
I know we all expect a lot from the BBC, and quite rightly, but unless you have an extremely good ear, it's very hard just to slip into another accent flawlessly. Even getting British regional, let alone any from another country, must a nightmare of epic proportions. Some people seem to have the knack though, and Tom is right up there, presumably because he is also musical which I find helps enormously in picking things up, especially if you are used to playing by ear. Needless to say, I will be paying a great deal more attention to the next episode.
On a slight tangent, I find that the voice of a potential partner to be crucial. If he doesn't excite my ears, then it's a no go. A "Barry White" type is as much as a turn off as high squeaky, whiny version. Thankfully Neil is blessed with a voice that just melts you. He could read out the phone book, and I would be a quivering heap of goo! ;D Ahem.
I thought all the main performances in CS were very good. Obviously Tom was a stand-out...when isn't he? but that tends to be Sam West's style, understated and subtle, quite still performances. I suppose styles are all subjective, and that may well not work too well for some viewers.
I noticed when reading your introductions yesterday, that for so many of you(me included), Tom kind of crept up on you, and that I think is because his performances are so subtle. In the ITL interview section the dvd, he says he is essentially himself within the context of the role, with a few provisos. That is his genius.
His stage performances must be a sight to behold, and I am very envious of those of you who have been fortunate enough to see one or more.
Post by trickypixie on Jan 7, 2010 13:34:53 GMT -5
Ange, in regards to the importance of a good voice in a partner (or potential crush-object ), I agree wholeheartedly. That's one of the reasons I love Hugo Weaving so much as well. I remember when I first started dating my boyfriend, I was home for Christmas and he called me on the phone. My mom and I were in the car and I guess she could just hear his voice through my cell phone, because when I hung up she was all shivers and said, "I love your new boyfriend's voice! So quietly commanding." I still tease her about it, but she was right. And here's the real kicker: guess what his name is? NEIL! Must be something about them!
desperateromantic: Hello everybody from Lima, Perú! I have seen most of the films Tom has been in, but watching REV, my heart melted completely to his huge talent and sex appeal..... He is so lovely!!!! I wish he may have a real happy birhtday....!!!!
Aug 25, 2015 0:18:55 GMT -5
beckettologist: Hello! Better late than never. Thanks for the shout out!
Jan 1, 2016 20:37:24 GMT -5