Standards Slipping and Sliding

I’ve written before about the inability of modern actors to enunciate their words when speaking quickly, or even slowly, especially in comparison to greats such as Humphrey Bogart. Yesterday someone posted this Two Ronnies sketch on Twitter:

It’s nothing short of incredible that these two remembered their lines, let alone delivered them clearly without getting tongue-tied while acting at the same time. Now I’m sure it took many takes and the footage is spliced but still, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary actor or comedian managing just twenty seconds of this.

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23 thoughts on “Standards Slipping and Sliding

  1. Hollywod is the worst offender……. trying to work out what is being said through the general mumbling, slurring and word swallowing is something I increasingly feel is not worth the bother.

    With the average film audience now being teenage Chinese, maybe it doesn’t matter whether anything said in English can be understood.

  2. Hollywod is the worst offender……. trying to work out what is being said through the general mumbling, slurring and word swallowing is something I increasingly feel is not worth the bother.

    Whilst be drowned out by effects music..

  3. I read somewhere that Hollywood is effectively reverting to the silent era, in that it designs its films such that a peasant watching in rural China can pretty much understand whats going on even if he or she can’t read the subtitles (if any). So the dialogue is getting simpler and simpler, and the context more given by the physical movement of the actors than their words.

  4. “Hollywod is the worst offender……. trying to work out what is being said through the general mumbling, slurring and word swallowing is something I increasingly feel is not worth the bother.

    Whilst be drowned out by effects music..”

    What you just heard was a profound sigh of relief. I was under the impression it was me going deaf.

  5. Jim; it makes dubbing easier and cheaper as well, so any film has a potentially larger market extending to those countries that don’t speak English, so France, Germany, China, and Australia.

  6. And let’s not forget that the post-Weinstein era we now know that actresses were not hired for their acting ability (well in one area they were). I guess that the male actors had to do something similar to get their big break also.

    So at no stage were hollywood hiring the best talent. They wanted men and women who would jump the queue by compromising themselves and then toe the progressive party line once famous.

  7. A trip to Epstein Island no-doubt resulted in many deals being done and stars being born.

    I have noticed that often the dialogue is quiet and hard to to hear, so up goes the volume, only for my eardrums to take a battering each time the action begins. Some films are worse than others. I can see no reason for this and it is surely just poor sound mixing.

    As for the matter of enunciation, I would say that the change originates probably with Marlon Brando and what was a newfound need for a more ‘natural’ delivery.

  8. I suspect on Epstein island they were especially precautious to ensure no stars were born.

  9. With all the recent Moon landing stuff on telly it was good to see and hear some vintage Patrick Moore. He could speak quickly while talking sense with no time to construct his sentences. No fill in aahs, umms, eehrs, etc. His eyebrow had a life of its own.
    A wonderful man, knew his stuff and educated us without use of auto-cue.

  10. Kids these days are inarticulate too. Every sentence has the word ‘like’ in it 17 times. Bah humbug!

  11. Sometimes I get the feeling that what we’re seeing here is the rise of a new artistic convention, rather than simply actors who can’t act.

    For example, a movie will have a scene where Bob betrays Alice (the main character) for her own good. The director will not have Bob and Alice argue; Bob will not explain his motives, or try to convince Alice. She will not rebuke him, or try to convince him. Instead, we will get a close-up of Alice, registering her shock; Bob will utter a half-sentence (“it’s too dangerous”) whose only purpose is to indicate to the audience the nature of the dispute, without actually showing a real dispute; Alice will retort with a snide rejoinder (“I thought you were my friend”), and the music will indicate that this is a dramatic moment.

    I’m guessing it’s how the stylized gestures of things like Japanese Kabuki theater arose. We’ve seen scenes like this (“It’s for your own good”) so many times, the director only feels the need to sketch it out. And of course, we are all expecting the reconciliation scene, where Bob makes amends with half a sentence, and Alice accepts his change of heart with a nod, making no mention of the half-hour of tribulations the original betrayal caused.

  12. If we’re turning this into a general rant about how people speak, then I’ll add people who use vocal fry or who speak with a high rising terminal.

    There’s someone who sits a few desks away from me at work who speaks with both and it’s really quite uncomfortable to listen to.

  13. I watch mostly on a streaming service and frequently have to switch on sub-titles and replay scenes because dialogue is indistinct. Sometimes I just leave sub-titles on.

    It is something I have noticed over about ten years with US shows, but a few UK shows also suffer. Hard to say whether it is actors not speaking distinctly or technical issues with sound.

  14. The same effect is noticeable in music, too. How many times have you had to look up the lyrics of a modern song, just to find out what they are singing about?

  15. Hard to say whether it is actors not speaking distinctly or technical issues with sound.

    It’s almost always technical issues. Nearly all media audio tracks are mixed for 5.1 (or greater) surround sound audio separation. The extra speakers beyond stereo left and right are intended for spatial/foley audio, they’re smaller, and intended to go behind you. Very, very few people actually have a proper 5.1+ system; the ones that do generally don’t have it configured properly. So they’re listening to 5.1+ channels of audio mixed down to 2.0 stereo left and right, but the volume on the satellite speakers and subwoofers isn’t adjusted downwards. So the SFX and score will often overpower the vocal tracks.

  16. I am ever impressed by the ability of American directors to get an acceptable performance out of even the most untalented actors. In the pre-streaming era I would sit up till three a.m. to watch the utterly delicious Miss Radha Mitchell. In Thick as Thieves she mangled her scene so badly that they had to cut it from a two-minute sequence down to about forty seconds.

    On the stage, aspiring actors are told that only two things are necessary. Know your lines and say them so that they can be heard.

    Our amdram had a very successful run with a play called They Never Noticed a Thing, about all the shit that happens on- and backstage, including flats falling down in the middle of a scene and props that aren’t on stage so that a stagehand’s arm briefly appears in the wings bearing the missing item. (I wonder where the playwright got his ideas from, Michael van der Riet, I wonder.) Only the actors know that there is a mistake. If they carry on without skipping a beat, the audience never notices a thing.

  17. I am ever impressed by the ability of American directors to get an acceptable performance out of even the most untalented actors

    A massive great pile of genre TV (fantasy/SF) is filmed in Canada for the US market because it’s cheap to do so; one side effect of this is that the actors available to such productions are those who lacked the talent or the money for a bus ticket to Los Angeles.

    Nonetheless, the 2003 Battlestar Galactica reboot pulled phenomenal preformances out of some truly mediocre actors; another side effect of Canada having a population less than California is that there’s only a small number of professional actors country-wide and so they show up in everything. I honestly can’t reconcile the performances of some of these people in the 2003 BSG and the glassy-eyed, reading-the-cue-cards performances they’ve turned out since.

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