Posts Tagged ‘Cold Mountain’

Let’s start by agreeing that there is no single “Southern” accent. The modern South is too big, too diverse, too mobile to share any but a very few vocal traits across the region. Native Southerners from the same town, even the same neighborhood, can sound nothing alike; NASCAR fans who’ve heard the Burton brothers speak know that even natives Southerners from the same house can sound very different (Ward jokes that his bedroom was on the southern side of the house).

Next, let’s acknowledge that Hollywood butchers accents from all over the world. The English are still outraged over Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. American actors playing Irish routinely sound like someone’s after their Lucky Charms, and I’m pretty sure that whoever does the voiceovers for Outback Steakhouse commercials isn’t really Australian.

Finally, let’s admit that some Southerners, sometimes, really do sound like that. It’s painful, but it’s true.

Nevertheless, to someone from the South, nothing is as grating as a bad Southern accent in an otherwise enjoyable movie or TV show. Some of the best actors ever have stumbled trying to affect a drawl or a twang; few, apparently, ever even bother learning exactly how they talk in the corner of the South that their characters are from.

The purpose of the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Tournament, then, is self-explanatory, but I’ll explain it anyway: to determine the worst “Southern” accent ever captured on film or tape. Our selection committee has picked 16 of the worst offenders. We have actors who sound like they’re talking with a mouthful of molasses, who sound like Scarlett O’Hara on quaaludes, who’ve opted (or tried) for a generic drawl when the character’s supposed to be from some place with a distinct local sound, like New Orleans or the Appalachians. We’ve grouped them into 4 brackets and seeded them with, we hope, a little better judgment than the NCAA shows. By the end of the month, we will know who reigns supreme.

Or, who-ah ray-eens su-preyeem.

When choosing the field, the selection committee disqualified any accent that was supposed to be cartoonishly broad – so no Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit, no Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, no anybody in O Brother Where Art Thou, and no Foghorn Leghorn (also, because we all kinda wish we talked like Foghorn Leghorn).

Also disqualified was any actor with the good sense to not even bother; those actors, in fact, are automatically named to the Clark Gable Memorial All-Star Team.

With no further ado, please welcome the actors facing each other in our opening matches:

Our first game pits overall #1 seed “Half the Cast of Fried Green Tomatoes against the #4 seed from their bracket, Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain (nominated by Dixie Babble reader Laurel Retherford Barnes).

Both sides in this match are working the Scalawag angle, by featuring Southern actors, or actors who’ve spent significant time in the South, and should therefore know better. (To be fair, they probably had a director, producer, or studio suit badgering them that they didn’t sound “authentic” enough.) Zellweger, a Texan, won an Oscar for this performance, in which her accent isn’t bad, as much as it is . . . much. She sometimes sounds like Loretta Lynn right after a root canal.

The “Half the Cast of Fried Green Tomatoes” in question is the half that appears in the flashback “Whistle Stop” scenes; Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy do admirable accent-work in the contemporary scenes. But Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker labor their lines with molasses-drawls so thick it’s a wonder the movie didn’t last longer than Doctor Zhivago. Parker graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts, so one assumes she heard actual Southerners speak at some point. Nick Searcy is one of my favorite actors, a North Carolinian who speaks with his natural, wonderfully understated twang on Justified, a twang that apparently just wouldn’t do for this earlier work.

Take a listen using the links above, then cast your vote:

The second match of the first round pits two movie stars who try on accents that wander across just about every Southern stereotype, but never get closer than hollering distance to the place where the character’s supposed to be from. #2 seed Kevin Costner, in JFK, modulates his inflection and draws out his vowels, but at best he speaks with the generic accent that’s supposed to signify “South.” New Orleans is almost impossible to nail down, since so many peoples and traditions have come together there, and family has such a profound effect on how one talks; think Peyton Manning and Harry Connick, Jr. No one in New Orleans sounds like this, though. (At least he doesn’t say ‘New Or-LEENS.’ Does he?)

Robert De Niro is one of the great actors of American film, and his performance in Cape Fear is terrifying. His accent, though, is a grab bag of vocal stereotypes, veering from ‘Hillbilly’ to ‘Low Country’ in the same sentence. His speaking-in-tongues ain’t bad, though.

Round 1 continues tomorrow.


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