Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Language Masters

As I've been noting, my computer isn't working properly so right now the only way to post new stuff is to use someone else's computer, but that means my time is limited.

So instead of reviewing a bunch of new shows I've been watching, mostly sitcoms, let me just say something quickly about Showtime's Masters Of Sex.  Not about the quality of the show (which I like, especially leads Michael Sheen and Lizzy Kaplan), but about the diction.

The show (so far) is set in the 50s, and, of course, the clothes, hair, sets, cars, etc., are designed to look like the 50s. But then the writers drop in some modern phrase and it takes me right out of the action.

Three examples:

The hospital administrator tells Dr. Masters (I'm using quotation marks but paraphrasing) "I said no and I meant no. What part of that don't you understand?"  "What part don't I understand--well, that last phrase, which I've never heard before in my life but sounds like some sort of joke."

When Virginia Johnson tries to prepare a couple for copulation which she and Masters will observe. "Just be natural. Don't get too much in your head." "Don't get in my head--how can I avoid that...if I had any idea what you're talking about."  (Actually, she then goes on to make a "head" pun to point out the anachronistic line even further.)

Johnson asks her son, who's in trouble at school, "in what universe is it okay to spit at your teacher?"  "Well, since there's only one universe I guess it would have to be this one."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are the rules on this?- I think its just that it has to sound sort of right ("Truthy", if you will) rather than be strictly accurate. Many movies set in the more past would sound odd if they were strictly accurate. I know foreign languages are often rendered into accented English to create a version of verisimilitude (and I think it works). But I agree with LA Guy that recent neologisms grate (although maybe to younger viewers the phrases don't sound so "neo").

My memory in older movies where out of time period language grated are

-Braveheart- The English commander at one of the battles orders his men to "Take out their archers" (Maybe this criticism is what drove Mel to try to be historically accurate with language in his biblical and central American movies(whose names I can't recall))

- The old Richard Burton version of "Alexander The Great" featured army troops in a vague informal American argot frequently using the word "gonna"- although I clearly remember this from seeing this on Channel 53's Saturday afternoon matinee several times in the 70s, I recently watched the DVD and didn't hear it anywhere- maybe they redubbed it or the older TV version was altered somehow?


5:56 AM, October 09, 2013  
Anonymous LAGuy said...

It is fascinating how writers and other decide to treat diction in period pieces. It's tricky, and even trickier when they're allegedly speaking in a different language.

You want them to speak in ways which we can appreciate today (which often means their attitudes more than their diction), but you want to avoid anachronistic slang, I would think. Trouble is it seem a lot of writers and producers and directors and actors don't care, or worse, just figure if they've been hearing something for the last ten years or more then everyone's always been talking that way.

2:00 PM, October 09, 2013  

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