Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In today's films why is so much speech mumbled?

I've just been to see 'The Social Network', about the creation of Facebook - or so I've read. Just as well I knew that beforehand because at least half the dialogue was totally lost on me. I find this a feature of more and more films these days. Clear diction just doesn't seem to matter as it once did. It's almost as though it's not really that important to understand what they're saying as long as you get the drift, though even that can be a challenge.
From the very opening scene of this film, between two characters in a crowded bar in which something about the Chinese population (I think) was mentioned , but managing to converse without raising their voices to be heard as I would have had to do in similar circumstances, the majority of ensuing scenes were similarly blighted. And yet the film has had such glowing reviews in the U.K. - one critic I read even calling it "probably the single best film of recent years". Did he then manage to catch the dialogue? I find that hard to believe It may indeed be a near-masterpiece, but as it's such a wordy film, where I, for one, couldn't understand what was being said, I'm not in a position to judge.
I don't think it's a case of deteriorating hearing on my part, or of the volume being too low. (In some films the incidental music soundtrack is just too ear-splittingly loud.) I certainly have no difficulty in ordinary face-to-face conversation. I think this practice of poor articulation started in the early 90s - and since then so many films have, for me, been marred by this indecipherable under-the-breath muttering. I really can't understand how anyone can follow it and I honestly wonder whether people are just too embarrassed to admit not having a clue about what the actors are saying for fear of appearing stupid. One theory I have about why this state of affairs came about is that as scenes are normally are shot over several 'takes', after a while everyone on set, the film crew as well as the actors, know the script so well that the latter become lazy or even bored, and no one gives a thought as to if an audience listening for the first time will catch the words.
Watch a film on TV made in the 1980s or before, and you can hear just about every single word - and that applies to American films as well as British, so the problem can't be one of accent.
Maybe 'The Social network' actually is a very good film. I can't really say. But on a scale of personal enjoyment, despite all the praise it's received, my own candid score would be a lowly 3/10.


  1. On a similar note . . . Pete and I were at a local pub a month or three back, listening to a local rock band (and their supporting act before them) and in both cases the sound balance was crap.

    Now we're biased about such things because Pete looked after several bands' sound some years back so might know what he's talking about. But in both cases the problem was that you could not hear the lead singer because he was drowned out by the instruments. Clearly the guy running the sound system didn't have a clue.

  2. But Happy Birthday (coz I've just read your previous post and the comments thereon)!

    I think the sauce in Heinz baked beans is the reason to buy Heinz rather than any of the Pretenders - but there you go.

  3. Watched "Sherlock Holmes" the other evening and I had to rewind every so often in order to decipher what was said. In today's movies this is a common problem. I used to think it was I who had the problem, but I know now that that isn't true. I believe that in the training actors go through(if they do today) the magic word is missing from their training: "enunciate."

  4. Thanks very much for your wishes, Mucky - no less appreciated for being a little late, but no big deal.
    I don't know how anyone can make out the lyrics on pop records, moreso these days than before, but that may be my own failing. I remember having problems understanding what Elvis was singing on his records way back in the 1950s - and I still do. As for live pop, especially groups, (and I've seem quite a few in my time), well one might as well give up even trying!
    Re the sauce of Heinz' Baked Beans, what you say may be true but I personally prefer my beans just wet by the sauce rather than drowning in it

  5. Thanks, Paul. It's reassuring to know that I'm in good company. What I cannot understand is that this tendency to mutter is just never mentioned by film critics and others. I don't think for one moment that they can hear the dialogue with no problem. Unfortunately, as someone who watches nearly all my films only in the cinema, there isn't the opportunity to rewind. I often feel like asking another member of the audience "What did he just say?"
    When a few years back I saw Clint Eastwood's 'Mystic River' I just couldn't catch the film's vital final words (as in so much of the rest of the film) and so left with a feeling of 'incompleteness' in not fully understanding the motivation for a certain killing. Very frustrating!

  6. Ray... maybe it's time. You know what you have to do. Make an appointment and let a professional evaluate you.

  7. Larry, what would be even better than what you suggest is to be sitting next to you during the films and to have you feeding me all the lines I don't catch. But seriously, and as I say above, if I had a hearing problem in other areas of my life then there would be cause for concern. But there isn't yet (though no doubt it'll come in time).