Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Accent Grave

The South Boston accent came into its own with Good Willing Hunting, in which Matt Damon plays a street-tough math prodigy, and has most recently reared its head not in Boston but on the gritty streets of nearby Lowell, the setting of The Fighter, which tells the story of the welterweight champ Micky Ward and his addict brother/trainer Dick Eklund. Accents, street argot and private languages have always been a big part of books and particularly films. We identify colorful film characters by their accents. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Austrian accent was immortalized in Pumping Iron and The Terminator, and along with his muscles became the signature of a charismatic personality that eventually ascended to the governorship of California. Of course, accents have played their role in politics, an arena for some of the ultimate performances. Who can forget Orville Faubus of Arkansas, George Wallace of Mississippi, Huey Long of Louisiana, Jimmy Carter of Plains, GA, and of course that other Arkansan, our 42nd President, Bill Clinton? Without John F. Kennedy’s famed version of the Boston accent, aped by Vaughn Meader’s First Family album (“let me say this about that”), how would we ever have conceived of Camelot? Then of course we had Crocodile Dundee and Alfie and Marlon Brando’s famed mugging as the aging Mafia don in The Godfather, not to mention On the Waterfront, in which Italian street and Irish street coalesced in the character of Terry Malone. The difference between Terry Malloy and Micky Ward lies not only in their respective New York and Boston accents, but in the fact that while Terry “coulda been a contender,” Micky really was, only losing to Arturo Gatti at the conclusion of a trilogy that could have been written by Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides, all of whom undoubtedly walked the walk while talking the talk.

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