March 12, 2014

"Don’t get me wrong: I love a nice bouncy rack. And if a show has something smart to say about sex, bring it on."

But Emily Nussbaum has "turned prickly, and tired of trying to be... the Cool Girl: a good sport when something smells like macho nonsense."

She's writing about "True Detective," in a New Yorker piece titled "Cool Story, Bro/The shallow deep talk of 'True Detective.'" That's from March 3rd, before the season finale, which she writes about a week later in "The Disappointing Finale of 'True Detective.'"

I was reading those 2 things this morning after getting halfway through the second episode last night. I'd watched episode 1 in it's entirety a few days before. I'd noticed the critical attention the show was getting, and Matthew McConaughey had just won the Oscar, so I gave it a chance. Why did I stop midway through episode 2? It wasn't the sex. It was the mumbling. Between McConaughey and the other guy who looks too much like him (Woody Harrelson), it was way too much 2 guys mumbling. This show could not fill the aching gap left by "Breaking Bad," which we watched, all 60 episodes in just about exactly 60 days. In "Breaking Bad," not only was it easy to tell Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston apart, but the 2 actors frequently spoke quite clearly.

And don't tell me I'm getting old and my hearing must be going. I had high-level testing on my hearing quite recently (in connection with a problem with vertigo). There's just something too dull about the endless mumbling of the 2 men, as if we're continually prodded to take their problems seriously. But why? So there are some murders going on. And some clues. There are millions of stories about murders and clues. Why pick this one? Because the atmospherics are arty? Those were my questions. I don't get Nussbaum's concern about sex and nudity. I guess I didn't watch far enough into the series to get what I was supposed to be "cool" about. It wasn't the mistreatment of women that undercut my enjoyment. It was the dullness of men.

I googled "actors who mumble," thinking I'd add some detail about the history of acting, which I assumed would get me right to Marlon Brando. I found this A.V. Club piece from 2012: "Mumblecore: 20 memorably inarticulate movie performances." Wikipedia has an entry for "Mumblecore," defining it as "a subgenre of American independent film characterized by low budget production values and amateur actors, heavily focused on naturalistic dialogue."
The genre can trace its roots back to the French new wave of the 1960's, especially the films of Eric Rohmer, whose films focused on the romantic intrigues of characters and depicted lengthy conversations....

Woody Allen's "Manhattan" was a high-budget Hollywood predecessor of mumblecore, as it was shot in black and white in natural locations and focused on a single protagonist....

The directors of the films are sometimes referred to collectively as the "mumblecorps", as in press corps. Film journalists have also used the terms "bedhead cinema", and "Slackavetes", a portmanteau derived from the title of Richard Linklater's dialogue heavy, lo-fi 1990s film Slacker and the name of independent film director John Cassavetes.
Hmm. Is that really a thing or are people just funning with the "-core" suffix these days? For the record, "Slacker" is one of my all-time favorite films. So is "Manhattan," and so is the John Cassavetes film "Husbands" (which used to be called cinéma verité).

61 comments:

Bob R said...

Don't be too proud to turn on closed captioning. Good for British shows with heavy accents, Robert Altman films, etc.

RecChief said...

never seen it, don't know who emily nussbaum is, don't see many movies, shut off our cable years ago, spend a lot of time in the nonfiction and newspaper achive sections of the public library. Have a nice day.

Ann Althouse said...

"Don't be too proud to turn on closed captioning."

I considered that solution, but it doesn't argue for watching a show like that, in my view.

It's a special problem with British accents. I wanted to watch the British "The Office," and I love Ricky Gervais, but the subtitles change the experience.

If I'm going to read, I'd rather read.

tim maguire said...

Well who doesn't love a nice bouncy rack? But then again, who doesn't hate a show where you're constantly adjusting the volume because there's too much variation from quiet to loud?

Ron said...

One more reason I ignore the New Yorker....and when Althouse writes about things she already doesn't like.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't believe Nussbaum loves "a nice bouncy rack."

I suspect she's only really saying: I accept the boobery because I'm trying to keep up with popular culture. (It's her job.) But love it? I don't believe that a heterosexual woman (which I'm assuming she is (maybe I'm wrong)) actually loves it. I think we learn to put up with it so we can watch popular films and not be distracted by what we wall off as pointless prudery.

But there must be other rewards that make the tolerance worthwhile.

mccullough said...

In other words, this writer doesn't like the show because it's about two men who don't really give a shit about women. Cohle's daughter is dead and Marty was not cut out to be a husband or a father to his daughters as they got older.

The mumbling is intentional. I liked it, but could see how it might be annoying. I can't watch Woody Allen act, because his voice and demeanor are so annoying. So while I can appreciate Manhattan, I couldn't watch it more than once.

Ann Althouse said...

Ever since I hooked up a Roku, my cable DVR has limited volume. We usually have it turned up all the way, which results in basically normal volume. So we don't have the option of turning it louder. Rather than solve this technical problem (maybe by unplugging the Roku?), we've fallen into the tendency to reject stuff that demands more volume.

Ann Althouse said...

"The mumbling is intentional."

I know.

It doesn't make it better to know they are doing it on purpose.

There is a way of speaking that seems mumbly but produces intelligible words. Losing the words is the problem. The "Louie Louie" effect has no charm in a world where everyone says sexy things all the time anyway.

John Christopher said...

I also turned to this show to fill the Breaking Bad void and liked it well enough to watch all eight episodes.

I agree regarding the volume--I took to streaming it so I could use headphones rather than watch it on my television, because the dynamics of the volume switches got to be too much.

EMD said...

There is a way of speaking that seems mumbly but produces intelligible words. Losing the words is the problem. The "Louie Louie" effect has no charm in a world where everyone says sexy things all the time anyway.

Maybe the words aren't important.

Ex-prosecutor said...

Professor:

You can solve your tv hearing problems with a sound bar, $200 or so, with several speakers and a subwoofer. It's particularly good for understanding mumbling and British accents. Crank it up and blow out every window in the neighborhood.

dustbunny said...

great show, the story was a bunch of Hichcockian macguffins and red herrings but the acting was thrilling. A pas de deux

Michael K said...

"Don't be too proud to turn on closed captioning. Good for British shows with heavy accents, Robert Altman films, etc. "

I think I read this was done intentionally in "Gosford Park" to make the point of upper class British mannerisms.

Since I don't watch TV, except "Pawn Stars" and "Doc Martin" on NetFlix, it is not something I think about.

St. George said...

I stopped watching "The Americans" (in which the Soviet spy mom is actually a brutal and ruthless assassin. Lovely!) and "House of Cards" (in which the VP is a mad-dog killer).

Too ugly, too over-the-top....

mccullough said...

The words were intelligible. It wasn't like Brad Pitt in Snatch.

The Crack Emcee said...

"Don’t get me wrong: I love a nice bouncy rack. And if a show has something smart to say about sex, bring it on."

I haven't watched the show but, regarding the quote, I'm just the opposite - if you're selling sex, I'm probably not interested. In my eyes, sex is the domain of the talentless, giving all they've got to give.

I've got better things to do with my time.

The Cracker Emcee said...

I used to read while watching TV because most shows didn't fully engage my attention. Watching with the closed captioning on helped but it drove my family crazy. Now, I surf the Internet while I watch TV. There's very little on the box that merits anyone's full attention.

Ficta said...

I find the mumblecore thing fascinating and annoying in nearly equal parts (I assume it's a retro Brando/Clift pastiche thing and nearly any sort of revivalism gets me going).

I started True Detective for the King in Yellow references and stayed for the cinematic qualities; the end of episode 4 is amazing. I haven't had a chance to watch the rest yet (watching anything with my wife means it will take longer to get around to) but I keep hoping it will left turn into full blown supernatural horror.

Will Cate said...

I had that same problem with the recent "Arrested Development" revival. I thought the audio mixing was terrible, and thus I was missing half of the rapid-fire dialog and jokes... it annoyed me so much, I just had to stop watching it.

cubanbob said...

The Dallas Buyer's Club was is an excellent movie. McConaughey didn't mumble at all. Is that why he won an Oscar? Or should the sound techs get the award?

Ann Althouse said...

"Maybe the words aren't important."

How long would you watch a TV show with 2 men mumbling indecipherable words?

Oh, I'm just looking at their interesting faces and the artistic lighting of the room and hearing the sounds of the voices.

Okay. An hour later… how is it going?

What if "Louie Louie" went on for 7 hours?

Lyssa said...

I wanted to watch the British "The Office," and I love Ricky Gervais, but the subtitles change the experience.

I have a minor hearing impairment, which causes everything seems like mumbling to me. I've finally broken down and started using closed captioning, which helps a good deal. (I finally get Dr. Who, which I absolutely couldn't follow before.) But it does ruin some experiences, particularly with comedy. When a character gives an interesting or humorous pause, it can change the joke completely if I already saw the final word written across the screen.

Ann Althouse said...

"Or should the sound techs get the award?"

I think it's an important point that the blame might fall on the sound tech people and not the actors.

Perhaps the mumbling style can be reproduced to be perfectly intelligible.

Rusty said...

mccullough said...
The words were intelligible. It wasn't like Brad Pitt in Snatch.

I must have an ear for this stuff because I had no trouble understanding the actors in "Snatch" or "True Detective"
Alothough none of the actors in "True Detective" spoke with a true Southern Louisiana drawl.

William said...

It's not often you find a television series based on Nietzsche's theory of the Eternal Return. In Nietzsche's time, it was felt that matter was finite and time was infinite. It followed from this that every possible permutation of atoms would be endlessly repeated. Nietzsche felt that you only got to live once, but you repeated that one life over and over again. It was thus incumbent on you to find some joy or insight or balance that would justify your endlessly repeated life. As an afterlife, it doesn't have much glamour, but that's the best Nietzsche could come up with....I give McConaughey a lot of credit. He had a bleak role. There was a black spot at the center of his eyes that enlivened the death of God.......I look forward to another series that dramatizes string theory. In that infinite variety of possible universes, McConaughey wears bright colors and sings catchy tunes while investigating the murders of children.

paul a'barge said...

Emily Nussbaum? Did someone say Emily Nussbaum?

Click to look at Emily Nussbaum

Cool chick? Nope. Hawt? Nope. Overweight? Yep. Bad hair? Yep.

Authority on coolness? You be the judge.

Anglelyne said...

tim maguire: But then again, who doesn't hate a show where you're constantly adjusting the volume because there's too much variation from quiet to loud?

AA: I think it's an important point that the blame might fall on the sound tech people and not the actors.

Perhaps the mumbling style can be reproduced to be perfectly intelligible.


So this sound stuff, it's not just me and my aging ears? In recent years I've started to get annoyed with the audio on a lot of programs and movies - score way too cranked up relative to dialogue, mumbled dialogue, etc. - but I assumed this was all because I'm old and young people are deaf. (And stupidly enamored of noise for the sake of noise. Get off my lawn.)

So maybe it's not all me, but fashion - the audio equivalent of that stupid ADHD "edgy" jumpy camera/jumpy graphics crapola that still hasn't been put out of its misery?

EDH said...

I never understood the early critical acclaim for "True Detective".

After the first episode, I thought it was like watching paint dry. Boring... except for the boobage.

When actress Alexandra Daddario, playing Harrelson's girl-on-the-side, busted those puppies out, I said, "holy moly!"

A lot of people seem to be saying the same thing now.

Xmas said...

I dunno. The mumbling serves a purpose. Rusty's most powerful weapon is his voice. That he keeps it subdued around Marty is a sign that he doesn't want to hurt his partner.

Paul Zrimsek said...

If we could get Hart and Cohle to speak up and feminist critics to mumble unintelligibly, it might be better all around.

Beth said...

Ficta - you're not watching the show you think you are if you hope for full blown supernatural. It's a character study - a very, very well done character study.

In general, yes, I find I keep the remote in my hand to constantly adjust the volume due to dialogue being so much more quiet than sound effects and music. Very annoying. And this is with new Bose speakers.

Ann Althouse said...

"BBC chief Tony Hall has declared war on actors who mumble and mutter their lines in key scenes."

"Viewers have complained about incomprehensible dialogue during shows such as Birdsong, Parade’s End, Silk, Garrow’s Law and even family favourite Doctor Who.

"After being put on the spot by one TV fan, director general Mr Hall said: “I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man, but I also think muttering is something we could have a look at.

"'Actors muttering can be testing. You find you have missed a line. You have to remember you have an audience.'"

CatherineM said...

Watch "The Americans" instead. First season ncluded in Amazon Prime. Second season Episode 3 tonight.

allison said...

I thought the BBC was responsible for the mumbling. The terrible audio recording quality of their TV shows--background noise always high, all actors constantly mumbling, was the standard for shows like Rumpole, Morse, Poirot, jewel in the Crown etc. It isn't much better in BBC shoes today.

The Wire is the show to fill the BB void. (In our case BB filled the Wire void.) But that show was impossible without the closed corking turned on. I could not make heads or tails of the Baltimore black drug gang accents. None of the prison or wiretapping scenes worked when you couldn't hear 9 of 10 words.

Martin said...

What if Louie Louie went on for 7 hours?

Whoa. You just blew my mind.

Iggy and the Stooges once promised a 55-minute version, but they didn't deliver.

Pogo is Dead said...

1. It ain't a show for most women. I'd guess they'd hate it. Too Clint Eastwoodian.

2. The mumbling is less in later episodes.

3. It's the dystopian present. Reminds me of Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins.

4. Yes; the mystery is merely the MacGuffin for the narrative arc of these two men, their friendship and hatred, their ethical lives.

5. Google Chromecast ($35) does much the same work as Roku (Netflix) and does not seem to affect sound volume.



William said...

I'm probably being too fanciful, but one way to dramatize the blurred lines between right and wrong is to mumble your lines. I think if McConaughey had enunciated his lines crisply, they would ave sounded more pretentious than portentous.

LarsPorsena said...

Best new show of the year. Riveting.
MM's acting dwarfs his 'Dallas Buyers' Club' gig.

As for the mumbling, it didn't bother me. The characters were two functional alcoholics and peckerwoods to boot. Wouldn't expect perfect enunciation.

eric said...

I found the headline to be rather titillating.

Jack Wayne said...

What's up, Ann? You don't like Popeye? The best jokes were muttered.

jr565 said...

It's a good show, a very good show. But I do see althouse's point about the mumbling. It's not so
Much the mumbling but he heavy drawls on top of the mumbling. Add to that Rust's pontificating on nihilism which can get pretty deep to the point where you need a textbook. In top of that do much of the story is told and not shown.
You hear about various characters who may have been shown once the whole series and you're like "who are they talking about again?"
I had to watch the series up through episode three, stop, go back and start at episode one.
And the. I finally got he significance of scenes.
It's extremely literary for a tv show so I can see people tuning out.
But if you stick it out and turn in the CC my guess is you'll like it.

jr565 said...

I really like stories where characters progress over time and lose and gain loyalty with each other. And this has that.
It reminds me a lot of La confidential. Two cops who hate each other grow to respect each other over time. But before then REALLY hate each other. The case is what makes them allies.
LA conf though was much more standard cop drama. This one was much more intellectual and talky.

William said...

Harrelson's character drinks too much, cheats on his wife, and brutally beats a scared young of whose sexuality he disapproves half to death. Thank God for perverts who torture choldren to death. They allow men like Harrelson to feel so much more righteous and forgiving of their own flaws.......The question of evil is not so much why God created evil, but why we ourselves create evil. That's not a Nietschean insight. In fact Nietzschean insights are a way of avoiding this question.

Anglelyne said...

allison: I thought the BBC was responsible for the mumbling. The terrible audio recording quality of their TV shows...It isn't much better in BBC shoes today.

I've wondered for decades what was up with that. All their resources and production talent, and they can't figure out how to mic a #&*$@% set? (It's not the accents. Never had any problem with that.)

victoria said...

My husband and I watched the first episode with great anticipation and at the end of the episode we both looked at each other and i cancelled the rest of the DVR. Mumbling was the least of the problems.


Vicki from Pasadena

Revenant said...

It seems strange to cite "Manhattan" as an example of hard-to-understand dialogue. The line readings seemed clear to me, except maybe for a few of Tracey's (Hemmingway has a really quiet voice).

Edmund said...

Alothough none of the actors in "True Detective" spoke with a true Southern Louisiana drawl.

Well, Cohle is a Texan who spent a few years in Alaska as a boy. And Hart appears to be a Louisiana native, but his accent is muted by the wad of tobacco under his lower lip.

I don't have trouble understanding them most of the time and they don't seem to mumble too much, but then I grew up in Texas hearing those accents all the time, y'all.

Titus said...

I like a nice pair of pointy tits in movies and everywhere else. They can bounce a tad but I prefer them to stand still, hard, erect and pointy.

tits.

mccullough said...

The best thing about the show is that Hart is the more complicated character, but that only becomes apparent over time.

jr565 said...

While I do think there was an issue with the drawls, or the mumbling, it wasn't SO bad that I couldn't follow the story. It was more of a "What did he say?" Rewind. Oh ok.
Not terrible. Certainly not enough of a reason to not watch the show.
Was it Breaking Bad, no. But it was pretty good for a single season arc.

jr565 said...

mccullough wrote:
In other words, this writer doesn't like the show because it's about two men who don't really give a shit about women. Cohle's daughter is dead and Marty was not cut out to be a husband or a father to his daughters as they got older.


And by the same token guys don't like chick flicks because they cater to women. That's fair I guess. Though it does kind of invalidate her criticism for me somewhat.

A to the C said...

I gave up on the show after watching the first episode precisely because of the mumbling. But my wife watched a couple more episodes and really enjoyed it. Then my sister bragged-up a 6-minute long continuously-shot scene at the end of episode four, stating that it was one of the most amazing scenes she had ever seen on a tv show. So I started over from the beginning. It was a struggle at times through the first three, but when I got to that scene in episode four I was sold on the show. Not the most amazing thing I have ever seen on tv, but pretty damn good (best scene on tv I've seen -- the montage at the end of the penultimate episode of season two of The Wire -- the music kills it). Turned out to be a worthwhile show, but pretty excellent nonetheless.
I would listen to a 7-hour long rendition of Black Flag's version of Louie Louie.

EMD said...

How long would you watch a TV show with 2 men mumbling indecipherable words?

I watched all eight episodes and understood it perfectly well.

The only thing I missed was McConaughey's very last line. I had to go to the interwebs to find that one out.

EMD said...

Then my sister bragged-up a 6-minute long continuously-shot scene at the end of episode four, stating that it was one of the most amazing scenes she had ever seen on a tv show.

The kicker about that scene in that episode is that it was pure filler -- SPOILER ALERT --








as getting Ginger didn't prove to help with any leads at all.

EMD said...

Bouncy rack in question.

mccullough said...

Her criticism is invalid because she misinterprets one of the big themes of the show, which is what she calls the macho of Hart and Cohle is just a mask for their impotence. Hart's philandering /bravado and Cohle's nihilism/bravado are just covers. They both had emotionally distant fathers who were Vietnam war vets.

Hart's inattention to his daughters causes him to overlook some important clues that would have helped him not only stave off his older daughter's emotional problems but help him solve the case back in 1995. And Cohle's inability to deal with his daughter's death and his underlying anger/insecurity cause him to fuck things up in 2002 when he could have found the Five Horseman of the cult.

mccullough said...

EMD,

Getting Ginger helped lead Cohle and Hart to the Ledoux brothers (or cousins). They were involved in the cult and kidnappings, but were not the leaders (The Five Horseman were and Cohle and Hart figured out who four of them were and the astute viewer knows who the fifth one is). If Hart hadn't killed them in 1995 then they would have solved the whole case back then.

furious_a said...

That "nice bouncy rack" was Annabeth, daughter of Athena, from "Percy Jackson".

Holy shit!

Revenant said...

I tried reading Nussbaum's article but got bored part of the way through.

EMD said...

Getting Ginger helped lead Cohle and Hart to the Ledoux brothers (or cousins). They were involved in the cult and kidnappings, but were not the leaders (The Five Horseman were and Cohle and Hart figured out who four of them were and the astute viewer knows who the fifth one is). If Hart hadn't killed them in 1995 then they would have solved the whole case back then.

Didn't they already know Reggie Ledoux from the guy in prison?