my movies june 2014When you’re on a plane to Beijing, you will watch just about anything. With the in-flight movie selection improving and number increasing this allows for fast work of a 12 hours flight.

58 – We Bought a Zoo – stop precocious kids
59 – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – high hopes dashed
60 – The Wolf of Wall Street – surprising, engaging hubris
61 – Ender’s Game – over-simplified, lacks context62 – Thor – The Dark World – Norse mythological fun!
63 – Chef – sappy studio ending
64 – X-Men Days of Future Past – complicated plot success
65 – The Fault in Our Stars – sucker for Shailene

my movies may 201446 – We’re the Millers – raunchy, funny enough
47 – Neighbors – wives shallow too
48 – Iron Giant – still touching wonder
49 – The Vow – yep, dopey weeper
50 – Martha Marcy May Marlene – abrupt, disappointing ending
51 – Moonrise Kingdom – charms remain potent
52 – Enough Said – Holofcenter lightens up
53 – Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter – dumber than expected
54 – Snake Eyes – Crazy Cage canon
55 – Lola Versus – becomes upsympathetic, unlikable
56 – Monuments Men – lacks focus, fun
57 – Anchorman 2 – not weird enough

EbertI miss Roger Ebert.

My family is a movie family. One of the great moments in my family’s history was when my parents got a VCR in 1984. Every weekend we would go to the neighborhood video store. I, my younger sister, and my parents as a couple would each pick a title. There was one more stop to get a half gallon of ice cream where we would rotate the picker, I always chose Edy’s Lemon Ice Cream – someone bring this back please! Then we would head home and gather on the couch with our ice cream to watch all three movies in a row. There was no curfew on these nights. Movies were worth staying up past our bedtime.

While my choices were surely contemporary, I was only 12, my parents inevitably chose something from 40s, 50s or 60s. They were so excited to see something they had long ago accepted they would never see again. The VCR was just magic for them. And for me. On that couch I learned about those classic films and film stars. The discussion was mostly about whether or not we liked something but sometimes there was a nugget of a life lesson from mom and dad such as how far a parent will go for their child (Mildred Pierce), how love can be cruel (Blue Angel) or how women get wacky over men (How to Marry a Millionaire).

As movie night continued our choices became wider and more varied. Unlike other aspects of my life, my parents didn’t censor our film choices at all. And there were certainly heavy themes in those old films. I remember being actually shocked when I saw the ending of Suddenly Last Summer and Gaslight. But there wasn’t much context for me, just an introduction to the history of the movies and setting context for new movies. My parents actually rented Brian DePalma’s porny Body Double for us all to see because it was a remake of Rear Window with Tippi Hedren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith. I was 14!

My family was also a PBS family. We watched Sneak Previews, and later At the Movies. I believe Siskel & Ebert is where I was first exposed to any kind of criticism, film or otherwise, packaged in a weekly review tv show. In Chicago, you were either a Sun-Times or Chicago Tribune family. We were a Trib household. My parents continue to get the print edition to this day. I always read Siskel’s and later Michael Wilmington’s reviews. It wasn’t until later when I got a job at an office with both papers in the break room that I started reading Ebert in the Sun-Times. But I already knew that I liked Ebert better. And after seeing Life Itself I am reminded why.

Life-Itself_900x1333Life Itself is a loving and uplifting tribute to Roger Ebert directed by Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame and executive produced by screenwriter Steven Zaillian – Schindler’s List, Searching for Bobby Fischer – and Martin Scorsese, director of the under-appreciated The King of Comedy. The film opens with a beautiful quote from Ebert:




“For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. It helps us identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

This lovely sentiment captures what I love most about Ebert’s writing. He was a humanist and a populist. I share in this belief. Movies over film. People over the elite. Movies are a shared experience and you don’t need to read Film Comment or Cahiers du Cinema to appreciate them. Few experiences match a shared belly laugh or collective gasp in a dark room with a hundred strangers. Movies are fun and sometimes there’s a life lesson in the center. Movies are a shared experience with the people around us, in our lives and in our world.

Side note – I confess I was fooled and confused by the voiceover in the film was Ebert himself from some pre-surgery time. But the voice performer captures Ebert terrifically, if not eerily, well.

What I enjoy most about Ebert on tv, in print or in interviews is how his humanism and passion for movies comes through. I appreciated that on the show they would include small films before independent was a category, older films that deserved attention and foreign films. I often wrote down these titles to bring to the rental store. While he could certainly be cutting – search for Ebert’s one-star reviews on for exemplary withering writing – he was never a jerk. Even at the end of a scathing review for Sex and the City 2 he acknowledges the fans will love it for all the reasons he hates it. I believe this demonstrates that he was able to appreciate without judging. He hates Carrie and Samantha but go ahead and watch them if that’s what you like. He promoted a love of movies above all else. But if he could help you gain a deeper understanding and meaning, all the better. Entertainment, statement, pure art – they all deserved our attention and contributed to our collective understanding of ourselves.

Unlike Siskel, there was something in Ebert that was undeniably accessible and inclusive. Ebert was smart, educated and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of film but he was never showy about it. Even as he became entrenched in the inner circles of Hollywood he never name dropped. He could comment about narrative, visual style and provide the context of film history without ever talking down to you. This isn’t just because he was an avid film fan, but a gifted writer.

Roger-Ebert-PulitzerI think most people know Ebert was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. I don’t know this for sure but I don’t think he lorded this over anyone except Gene Siskel. I love that. Anyone who doubted their bickering was an act only has to watch the outtakes from their show to know it was real. While they could both articulate the emotional merits of a movies, neither was a softie. But that’s old news. Life Itself goes back to the beginning with Ebert. From the neighborhood daily he wrote when he was in grade school to becoming editor of the University of Illinois’ Daily Illini, it is clear this man was born to write. There is a remarkable piece highlighted about the church bombing in Alabama that killed 4 children:

“The blood of these innocent children is on your hands,” Martin Luther King cried out to the governor of Alabama.  But that was not entirely the truth.  The blood is on so many hands that history will weep in the telling.  And it is not new blood.  It is old, so very old, and as Lady Macbeth discovered, it will not ever wash away.  It clings and waits and in its turn it kills again.

Holy moly that’s good writing. And he was still in college! Even then there is a beauty to his prose that is plain but powerful. I can’t believe he was only 21 when he wrote that. I also learned that this guy just loved to write. In addition to his many books about the movies he also wrote about rice cookers, walking in London and defragging your PC.

eberts books

Anyone with a paper and now the internet can find out there was plenty of intelligent heft behind the thumb. Ebert was an insightful viewer. I get annoyed with many other critics’ blindspots. If he was disappointed because he wanted to like something he said so. I don’t think he ever gave anyone a full out pass. It was never a foregone conclusion that he would love something. He was a passionate film fan who never over-intellectualized. He could watch and explain the esoteric without ever becoming so himself. He loved all movies and understood at its root, movies are entertainment for an intended audience as demonstrated in a hilarious and famous spat with Siskel about Full Metal Jacket and Benji the Hunted. Go to 2:48 here.

On the show, both Siskel and Ebert were able to abridge their thoughts to justify their up or down decision. It’s a testament to their chemistry and on-screen charisma that no one was ever quite able to replace Siskel on the show. With a range of guest co-hosts ranging from the erudite A.O. Scott to everyman Richard Roeper, no one could engage Ebert as Siskel had. I noticed his written reviews seemed to soften around this time. Some attribute this to his friendships and links to Hollywood. I think that the loss of Siskel and later his own illness brought his humanism to the forefront. I think he knew just how hard it was to get a movie made, distributed, audiences to see it and achieve any kind of financial success. I think he came to appreciate just how much went into that process and was more likely to give you a pat on the back for trying. Not trying was still unforgivable – see Sex and City 2 review again – but I like to think he wanted to encourage than discourage which is the mark of great criticism.

Life Itself does not reveal everything about Ebert. We never find out exactly how or why he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – and I would LOVE to know. Interviews reveal that he could be a real jerk in life and how his marriage changed him. Ebert comes clean about his alcoholism and is absolutely no-holds-barred about his physical travails. We see him suffer through a daily suction process that is extremely difficult to watch, heroically work through physical therapy and lay all his physical weaknesses bare when he is hospitalized. He shows his old spark when championing the truth about himself for the documentary till the end. Steve James employs on-screen text for his correspondence with Ebert even as he tries to continue questioning Ebert by email at the end. When asked if Ebert can answer a just a few more questions from the hospital, Ebert’s brief reply, “i can’t” is devastating. I can only imagine that Ebert was too weak to even capitalize “i”. It seems small but it was a powerful moment for me.

I found an excerpt today from Life Itself, his memoir:

“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

Having my own film appreciation evolve with Ebert’s writing and reviews, witnessing his graceful and brave exit and now this final insight, I feel compelled to enjoy, embrace and be grateful for life itself.

Discarded LoversSomewhat shoddy murder mystery clocking in at just under an hour, making it seem like a sloppily written episode of Murder, She Wrote presented via kinescope through an aquarium wall

The 1932  Tower programmer kicks off quite well with an extended shot on a Hollywood soundstage and the introduction of the murder victim: a haughty, glamourous, man-eating platinum blonde movie star fantastically played by Natalie Moorhead.

We get ugly confrontations with all the principal suspects, followed by our star’s off-camera offing, which is a shame because once Moorhead exits the picture, so does my interest. Thereafter the tone shifts awkwardly to comedy with a bumbling detective and then back to melodrama with the revelation of the killer.

Unfortunately, lackluster performances and a problematic plot sharply highlight Moorhead’s absence, making the Fred C. Newmeyer film forgettable almost from the moment it concludes.

I was almost as sad to see this dress go as I was Natalie Moorhead's character.

I was almost as sad to see this dress go as I was Natalie Moorhead’s character.

HOWEVER, my interest was briefly piqued by Jack Trent, in a bit part as the chauffeur. Actually, I think I zeroed in more on his uniform than the actor or character, though Trent is a tall and rather tempting glass of water. Please note the cut of the trousers, the bold bands of buttons on the jacket, and those fucking boots!


Please Murder Me Lobby Card

PLEASEMURDERMEA tight noir that moves its three principals briskly and efficiently through their paces right to their respective dooms, Please Murder Me offers Raymond Burr – practically auditioning for Perry Mason as a defense attorney – as the dupe and Angela Lansbury as the matronly but adulterous wife and femme fatale. Both performances register as rather standard here, though it’s a treat to see the combination of two television super-sleuths before they carved out their trademark roles. Raymond Burr is in stoic mode for the entire movie, while Lansbury’s character grows more venomous as the film progresses, whetting our appetite for the actress’s masterful villain performance in The Manchurian Candidate in 1962.

Angela Lansbury: femme fatale.

Angela Lansbury: femme fatale.

And I had no clue that the detective was played by Denver Pyle, who decades later would find his own signature role as Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard. My loss.

Lansbury in Burr's mind

But in all honesty, the story clicked by at such a clip that I didn’t get a chance to keep a close eye on supporting players. Director Peter Godfrey charges hard through the deadly machinations of both gold-digging Lansbury and vengeful Burr as they double-cross each other up to an everybody-loses denouement promised from the very beginning of the film. Not a classic, but not to be missed by fans of the genre or the stars.

Lansbury and Burr noir

Robert Duvall as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Robert Duvall as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.

I’ve never really understood the magnanimous praise heaped on the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird. To be honest, I’m not even that enamored of the 1960 Harper Lee novel. Both the film and its literary source trumpet the foundational values of early sixties White liberalism loud and proud, and as I have worked my way, sometimes painfully, through both works alongside a generation that followed their release by over half a century, I sense that mainstream U.S. society still clings to the courtroom story, not just in terms of the obvious  judicial inequities, but also in White culture distancing itself from racism while practicing borderline idolatry for overt racism’s White idealist opponents. It’s a convenient identification, but one that limits the complexity of the theme and restricts the depth of characters actually facing the racial oppression. As a result, we get a central White hero and a peripheral Black martyr, a trope that trudged its way right into the 21st century. I certainly don’t dislike Atticus Finch, but isn’t it time that someone gave us the story from Tom Robinson’s vantage point?

But that isn’t the focus here. Instead, I want to share my tremendous shock –  experienced during a classroom viewing of the film – at the final act revelation of Boo Radley as portrayed by Robert Duvall. I had completely forgotten Duvall was in the film at all and even failed to recognize the actor when he sheepishly appeared from behind Jem’s bedroom door.

Who is that hot fuck and why isn’t he hiding behind my bedroom door? I gasped. Well, in my head I did, since the out-loud version would have been met with contempt, horror, hysteria, and delight, none of which I wished to elicit from the adolescent audience in my company, no matter how badly they needed a jolt from their general disinterest. But Boo Radley sure as shit woke up one sleepyhead in that classroom.

In reading TKaM, I never once envisioned the borderline mythical village idiot as a sad-eyed, black & white version of Ryan Gosling, complete with the improbable blonde hair. My surprise wasn’t limited to Boo Radley, however; the sensual astonishment extended right to the actor playing him. While I have always admired Robert Duvall’s talent (Coppola’s The Rain People!), never have I felt such an acute, groin-centered attraction to him. Little did I know such provocation simply required some stunning b/w photography by Russell Harlan and an intense, imploring, silent gaze from the performer.

Note regarding the wrongness of the hotness for Boo Radley: Nearly mute simpletons with big hearts but brutish tendencies have turned up on my crush list for years, despite my best efforts of suppression. See Crush File #2 for elaboration.


April Movies


32 – Divergent – Four Four Four
33 – In a World – slight but cute
34 – Wanderlust – meh blah forgettable
35 – The Great Gatsby – manic 20’s works
36 – The Grand Budapest Hotel – Fiennes’ delightful cad
37 – Prisoners – killer’s mighty vengeance
38 – Pussy Riot Punk Prayer – eloquent, passionate sisterhood
39 – The Aviator – Blanchett’s grating Hepburn
40 – Rififi – heist movie provenance
41 – Kinky Boots – huge musical potential
42 – Tootsie – love the reveal
43 – Gosford Park – superior to Downton
44 – The Way Way Back – quietly endearing charmer
45 – Battleship – aliens just misunderstood?

One of Sasha's best: drunken Spike awakens on Angel's patio to golden rays of sunlight and his arm on fire.

One of Sasha’s best: drunken Spike awakens on Angel’s patio to golden rays of sunlight and his arm on fire. This is a light-up dispay!

Spike’s back for a brief visit in s3, but he’s not the renegade from School Hard or even the deceptively defeatist vamp from Becoming Part 1. In his unglorious return to Sunnydale, he’s lovelorn and dejected, played for almost entirely for comic relief, and while I’m down with him as either sad or funny, I’m less favorable to both at the same time. If Spike is lovelorn, I’d rather see him frustrated and angry, as we’ll see in later seasons, and when he’s funny, he’s best working with his wryness and wrongness, making astute observations and dreadful decisions almost simultaneously.

But here he’s a drunken mess who fails to garner much sympathy from me, and though he does draw some laughs, even those are hit and miss. It’s easier to laugh along with Spike than at him, and the lovesick/drunken comedy is mostly too broad for James Marsters’ sharp performance. Spike shouldn’t be sad and sloppy, and he really shouldn’t be called in for duty just to help make a point about the futility of Buffy and Angel’s relationship while serving as monster-of-the-week to bring the Xander-Willow romance into the light.

Spike's hand catching fire

Now this drunken bit works for me!

It’s a Spike-centric episode on the surface, but he’s the device, not the story, which really lies in the three couples whose relationships begin to unravel or combust. I appreciate romantic rift delivered in triplicate, though it’s not as deftly balanced as when Marti Noxon explored the same three relationships in Beauty and the Beasts. I think this week’s writer, Dan Vebber, will find a better melding of comedy and character in Xander with his upcoming The Zeppo.

Spike pretends to attack JoyceYet I still enjoyed the episode! The moments with Spike that do work – spilling his heart to a confused but compassionate Joyce in the kitchen, then cutting zany vampire faces behind her back to taunt Angel – make his return most welcome and keeps the character a valuable iron in the fire for next season.

Also pointing toward s4 is the release of the SAT results, with Buffy’s surprising stellar score. I liked not only Joyce’s elation at Buffy’s considerably widened college prospects, but also Giles’ encouragement for her to escape Slayerdom and Sunnydale for the normal life she so often pines for.

Buffy doesn’t really want to leave, but it’s still all about a boy. She’d hang onto Angel if she could, but it takes Spike’s tough-love speech after the magic shop battle to make her face up to how insurmountable the physical barriers to the relationship are. She’ll fight against the odds for the rest of the season, but really, this is the beginning of the end.

Waffle Meringue.

Waffle Meringue.

And thankfully it’s the end for Xander and Willow. I never cared for their s3 dalliance, but I suppose it provides us closure on their romantic flirtation and opens the door to their deeper platonic love that will reach its apex in s6. More immediately, it severs the tie between Xander and Cordelia, freeing her to leave the show at the end of the season to join Angel in L.A. While I don’t mind the couple’s breakup, I’m unhappy that any character development made with Cordelia gets tossed out the window as she reverts to the vapid, thoroughly thankless Cordy of s1. Nevertheless, the busted relationship does gift us with next week’s The Wish, which is fucking dynamite, so let me hold up on the whining.


In my first viewing, I really did believe that Cordelia had died. I thought that the impalement after the fall was misleading enough, however. The subsequent scene with Buffy and Willow walking through the cemetery (by day, for once) past a burial seemed overkill to me.

Cordy impaled figurine

My first time through the series, I genuinely thought this was the end of Cordelia.

My first time through the series, I genuinely thought this was the end of Cordelia. Also, great screencap of Xander climbing down!

Poor Cordelia will have to begin a character arc all over again in Angel, only to have most of that work undone once again in that series’ fourth season!

Mayor Wilkins putting practiceMayor Wilkins practices putting in his office while planning his Ascension and trying to keep Spike in line. I like the putting better than the Spike damage control. Really, shouldn’t the mayor have been more concerned when Spike and Dru brought The Judge to town and launched a blazing bolts attack on the Sunnydale Mall? Surely a hulking blue demon flanked by vampires at the local mall would cause more public consternation than one little murder in the local magic shop. It’s Sunnydale, after all.

Is this not a greater PR problem for the mayor's office? And it's resolution, Buffy launching an over-the-shoulder missile, must have garnered some press!

Is this not a greater PR problem for the mayor’s office? And its resolution, Buffy launching an over-the-shoulder missile, must have garnered some press!

Our first vampire-on-vampire violence: Darla stakes The Three in the episode titled Angel.

Our first vampire-on-vampire violence: Darla joyously takes out The Three in the episode titled Angel.

Spike stakes the chief vamp Lenny. It struck me as odd to see one vampire stake another, almost cannibalistic. I thought this might be the first instance of such an intra-demonic dusting, but then I recalled how delighted Darla was to stake The Three with what seemed like a broom handle in the episode Angel.

Spike’s sad state leads him back to the factory and Dru’s now charred collection of horrifying, old-timey dolls. Special bonus for him lacking the will to even seek out a new lair – and then getting called on his lack of initiative by Buffy!

Will and Oz and PezWillow and Oz: I feel more for this couple a bit more than Xander and Cordelia, but I’m still not that invested. I thought the celebrated witch-Pez scene by the lockers far too cutesy, especially with Willow’s suggestion that they find a werewolf-Pez dispenser. It’s just precious enough to cause me a slight retch.

Conversely, while I don’t mourn the end of the Xander/Cordy romance, which I believe owes its existence far more to lust than love, I found Xander’s discovery of his photos lining Cordelia’s locker door rather touching. 

The inside of Cordelia's locker door is adorned with Xander photos! Next week, she'll rip up and burn them.

The inside of Cordelia’s locker door is adorned with Xander photos! Next week, she’ll rip up and burn them.

The Quebec version. Does this mean it's still another DV?

The Quebec version. Does this mean it’s still another DV?

Dubbing! I love it and I hate it, but either way it unquestionably fascinates me, now more than ever. I am re-re-watching s3 of BtVS and have elected for my third round of viewing to experience the show in Spanish or French – usually alternating the two between episodes. The Spanish is a snap, but the French is a signficant challenge for me, so I rely on Spanish or English subtitles as a comprehension crutch – or maybe wheelchair when it comes to complex dialogue. I’m quite enjoying the shows with this linguistic variation, and watching/listening has really made me think about the process of dubbing – from working out a script translation to casting voice actors – as well as dubbing’s effect on the audience experience in another language and culture. I’ve been thinking of examining a specific scene since this foray began, and after seven episodes, I’ve settled on one!

From s3’s RevelationsGiles and the Scoobies have discovered that Buffy has concealed Angel’s return from the hell dimension, and they’ve staged an Angel-intervention complete with prescribed phrasing that only Willow attempts to adhere to. It’s a funny set-up on the surface, but the tone turns appropriately ugly and confrontational from nearly all sides, especially Xander’s, as he hammers relentlessly at Buffy’s disregard for everyone else’s well-being as well as her past failure to protect them. I chose this scene to highlight the dubbing in French and Spanish because, in addition to being one of my favorite pieces of writing, it offers dialogue from Buffy, Xander, Giles, Willow, Cordelia, and Oz, so we get a taste of each voice actor working in a heightened emotional state.

Even before the new voices arrive, however, we’ve got to get the script into a new language. Translating BtVS dialogue involves several challenges. The Whedonesque/Buffyspeak dialogue, such as trading around parts of speech (“the happy”) and adding unexpected suffixes doesn’t necessarily work (or might just sound odd and forced) if planted into another language. You can’t exactly translate the wordplay without doing some linguistic invention – whipping up impossible-to-correlate neologisms – which might distract from the story and or even compete with the original version! It’s a grey area where translation moves into re-creation, and the original might serve as a take-off point rather than a mirror to provide a reflection of itself.

Is that the purpose of translation? Recreation? I dunno. Food for ongoing thought – to be digested gradually and incompletely. So what to do in the meantime? Well, the Spanish teams opted to forego both of Whedon’s off-kilter grammaticality in their versions, and they take different tacks in phrasing, humor, and cultural references.

I use plural because the dubbed (DV) and subtitled (SV) versions are quite different translations. The subtitling is often more literal and aims to include more of the humor, which may or may not cross the linguistic/cultural boundary. The dubbing often frequently omits the humor or pop culture references completely, aiming instead to communicate the emotional thrust of the line or its purpose in moving the narrative forward. I see the advantages in both strategies, though I imagine that in order to explain some of the jokes adequately in another language, the SV or DV would need footnotes – and that right there would ruin the show!

Getting the lines across is crucial – but casting the voice actors is just as important! They create an integral part of the character for the audience in another language, so much so that the original often sounds a disappointment to the DV viewers! I recall living abroad with German roommates and stumbling across Dynasty (which they knew as Der Denver-Clan!) in English, which they had previously known only in its German DV. There was almost universal reaction against several of the original version’s (OV’s) voices, especially Linda Evans’ Krystle Carrington, who was deemed far too bland and simply inferior to DV Krystle – and to communicate this, everyone in the room did their best imitation of her German counterpart. Years later I get to experience her for myself, and to be honest, I’m not that bowled over:

But my anecdote illustrates the extent to which the audience identifies the character with the voice actor – as in inspiring an entire room full of casual Dynasty fans doing absolutely horrible but unsettlingly enthusiastic German Krystle Carrington impressions. The voice actor is an essential part of the character in the DV!

So imagine the importance of finding the right Willow and Xander, who I find the most difficult to equal (though not replicate – see my explanation below with Cordelia) in terms of their unique voices. Alyson Hannigan’s Willow and Nicholas Brendon’s Xander have speech that spills over with innocence, goofiness, anxiety, and warmth. Willow’s cadence often communicates trepidation while Xander’s tone smacks of smartassery without smarminess, not a simple quality to convey.

Here’s the whole gang in Spanish:

Clemen Larumbe: the voice of Cordelia on BtVS.

Clemen Larumbe: the voice of Cordelia on BtVS.

The BtVS (Buffy, la cazavampiros) section of the Doblaje Wikia includes a nearly full voice actor roster for the series. Everyone here feels adequate to me, but only Cordelia, voiced by Clemen Larumbe, comes across as outstanding. Though her voice bears absolutely no resemblance to Charisma Carpenter’s, she’s a wonderful Cordelia. I don’t mind at all that Larumbe sounds like the husky, middle-aged woman that she is because she manages to tease out Cordy’s self-centeredness and socially inept directness, plus the odd intelligent insight that arises when those two qualities mesh. If I’d first grown accustomed to Larumbe as Cordy in Spanish, switching to Carpenter in English would have been a hard jump for me. Clemen Larume’s Cordelia is my German Krystle Carrington!

Honorable mention might go to Azucena Martínez as Willow. The actress dubs for Alyson Hannigan in multiple roles, including on How I Met Your Mother and in American Pie, so this is a case of the audience identifying a voice with an actor rather than a character. I find her Willow to be a bit too chirpy, but she does stand out from the other actors, creating a voice distinct from the crowd and perhaps suitable to Willow’s innocence.

NOTE: I would have lobbied to cast a Castilian speaker to dub for Giles in order to match his Britishness in English with a European Spanish and to contrast with the other mostly Mexican voice actors. I don’t think that the US/UK and Latin America/Spain have parallel relationships, but Giles needs to sound markedly different.

This brings up a sticky point in characterization and culture, as discussed by Charlotte Bosseaux in “Translating the Britishisms in the French versions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (Apparently the DV and SV are also different in French!) How do you translate all of the social and class signifiers wrapped up in the OV? How do you account for the cultural differences between British and US English that are tied to specifically linguistic expression if you can’t use English and all the dialectal and sociological information therein? What to do with all the geographic and cultural reference points in the OV that establish characters (especially Giles and later Spike) as so British, the flip side of which is being so un-American, so un-Buffy?

The French version doesn’t offer much in the way of Britishisms in this clip, nor do the voice actors make any great impressions:

The French Buffyfan site has a Doublage page with info on the DV voice actors, none of whom I’ll single out other than Xander,  known as Alex in French and voiced by Marc Lesser, who usually comes across as suitably goofy, but this scene makes no room for a wiseacre. I think many of the DV cast members are familiar to French audiences from their other work, and I suppose that familiarity adds some value for fans; just as we have our favorite physical presences, why not have preferred vocal presences? But since I don’t watch any other shows dubbed in French, I don’t benefit from any recognition/identification, and I’m left only to consider who strikes a chord as Cordelia, Buffy, Oz, Xander, Willow, or Giles. Nobody’s totally off, but nobody’s totally on either.

It’s a tough gig to compete with the original, something to bear in mind the next time that I’m interpreting, which I do face-to-face. When I get stuck, I’ll be thankful that I don’t have to account for the actual character of the original speaker or communicate dialect variation or wacky neologisms or dated pop culture references. I may have to think on my feet, but my performance still doesn’t have to match that of the Mexican Cordelia, however much adopting that particular persona for interpretation might appeal to me on some days.

Here’s a callback to the BtVS episode I Only Have Eyes for You, one of my all-time Buffy favorites, which showcases the title-inspiring song with its gorgeous 1959 version by The Flamingos, whose harmonies send me into an almost dream state. I also love the intimacy of the lyrics, which profess mad love with disarming gentleness. The 1934 song, written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, is just lovely all around, and now I have a new version to get lost in!

This weekend I went on a rare thrifting venture and came out with a score: The Complete Peggy Lee & June Christy Capitol Transcription Sessions, five discs of rare radio recordings done with small jazz combos from the later 1940s. The set includes a 1947 version of I Only Have Eyes for You recorded by Peggy Lee with The Four of a Kind featuring Buddy Cole on piano.

I slapped it onto the Youtube right away for wider sharing since the Capitol Transcriptions box is out of print and now outrageously expensive. (I got it for literally about 1% of the current list price – thrift score like days of yore!) I’m adding it here for the BtVS connection and because it’s so damn pretty. There’s something solemn – not quite mournful but almost sacred – about the song and the level of intensity in its declaration of devotion.



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