FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Serf’s Up in Hollywood

“Hollywood isn’t so much a place, as a state of mindlessness”
—John Gregory Dunne

Tinsel Town is addicted to “star power.”  As evidence, look no further than SAG’s (Screen Actors Guild) latest contract with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), and you’ll see that, while the Alliance is willing to pay A-listers top dollar, they continue to chip away at the incomes of those “marginal” actors who live off residuals and supporting roles.

Your Alec Baldwins, Angelina Jolies and George Clooneys may not have to worry about what their cut of DVD sales will be, but thousands of lesser known (and, arguably, equally talented) SAG members do.  Clearly, there are two classes of Hollywood actors: monarchs and serfs.  Okay, three: monarchs, noblemen, and serfs.

A question:  What do the animated classics, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Lady and the Tramp,” “Cinderella,” “Peter Pan,” and “Bambi” all have in common?  Answer:  The voices were done by little known (often uncredited) actors, and not the big-name stars who regularly do voices today.

While these were all wildly successful cartoons (still making money, incidentally) it’s fair to say that had the same Disney executives been around then that are around today, Tramp would’ve been voiced by Gary Cooper, and Snow White (1937) by Claudette Colbert.

Of course, it’s not hard to see why the arrangement changed.  Like everything else in Hollywood, it was done for money, the premise being that even though these animated features are kids’ fare, marquee stars would appeal to the parents and draw bigger audiences.  But is that even true?  If the kids begged to see “Ice Age,” would parents refuse to take them unless they were assured a “real” movie star was in it?  No.

More puzzling, if increased revenue was the goal, why not look for ways to cut costs, rather than raise them?  You’d think the advantages of using “unknown” voices would be instantly obvious.  Besides saving millions of dollars in salaries (Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy each received $10 million for “Shrek 2”), there’s ample evidence that no-name voices are effective.

Consider:  “The Simpsons” became a mega-hit without marquee voices; they did it with good writing and a talented ensemble of relative unknowns.  The same goes for “Winnie the Pooh,” “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” and any number of other cartoons.  They used second or third-echelon actors for the voices, and the results were spectacularly—and enduringly—successful.

Not only are lesser known voices more economical, it can be argued that an anonymous voice allows us to embrace the character more fully because we’re able to “lose ourselves” in the performance.

Which is more compelling?  A cartoon animal with its own distinct personality, or one with Jim Carrey’s readily identifiable voice, where we’re forced to imagine Carrey sitting on a stool in a recording studio, wearing sweat pants and headphones, reading his lines?

Also, what about spreading the wealth?  No one is suggesting Hollywood should be in the charity business, but isn’t there such a thing as wretched excess?  There are 120,000 SAG members trolling for paying gigs, and at any given time something like 85% of them are out of work.

Does Cameron Diaz (who earned $20 million for the appalling “Charlie’s Angels”) really need to beat some struggling actor out of a job?  And not to be snarky, but Diaz is an ex-model known for her striking looks rather than her acting ability.  How can this woman’s “voice” be worth $10 million?

I know a person, an actor, who is a tour guide at Universal Studios.  He’s a master of voices—high-pitched squeaky ones, deep ones, funny ones, scary ones, dialects of all sorts, you name it.  He’s articulate and has a wonderful sense comic timing.  He could have played a caterpillar in “A Bug’s Life” (and done it for union scale).

The absurdity of it all became apparent a few years ago, when I rented a copy of “Toy Story,” in Spanish.  The more I think about this, the more hilarious a non-sequitur it becomes.  Although all the voices in the movie were dubbed in Spanish, the film’s key advertising hook was that it starred Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.

If you happen to come across the Spanish-edition of “Jaws” (which is titled “Tiburon” for “Shark”), you get to see Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfus speaking dubbed Spanish.  It’s a little distracting, but at least you get to see them act.

But the notion that someone can “star” as a voice in a dubbed movie is nonsensical.  Even for Tinsel Town, where some weird things have happened—where, in a 1930 production of “Moby Dick,” the studio, looking for a romantic angle, insisted the writers provide Captain Ahab with a girlfriend—having the featured star of the movie not appear in the movie is pretty farfetched.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright (“Larva Boy,” “Americana”) and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail