Wait Until Dark

Lost in the mouth of madness: The joys of dialogue looping

 Part four of the production diary for The Saddest Music in the World (opens April 30).


DAY 11 Why do film directors never speak of the hallucinatory joyride that is ADR? Automated Dialogue Replacement is the process by which any vocal performances marred by loud wind machines, passing fire trucks, or Sudden Onset Fudd-ism are re-executed, usually by the original thesps, in the aurally hygienic environment of a studio.

Hot as the Adriatic: Rossellini
photo: Jody Shapiro
Hot as the Adriatic: Rossellini

Today is Maria de Medeiros's turn. The recording studio is completely dark. Sexy Maria stands in utter blackness, her lips poised at a hyper-sensitive microphone. I, too, am hidden in the deepest shadows, comfy in my director's recline-a-rocker. I wear headphones that connect me so intimately to Maria it is alarming. I actually hear her tongue crouching, tensing up to pounce on the first syllable. The tongue sounds wet, and very close! But where is Maria? Is she really right in my ear? Now I hear a seal sliding around on some rocks—it is Maria's pre-sibilant warm-up, her little pink organ of speech playing around on her molars. What sounds like kelp splashing in the brackish shoreline breakers is probably some spinach from her breakfast omelet unfurling itself in a backwash of saliva. I'm now virtually sitting right inside Maria's mouth, rocker and all, shrunken by audio technology to the size of a sea monkey.

It's wonderful in here. I can direct a performance better from this range. This giant mouth and I understand each other uncannily. Even the slightest fragment of a whisper is a wet and warm missive of mutual assent. And when I make this lovely actress laugh, her delight hums through my whole body as if I'm tissue on a comb. Hours pass in this fashion. Who would want to come out? My bosom sings a secret sea-monkey song that only Maria can hear. No sleep tonight!

DAY 12 I turn out the lights and descend into Isabella Rossellini's mouth. It's darker than usual in this Italianate cavern. It takes a while to get used to the surroundings, but soon I make friends with the slabby tongue-of-the-day. Its underbelly is cool as Swedish sand, while the muscles along its back are restive, and hot as the Adriatic! There're some old ballet slippers in here—from White Nights? Funny what you find in a mouth.

Suddenly, that famous tongue takes off like a frightened porpoise. Squeezing together tightly with my inner thighs, I hang on for dear life while my ride delivers a million staccato syllables, like Flipper with Tourette's. But I never let go. Onward through the dark and wet we fly. At bedtime I let spit-lubricated Isabella slide out of my cramped and throbbing embrace, and dismount tremblingly from her lips. What's left but to give this sea goddess a chaste grateful peck on the cheek? I'm a wreck, bowlegged and raw, but we've got some shooting to do early tomorrow morning, and my girlfriend is waiting at home.


Earlier: parts one; two; and three.

 
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