Mugging it up when language fails – The Artist and travel

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The Artist deserves the plaudits showered on it. During a private screening tonight (well, actually and lamentably, no one else bought a ticket) The Rapid Traveler thought about parallels to travel in countries where there is a language barrier.

The film is a heartfelt tribute to the silent film era, the best since Sunset Boulevard. The dog is the only rival to Asta from The Thin Man. Brilliant, in the most tense segment of the film, to layer on Bernard Hermann’s rich score from the nearly silent denouement of the greatest of Alfred Hitchcok’s masterpieces, Vertigo.

When a star of the new talkies is interviewed she jokes about the silent actors mugging for the camera with exaggerated expressions and gestures. Indeed the magic of the spectacle is the expressive acting. Without spoken dialogue, viewers rely on visual interpretation of even the smallest details, such as the doodling of the lead actor’s wife.

This parallels travel to a country without speaking the language. The good news is that when humans encounter a language barrier they still can communicate considerable meaning through expression and pantomime. The cautionary piece is that when words are absent, these meanings, intended and unintended, are magnified. The Rapid Traveler has learned the hard way, repeatedly, that visibly showing frustration can make things much worse without words for nuance.

When encountering people without a shared language, give special attention to what story your face and body are telling. Especially try to tone down negative expressions. But when needing to get a message across, do it the silent actor mugging way.

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