THE INDISPENSABLE DON LAFONTAINE
Those of you who subscribe to my movie reviews may have noticed over the years that I do favor the arthouse genre. And those of you who are my fellows in this taste may have further noticed that several times a decade, like clockwork, arthouse cinema anoints an It Girl, who has a few years to make her name and money and then is disposed of in favor of a fresher face: In the beginning there was Parker Posey, and Parker Posey begat Greta Gerwig, and Greta Gerwig begat…um, an Irishwoman with an unpronounceable name which is also difficult to spell, and doesn’t even have alliterative initials.
In an age of more systematic journalism, this would pose no problem, given the amount of ink that our subject generates; the magazine or newspaper publishing about her would simply add a parenthetical which told the curious fan how to say her name, and that would be that. Hasn’t happened, to my knowledge.
Thus, when I reviewed this young actor’s movie The Seagull and was grousing about how to pronounce her name, a helpful reader gladdened my heart by sending me a pronunciation guide, with bonus points for the instructor being comedy treasure James Corden. And so now when I’m down at the espresso bar, facing down some beatnik who wants to know whose film I’m going to see, I no longer have to mutter into my latte “That Irishwoman”, but I can tilt back my beret and confidently thunder out, “Show-shay Roe-nan!”
None of these embarrassments and contortions would have been at all necessary in the days of national treasure Don “Thunderthroat” LaFontaine, the great voice of turn-of-the-century movie trailers, and apparently the last of his race. I always felt that he was irreplaceable, without thinking that movie studios would actually not replace him and leave us with going on a decade of trailers with lots of actors mumbling, things exploding, and maidens in distress on the run, but nobody telling us who was in the movie. La Fontaine would have filled us in instanter: “Show-shay Roe-nan”, and that would have been that. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.
Back in the day, one could even count on television to be our salvation in this regard. In other words, LaFontaine was just a backup for people who didn’t watch TeeVee. When I was a lad, my parents owned a small-town restaurant which was in a slightly remote area. Most nights somebody would be asked where they were going, and a relatively common response was: “Movie.” Despite the fact that there was only one theater in town, courtesy demanded the followup: “What movie?” Sometimes that evoked the response “James Bond.” Well then, I’ll bite, being a lad inexperienced in the ways of the world. “Who’s in it?” quoth I. And then, unless you were talking to one of the town’s two or three resident middlebrows, would come the response: “Seen Connery”.
But thanks to TeeVee, that phase didn’t last too long. Soon enough Dr. No came on TeeVee, and every half-hour or so some ur-LaFontaine would come on and intone, “And now back to the Movie of the Week, Dr. No, starring…” You guessed it, perfectly sounded “Shawn” Connery. And there we were in our arcadian paradise, instant sophisticates.