Did vanity drive Woody Allen to replace his German double?
Hanns-Georg Rodek (DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

3 Jul 2012 - 10:11 AM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 6:30 PM

Two people – one voice for the past 45 years. Perfect harmony, mutual esteem and a fundamental understanding so deep that the one could read the other's lips. And then suddenly – divorce!

I'm talking about Woody Allen and Wolfgang Draeger. Since Allen's film debut with What's New, Pussycat? in the mid-1960s, Draeger has dubbed Allen's voice into German in all 34 movies in which the actor appeared.

Only once, in Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask), was Woody Allen's voice dubbed by someone else (Harald Juhnke) in Germany, because professional voice-over actors were on strike. But when the strike was over, the German version of the movie was re-dubbed, this time using Draeger's voice.

The two W's aged together: the New York-based filmmaker is now 76, and Berlin-based Draeger 83. And their voices have weathered together, still suiting each other admirably – in fact Allen is supposed to have once said that Draeger's voice suited him better than his own did.

And even a few weeks ago, it was Draeger's voice in the German version of the trailer for To Rome With Love, in which Allen – playing a grandfather – appears as an actor for the first time in years. Draeger admits he wasn't in great shape when he did the job (he was recovering from a tooth implant) but that he now sounds like his old self again.

But still, the axe has fallen: Draeger won't be dubbing Allen in To Rome With Love. And that axe was wielded by the filmmaker himself, or at least someone in his immediate entourage. Contractually, Allen has the last word on scripts, actors, trailers – everything having to do with the dubbing of his movies into foreign languages. It's not an unusual practice, and has been followed by creators as diverse as Pedro Almodóvar, Jim Jarmusch and Stanley Kubrick.

A symbiotic relationship

The verdict from New York was: too old. Freimut Götsch, who has replaced Draeger, is 10 years younger and has also lent his voice to Steve Buscemi and Willie Nelson. There's nothing unusual either about these vocal musical chairs. John Wayne, for example, was during the course of his 40-year career dubbed into German by 15 different voice-over actors. Even Robert De Niro, said to be connected to Christian Brückner by a sort of vocal umbilical cord, was dubbed by a half-dozen different voice-over actors before he and Brückner joined voices definitively 20 years ago.

Twenty years – that's the critical time frame. After that period of time has elapsed, we can't imagine De Niro any other way; to German audiences even his own voice sounds strange. But with Woody Allen and Wolfgang Draeger it was 45 years. German directors staging Woody Allen plays even cast Wolfgang Draeger in the Woody Allen role because the voice association is so deep-set.

Director Gerald Grote cast Draeger and Traudel Haas in Unser Film (Our Movie) – Haas being Diane Keaton's German voice. And in Katharina Amling's first movie Als ob ich Woody Allen wäre (As If I Were Woody Allen), still in production, she has Draeger telling Allen to make a comedy based on a writer's story. Never in Germany has there been such a symbiotic relationship between an artist and a voice-over actor.

From August 30, when To Rome with Love is released in the German version, audiences will have a chance to judge for themselves if the vocal rejuvenation exercise was justified – or if it was just an age-old exercise in vanity on Allen's part.

Read the original article in German

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