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 Post subject: The Art of Subtitles
PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:25 pm 
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Russellfan wrote:
SternDiet wrote:
The guy who made the subtitles [on the BFI's The Devils DVD] fucked up a couple of times though. Most of it is pretty minor such as spelling errors (I think the word 'divine' is spelled as 'devine' at one point early in the movie), but the scene I described here was subtitled with the nun saying 'I am a travelling monkey'. Which not only makes no sense whatsoever, but also completely destroys a very funny moment and takes away its satirical edge. Quite frustrating and rather sloppy, especially because these things could and should easily have been avoided.

I’ve only dipped into the DVD, but even a cursory viewing has thrown up a surprising number of mistakes in the subtitles. The second line of dialogue, “How they pale beside the radiance of His Majesty”, becomes “I pale beside…” Jeanne’s “Unhand me, you Christ-loving runt” bizarrely morphs into plural “runts”. I was fairly certain the subtitler would get the crabwalking Jeanne's “I haven’t travelled much” wrong, and I suppose we should applaud his/her creativity in coming up with “I am a travelling monkey”! (To be fair, the line is quite hard to hear. It took me a few viewings to work it out, and had I not read Whiting’s play beforehand, I might still be guessing what Jeanne said to this day. First time around, I thought Jeanne was saying “I am the Antichrist”.)

If you’re right about "devine", then that is pretty shocking. All subtitling software systems these days come with spell check. Mishearings and misunderstandings are irritating but excusable; spelling mistakes, especially with such a common word as divine, are inexcusable.

It's uncanny to hear about these subtitling errors as I watched Before the Revolution at the weekend and then had half written up a post complaining about the subtitles there, before deciding to bite my tongue: large complex sentences were shortened to a few words; songs, to which the characters were actively listening, weren't translated; a scene in Latin wasn't translated although I dare suggest that the protagonist and several others could understand it, as they were well educated more than 50 years ago and all; and quite a few things were rather lost in translation. It was a pretty poor job on the whole.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 8:00 pm 
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Were Before the Revolution's subs supervised by anyone involved with the film? I know Knife in the Water had a translation done by Polanski himself that similarly simplified or left untranslated a great deal of the dialog, but I think in such cases 'filmmaker's intention' is a trump.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:43 am 
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Knife in the Water was an almost unique case (possibly even unique, as I've never come across a similar instance elsewhere) of Polanski deliberately choosing not to subtitle dialogue that he'd only reluctantly included in the first place as a sop to the Polish censors of the time.

Issues like the Latin in Before the Revolution present a constant dilemma for subtitlers, and I think that standard practice is to go along with the original presentation - i.e. if it wasn't subtitled for Italian audiences, it won't be subtitled for English-speaking ones.

Second Run had a similar issue with Diamonds of the Night, where much of the dialogue in the last third is in German, a language the Czech protagonists don't speak - so the dilemma was: should the subtitles translate everything, therefore giving the audience privileged knowledge that the boys don't have, or do they leave the German passages untranslated, to better convey their fear and confusion when orders are being barked at them that they don't understand? In the end they consulted director Jan Němec, who confirmed that most of the dialogue shouldn't be translated but that there were a couple of lines whose meaning was important.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 5:08 am 
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Funnily enough I was pondering this yesterday as I was watching L'amour d'une femme by Gremillon as there is a sizeable scene in a church in Latin that goes beyond the usual call and response stuff of the Mass, which the Breton populace would be well versed in, that is similarly left untranslated in the original. Whether that higher level of discourse would be intelligible to people 60 years ago, particularly island fishing folk is debatable.
On a similar and more personal note I am currently making a film in which the dialogue is 80% english /20% polish where the central character is only pretending to be able to speak polish but in fact does not understand one word. Obviously the pretence quickly collapses but the dilemma whether to translate the polish dialogue is further complicated by the initial ambiguity of his identity.Namely, whether it is the polish speaking character originally introduced to us or his non- polish speaking doppelganger. Tricky eh? It has had the editor and I changing our minds on a daily basis. (Poles speaking to Poles in polish will have subtitles) Anyone care to comment?


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 8:17 am 
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NABOB OF NOWHERE wrote:
Funnily enough I was pondering this yesterday as I was watching L'amour d'une femme by Gremillon as there is a sizeable scene in a church in Latin that goes beyond the usual call and response stuff of the Mass, which the Breton populace would be well versed in, that is similarly left untranslated in the original. Whether that higher level of discourse would be intelligible to people 60 years ago, particularly island fishing folk is debatable.

A DVD I recently contributed to, which I can't yet name because it hasn't been officially announced, included a fairly lengthy recitation in Latin. When I did the background research for an accompanying video piece, I was able to identify it pretty quickly by Googling a couple of phrases that I recognised and then checking the entire thing against the Latin text - but I don't think the label is planning to add subtitles, because they weren't included in the original, and I agreed with the disc's producer that it's not remotely essential to be able to understand it during the recitation.

However, I did make a point of identifying the psalm by name and number in the video piece, so assuming it's survived the edit anyone who's interested will be able to follow it - there are plenty of translations available online.

Quote:
On a similar and more personal note I am currently making a film in which the dialogue is 80% english /20% polish where the central character is only pretending to be able to speak polish but in fact does not understand one word. Obviously the pretence quickly collapses but the dilemma whether to translate the polish dialogue is further complicated by the initial ambiguity of his identity.Namely, whether it is the polish speaking character originally introduced to us or his non- polish speaking doppelganger. Tricky eh? It has had the editor and I changing our minds on a daily basis. (Poles speaking to Poles in polish will have subtitles) Anyone care to comment?

So you're saying that there's a possibility that selective subtitling might inadvertently introduce spoilers as to which character is being featured?


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 10:06 am 
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Yes. Except if you are a polish speaker because they will realise that the character doesn't understand because of his subsequent actions. (One brief example. He is told by the concierge that the lift doesn't work but nevertheless he gets in and wonders why he is stuck.) So the problem is do you let everyone in on it despite the spoiler aspect or just allow the privilege to polish speakers. The whole subtitling thing is indeed a minefield and perhaps deserves a thread of its own.
There's a similar problem for viewers of The Prophet for example, where in key moments the dialogue is either in Corsican or Arabic in order todeliberately confound the other characters whose language is only french. This is apparent in the french version, or occasionally the french subtitling will add in brackets 'in Arabic' or 'in Corsican' to underline the point, but in the english version everything is subbed regardless, so that it appears that everyone present understands what is going on.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:17 am 

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NABOB OF NOWHERE wrote:
There's a similar problem for viewers of The Prophet for example, where in key moments the dialogue is either in Corsican or Arabic in order todeliberately confound the other characters whose language is only french. This is apparent in the french version, or occasionally the french subtitling will add in brackets 'in Arabic' or 'in Corsican' to underline the point, but in the english version everything is subbed regardless, so that it appears that everyone present understands what is going on.

It's a while since I have seen The Prophet, but, in the scene you're referring to, I think it's made clear that the two Corsicans don't understand Arabic in order to avoid any confusion. Personally I prefer everything to be subtitled, apart from the instance of plot spoilers suggested in previous posts. I also don't like the trend in foreign films of eliminating subtitles when there happens to be some English dialogue. Is it not possible just to subtitle the lot?


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:26 am 
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Maybe I've misunderstood what you're asking for, but at times not everything is supposed to be understood, and therefore translated. Often you're following one main character throughout the film who doesn't understand what other characters are saying in languages they don't speak themselves.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:36 am 
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j99 wrote:
I also don't like the trend in foreign films of eliminating subtitles when there happens to be some English dialogue. Is it not possible just to subtitle the lot?

I wasn't aware that it was a trend - I honestly can't recall a time when it was common practice to subtitle English dialogue outside a HOH/SDH situation or in special circumstances like strong accents/dialects/patois.

Also, how do you deal with films that are mostly in English but which have a tiny amount of dialogue in a foreign language - Spielberg's 1941, for instance? Do you really subtitle the lot? And wouldn't this be rather irritating to native English speakers?


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:54 am 
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TMDaines wrote:
Maybe I've misunderstood what you're asking for, but at times not everything is supposed to be understood, and therefore translated. Often you're following one main character throughout the film who doesn't understand what other characters are saying in languages they don't speak themselves.

There are two characters who are identical - indeed played by the same actor. One is polish speaking, the other isn't. After the death of the polish speaker the non speaker assumes his identity which lasts for the first third of the film until the pretence collapses. Up until this point he is both addressed in polish and overhears conversations in polish relating to him directly or indirectly. It is ambiguous for a non-polish speaking audience as to the true identity of the character. A polish speaker would more than likely pick up on the fact that the character doesn't understand.
After this point of course we translate all polish dialogue with subtitles whether it be incidental or a featured character speaking polish to another.
So the dilemma is whether we bite the bullet and translate everything from the word go and 'give the game away' (which is still dramatically valid except it has ramifications for the flashback structure) but which a pole paying attention would probably get anyway. Finally it might be worth mentioning that it is a Polish production, albeit principally in english.
I mentioned it in this thread because I find the whole issue of subtitling fascinating and thought it might be a little distraction from discussions of price related anxieties that could also help me out a bit.
Regarding 'A Prophet' I have a french DVD that does make it explicit but I also saw it in a UK cinema and could have sworn that everything was translated into english without qualification. I can't verify that as I don't have a UK DVD which I assume would be the same as the theatrical version.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:38 pm 
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I was personally replying to the guy directly above but it's a very interesting dilemma nonetheless. Why not subtitle differently for the home and export markets?


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:24 pm 
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Since this subject now has its own thread, here's an article I wrote last year about the challenges of subtitling.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:41 pm 
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MichaelB wrote:
j99 wrote:
I also don't like the trend in foreign films of eliminating subtitles when there happens to be some English dialogue. Is it not possible just to subtitle the lot?

I wasn't aware that it was a trend - I honestly can't recall a time when it was common practice to subtitle English dialogue outside a HOH/SDH situation or in special circumstances like strong accents/dialects/patois.

This has never been standard practice for very good reason. Literate people can't switch their literacy on and off, so if there's text, it's incredibly difficult to not read it. Thus, in a film where English dialogue is subtitled in English, you're going to be half-listening and half-reading, and any tiny discrepancy between the two streams of language (which there will inevitably be) will be really, really annoying. It's also going to be much harder to process the meaning of the text (since your language processing will very likely be distracted into 'superficial comparative' / 'spot the difference' mode) and appreciate the visuals.

If you're fluent, or even partly fluent, in the language of the subtitling (e.g. you watch an English film with French subtitles and can speak a bit of the language) it can be just as disruptive (though you might well be improving your French!) Which is why forced subs on foreign discs are such a pain.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:48 pm 
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Having to put up with unwanted HOH/SDH sound effects can be equally distracting.

Which is why, when I snapped up the MGM R2 Bergman box for £8.99 and discovered that the only English subtitle option was a hard-of-hearing one, I ended up extracting the three non-English-language titles via Handbrake, adding alternative .srt subtitles that I found online. The result was a huge improvement all round.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 5:22 pm 
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MichaelB wrote:
Knife in the Water was an almost unique case (possibly even unique, as I've never come across a similar instance elsewhere) of Polanski deliberately choosing not to subtitle dialogue that he'd only reluctantly included in the first place as a sop to the Polish censors of the time.
Another example that occurs to me is Otar Iosselaini's early short film Sapovnela, which has a bit of narration he was forced to add against his will. If you choose English subtitles on the DVD version they relate the title of the film and a couple of credits, then bluntly state "The film does not require translation," whereupon none of the narration is subtitled.

His early films on both that set and the Blaq Out / Facets editions are also sparsely subtitled at Iosseliani's request, the most extreme example being April, which translates absolutely none of its dialogue even though it's all in Georgian and its home audience would have understood everything. That film is a very special case, though, since the introduction of spoken language is deliberately portrayed as a violent intrusion into a previously happier non-verbal existence.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Fri Apr 06, 2012 6:27 pm 

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MichaelB wrote:
Knife in the Water was an almost unique case (possibly even unique, as I've never come across a similar instance elsewhere) of Polanski deliberately choosing not to subtitle dialogue that he'd only reluctantly included in the first place as a sop to the Polish censors of the time.

I'd like Criterion to translate (on an optional second subtitle track) that feverish radio announcer Andrzej is listening to. It's a borderline nonsensical sports broadcast, apparently a boxing match in Turkey between a Pole named Robert Molik (IIRC) and his Turkish opponent. It soon becomes clear that the Pole absolutely stinks but the announcer tries to put an absurdly optimistic spin on everything. Wonder who wrote it, I suspect Skolimowski's hand, the choice of words is just too perfect.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:06 pm 
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JanPB wrote:
Wonder who wrote it, I suspect Skolimowski's hand, the choice of words is just too perfect.

And Skolimowski's the boxing nut.


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 Post subject: Re: The Devils
PostPosted: Wed Apr 11, 2012 6:08 pm 

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MichaelB wrote:
Knife in the Water was an almost unique case (possibly even unique, as I've never come across a similar instance elsewhere) of Polanski deliberately choosing not to subtitle dialogue that he'd only reluctantly included in the first place as a sop to the Polish censors of the time.
Godard also provided "minimalist" subtitles for his Histoire(s) du cinema. And I remember a Michael Powell's Herzog Blaubarts Burg screening at Il Cinema Ritrovato: the Bartok opera is sung in German, but you only had a few passages subtitled.


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 Post subject: Re: Artificial Eye
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 6:52 am 
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I much prefer proper English subs rather than the American English you get on some UK DVDs and Blu-rays.

If I buy a, say, French language film from a British DVD company I don't expect characters to say stuff like, "Aww, mom, aincha gonna take the elevator to the apartment? That sucks!"


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 Post subject: Re: Artificial Eye
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 8:00 am 
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RossyG wrote:
I much prefer proper English subs rather than the American English you get on some UK DVDs and Blu-rays.

If I buy a, say, French language film from a British DVD company I don't expect characters to say stuff like, "Aww, mom, aincha gonna take the elevator to the apartment? That sucks!"

I love the subtitle on the BFI's Army of Shadows: 'useless wankers', translating 'gens foutres' I think. I don't know how this is translated in Criterion's edition, but I'd always hold onto the BFI for this reason alone.


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 Post subject: Re: Artificial Eye
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 8:46 am 
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When I watched the Polish TV series The Londoners (Londyńczycy), I was disconcerted to find that it started off with aggressively American subtitles - especially jarring given that it's entirely set in London and a fair chunk of it is in spoken British English.

But the second episode seemed much more idiomatic, so I assumed the subtitler was just getting the hang of it - and then part three switched back to American again.

A closer examination of the credits revealed that one translator handled odd-numbered episodes and another handled even-numbered ones - and they'd obviously learned English in different countries (or with different textbooks).


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 Post subject: Re: Artificial Eye
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 8:54 am 
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Across the pond, I recall New Yorker's old DVD of Godard's Weekend, wherein women/girls were "birds" and "ass" was "arse."


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 Post subject: Re: Artificial Eye
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 9:21 am 

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Aren't there any words that work everywhere? I don't like reading British words and you don't like reading American (I'm Canadian, but...) words. No need for 'aincha's or 'wanker's is there?


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 Post subject: Re: Artificial Eye
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 9:43 am 
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If the subtitler is trying as accurately as possible to translate slang, it makes sense to use whatever the equivalent is in the country they're translating for. A general word can be substituted—"women" instead of "birds"—but you'd be missing something of the spirit of the original.


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 Post subject: Re: Artificial Eye
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 10:21 am 

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I was watching the Danish "Curb Your Enthusiasm", Klovn, which has fairly spotty English subs (jokes are hard to translate), and they translated something as a "Skivey day." Which is a word I had never heard before in my entire Enlish speaking lifetime. I listened to the spoken Danish and heard they were saying "Hygge dag", which I actually HAD heard before, meaning "relaxing with good friends or loved ones". It was nothing short of a miracle that I was now speaking Danish better than English. Wankers indeed.


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