Friday, 13 April 2007

Cult cinema and translation

Recently I've been thinking a bit about the issues of translation in relation to cult films like gialli. It's a combination of various things - talking with someone who's working on doing English subs for a film; re-viewing different versions of The Cat o' Nine Tails in English and Italian, and a post by Tim Lucas on Video Watchblog where he talks about the new subtitles on Rabid Dogs and how they are different from the version he prepared a number of years back - that have just happened to come together. (As an aside, how often to films get retranslated compared to literature or theory? How often do cult films compared to art ones? Times they are a changing...)

Lucas talks about how two toughs would, in English, be unlikely to call their boss "Doctor"; it taps into an Italian respect for titles and academic achievement and differences in the wider educational system compared to English norms, for as the Collins English-Italian dictionary entry explains:

"In Italy anyone who has a university degree in any subject can be addressed with the title of 'dottore'; so someone who is called 'dottore' is not necessarily a medical doctor."

What this made me think of, oddly enough, is William Foote Whyte's early sociological classic Street Corner Society, where he studied an Italian-American street gang whose street-smart leader went by, you've guessed it, the name of "Doc"...

Maybe it's the ease with which the English doctor can be shortened and familiarised in this manner and the Italian doesn't lend perhaps doesn't lend itself to this in the same way. I don't know; whatever the case, I'm going to have to listen to Rabid Dogs more intently the next time I watch it...

In terms of Cat o' Nine Tails, meanwhile, it's not just the little changes in dialogue - in the English dub the driver who discovers the unconscious night watchman says he must be drunk again and the Italian dub that he must be sleeping, implying different middle-class expectations as to what a working-class watchman does - but also the various written inserts of notes, newspapers, letters and diary entries.

Maybe it's being ultra-nerdy but I would like to see discs start including alterate versions of written inserts to be able to compare them in case there are potentially meaningful differences. Or maybe we - as fans and scholars - need to start taking screengrabs / rips of such moments to build up our own repositories.

"Traduttore, traditor" in the Italian, which translates into the French as "Traduire, c'est trahir," which translates into the English as "to translate is to betray..." adds a certain irony to all of this, naturellement...

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