Saturday, 29 March 2008

Some questions

I've been thinking a lot about dubbing and subtitling cultures and their effects on how we receive and understand a film.

My impression is that in the UK he distinction between the subtitling and dubbing has historically been a strong one and that in the 1960s or 1970s the circuit on which a Italian (specifically) film would circulate was strongly dependent on which conventions it followed.

Putting it very crudely and reductively, I get the sense that subtitles equalled art equalled a middle class arthouse audience whilst dubbing equalled entertainment equalled a lower class fleapit audience.

But what I'm wondering is how things played out in other countries and of what the longer term legacy has been with regard to the film cultures that developed - e.g. is Argento a more 'respectable' figure for more 'mainstream' critical discussion in France partly because there was more of a dubbing culture and thus less of a class prejudice between films and audiences?

I'm thinking, for example, of the 'official' position of a Cahiers du cinema compared to the BFI, of Thoret's auteur study of Argento published by Cahiers' imprint against the BFI's Companion to Italian Cinema with its clear sense of awkwardness as far as names like Bava and Argento are concerned.

Anyone got any insights from where they are to help fill out my UK-centric picture?


Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree with your initial idea that subtitling was reserved for the more "deserving" arthouse titles, but the other thing you need to remember is audience size - apart from the UK (and US), Germany (incl. Switzerland and Austria), France (+parts of Belgium), and Italy, all other European markets are probably too small to make dubbing (I assume it's more expensive than subtitling) a worthwhile option.
The preference for subtitles when it comes to arthouse stuff might therefore have been economic necessity as much as concern for "artistic integrity".

I don't think it has much to do with critical perception to be honest - in Germany (and Italy as far as I know) arthouse movies are often dubbed too, but that doesn't seem to translate into a more open-minded approach towards the likes of Argento et al.

K H Brown said...

What you say is true: in general larger linguistic markets (e.g. France, Germany) means dubbing while smaller ones (e.g. the Scandinavian countries) mean subtitling. Dubbing is more expensive than subtitling.

Thanks for the information on Germany - the more places I have an impression of, the better :-)

Benjamin Wright said...

You must also remember that in the Italian industry, dubbing is a very serious business.

Italian films -- made in Italy for Italian audiences -- are routinely subject to post-sync techniques.

International films that must be translated into Italian receive very thorough treatment. In fact, there are often voice actors who fill the roles of specific Hollywood actors. Thus, Al Pacino is normally dubbed by the same actor.

Coincidentally, the Pacino dub actor is the same one who dubs for De Niro. So in Heat, for instance, he was speaking to himself in the diner scene.

I'm not sure this exists outside Italy, since they have crafted an entire industry out of post-sync recording techniques.


Chris Cooke said...

It's a tough one, if you ask me. The act of dubbing a film is a response to Europe being much more inclusive than English speaking nations. However, Argento uses English predominantly as a synch-sound language, witness Inferno, Suspiria, etc and the effect that speaking in English has on performance (though sometimes, in some films, scenes are shot twice, in two languages)... However, the Italian industry often shoots without sound - it means that filming can take place under difficult circumstances, and that German, Italian, Spanish, English actors can all work together - then dubbing meant getting into as many market places as possible... each one recognising a name actor. But that practice isn't very common now, and foreign language sub-titled films are very successful in the UK now - Pan's Labyrinth, for example... though some foreign language films still offer dubbed into english versions on dvd! But Argento surely doesn't have to shoot in English anymore... Oddly, Mother of Tears plays better to my ear in Italian than English.

K H Brown said...

Thanks for the insights guys.

Ben: Do you think the role of dubbing has changed in the Italian cinema over recent years, with less post synchronising of Italian films (as there are fewer being produced and perhaps more use of direct sound) and proportionally more dubbing of Hollywood product?

I was reading an old interview with a dubbing artist from the early 1980s, where she mentioned on the "one actor one voice" policy. I guess in the case of Pacino and De Niro being done by the same actor regularly they made an exception; I'm now imagining the dubbing a bit like a scene in Jesus of Montreal where one of the passion play performers starts off dubbing porno films and has at one point to do the voices for two different men during a four way sex scene...

Chris: Pan's Labyrinth is an interesting one. One thing that has often struck me about horror/fantastique fans is how international they can be, that it doesn't matter where a film comes from if it delivers the goods. 30 years ago, however, I suspect Pan's Labyrinth would have been dubbed and recut a la a Paul Naschy or Amando De Ossorio film.

Chris Cooke said...

Hey there K H.

I agree totally that years ago Pan's labyrinth would have been dubbed. And after that it would have been heavily cut and possibly even caught up in a Video Nasties scare! But today it seems almost old fashioned of Dario to film this way - his daughter is a brave actress indeed, but i think her lines delivered to the ghost of her mother are more sincere (ironically) after she has dubbed herself back into Italian.

Anonymous said...

Keith, do not forget that the Cahiers du cinéma didn't pay any attention to Argento's films until Tenebrae!

Anonymous said...

At least occasionally, dubbing can improve a movie - German companies have often used highly regarded actors for the dubbing and you'd sometimes end up with a really cheap Italian movie being much better thanks to the actors doing the dubbing (imagine the Royal Shakespeare company dubbing "Strip nude for your killer").