Saturday, 6 June 2015

Doctoral seminar: Practice-led research in translation, Bristol, 23 June 2015

We are delighted to announce our final translation event at Bristol for this year, which is a doctoral seminar on practice-led research. The emphasis is on translation studies, but the event should also be of interest to PhD researchers and their supervisors in other areas of the Arts and Humanities.

Translation@Bristol presents:

Doctoral seminar: Practice-led Research in Translation 

23 June 2015


Lecture Theatre 3

Arts Complex, 17 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UP

(access for external visitors via 3-5 Woodland Road)


2.15    Welcome and opening remarks

2.30    Round table on practice-led research in the Arts and Humanities:

     Dr Katja Krebs, Senior Lecturer in Theatre and   Performance, University of Bristol

     Simon Jones, Professor of Performance, University of Bristol

     Dr. Chantal Wright, Assistant Professor of Translation as a Literary Practice, University of Warwick

     Dr. Angela Piccini, Senior Lecturer in Screen Media, University of Bristol               

3.45    Coffee break

4.15    Keynote lecture:

           Professor Jean Boase-Beier, University of East Anglia

            Theory and Practice in Translation Studies Research”

5.15    Final questions and remarks

5.30    Wine and mingling


Speaker bio: Professor Boase-Beier taught Literary Translation, Linguistics, German and Stylistics at UEA since 1991 and set up UEA's MA in Literary Translation in 1993. An Executive Committee member of the British Comparative Literature Association, member of the Advisory Panel of the British Centre for Literary Translation,  and former Executive Committee member of the Translators Association, she is also a translator between German and English and the editor of the Visible Poets series of bilingual poetry books (Arc Publications). 

The event is free and all are welcome. 

For further details, please contact carol.osullivan[at] 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Adrian Brunel redux: on subtitling and dubbing in the early 1930s

I mentioned Adrian Brunel's autobiography Nice Work in a recent post, as he observed the transition from the silent to the sound period from close up. On reading further we learn that he also worked as a subtitler some time in the early 1930s.

It is not very promising that the chapter where he describes his work in audiovisual translation is entitled 'Slumming':
I picked up a few little interesting jobs titling foreign films - interesting as jobs but deadly dull financially. After having been paid £250 for titling a silent foreign film, the maximum I could get for doing a foreign talkie was £40. As I [...] naturally gave part of my fee to Roy Lockwood, Reggie Beck or whoever was assisting me, it was hardly worth our time after we had learned what we could of the job. One think I learned still applies to-day [at time of writing in the late 1940s] - that the super-imposition of translated titles is a neglected art, probably because it is very badly paid. Most foreign film so titled are spoiled by not having had enough time, invention and skill expended on grappling with the problem of condensing eighteen spoken words into six printed words, of finding just the right place to superimpose the title, of judging when no title is necessary, of how to avoid unnecessary overlapping of a title on to two scenes and so on. (p.162)
It's interesting to see how little the basics of subtitling have changed in nearly a century, though subtitles were sparser and more selective, still, at the time Brunel was writing. Brunel himself felt that dubbing was superior to subtitling: 'superimposed translations [were] disturbing', while 'with care, patience, time and intelligence, almost perfect results can be obtained' in dubbing. He was involved in dubbing the Guido Brignone film La Wally, made in 1932, but found that the translation did not go far enough:
we did a fine job [...] but unfortunately my detailed and urgently stressed advice on how to edit the film for England was ignored, so that it was ruined by the inclusion of several passages which I knew would be regarded as ridiculous by English audiences. (p.165)
If you are interested in hearing more about these problems of audiovisual translation in the early years of sound, you may still (just about) be able to register for our conference 'Splendid Innovations', which takes place this Thursday 21 and Friday 22 May at the British Academy, London:

Only two more sleeps until the conference! \o/\o/

Friday, 1 May 2015

Talk by Serena Bassi on online activism, translation and cultural work, 13 May

We are delighted to welcome Dr Serena Bassi to the University of Bristol on 13 May. She will give a talk on

Bringing the Message to LGBTQ Youth Around the World? 
Online Activism, Translation and Cultural Work

 Dr Serena Bassi
Cardiff University

Wednesday 13 May
Lecture Theatre 3, 17 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1TE
(entrance via 3-5 Woodland Road for external visitors)
Wine to follow.

This research seminar will also be part of an Open Day for postgraduate study (taught and research degrees) in the School of Modern Languages. Prospective applicants are welcome to come and see what life in a postgraduate university programme is about, and meet staff and students. Everybody welcome, venez nombreux!

Full details (including open day registration) below, or see 

Matthias Politycki in conversation, 19 May, University of Bristol

We are delighted to announce the visit of German novelist Matthias Politycki to the University of Bristol. On Tuesday 19 May, he will give a reading from his 2013 novel Samarkand Samarkand in an English translation by Anthea Bell. For a review of the novel from New Books in German, see:

The reading will take place on Tuesday, 19 May 2015, at 6pm in Lecture Theatre 1, University of Bristol, School of Arts, 43 Woodland Road. Please note this is *not* the Arts Complex, it's the building further towards town. No knowledge of German is necessary to enjoy this event. 

The reading will be followed by a conversation with the author about his travels in Central Asia that inspired the novel, and his experience of being translated. There will also be a wine reception. Entry is free, but spaces are limited, so it is recommended that you register in advance by emailing Dr Margit Dirscherl at margit.dirscherl at

Even fuller details are below:

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Less than a month to go! "Splendid Innovations" conference on film translation history

We're getting very excited that our conference on the history of film translation is only weeks away! (21 and 22 May, to be precise). The conference is very generously funded by the British Academy and features distinguished archivists, film historians and translation scholars from many parts of the world.

Registration is still open via the conference website at Registration runs via the website until 11 May, and thereafter by email, but places are limited.

Please feel free to download and circulate this e-flier to anyone who may be interested.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

"Consultants and doctors for sick films": snippet of film translation history

I have been reading and greatly enjoying Adrian Brunel's autobiography Nice Work, about his early career in silent films and then on into sound films. I'm particularly interested in the editing work he did on silent films, which relates to our forthcoming conference at the British Academy: Splendid Innovations: The Development, Reception and Preservation of Screen Translation.

(Thanks are due to Robert Smith of Adelphi Books, Southsea, for selling me the book some years ago and to Mark Fuller of Bristol Silents for recommending it and galvanising me to go and take the book off the shelf).

In the late 1920s Brunel went into business with Ivor Montagu, co-founder of the Film Society, table-tennis player, filmmaker, conservationist and translator, to edit silent films that weren't quite geared for a British audience. They offered their services, as Brunel put it, 'as consultants and doctors for sick films':
Numbers of foreign films were being imported which failed to appeal to British audiences because of certain remediable 'defects', and after we had very successfully operated on a few of them, Wardour Street began to realise the value of my little unit of editors.
   When the Film Society began importing films, editors were required, and so Ivor used my cutting rooms and my staff. After a time we formed a company, Brunel and Montagu, for editing films - the only one of its kind in the world - and were soon known in the trade as Brunel and Montage. As our business was almost entirely confined to the treatment of completed films with which there was something wrong, we discreetly omitted our names from the credit titles of the majority of those films which passed through our hands; but for this fact, ours would have become a household name in all cinemas, for not only was the volume of our business considerable, but we dealt with many of the most famous films of those days.
   The variety of our work was one of its many attractive qualities. [...] Next week's film might be American, Burmese or Japanese; it might be a spy drama, a village comedy or a medical instructional film. Again, anything might happen in connection with the work; one of us might have to go to Berlin, Rome, or Paris; or F.J. Perry, the tennis champion, might call in for a game of table tennis with Ivor, his coach; or we might have a sudden trade-show job, requiring three or four of us to go down to a film studio and work on the editing of a film for forty-eight hours before going to bed; or an importer of foreign films might call upon us to get passed by the Censor some rather risky and valueless picture, promising us a percentage of his huge (estimated) profits but having no cash to pay us for our work.  (Brunel, Nice Work, pp.117-8)
This business collapsed with the advent of the talkies, because, as Brunel says ruefully, 'it was impossible then to persuade film people that talkies needed any kind of constructive or creative editing or even that editors could do anything to adjust defects in synchronised films - editors were relegated to the position of film joiners, defeatists who accepted what they got and just assembled it' (p.122).

I was interested to see that one of the films he was involved with was G.W. Pabst's Kameradschaft (1931), one of my favourite films, and the first film in England, as far as I know, to be exhibited with superimposed titles:
I remember [the British Board of Film Censors] objecting to a scene in that magnificent film "Kamaradschaft" [sic], a distant shot of a number of naked miners bathing. It was a very pleasing scene from the point of view of composition, and from what one could see, through the steam, the men were fine specimens and were most skilfully manoeuvred so as not to alarm those unfortunate people who have peculiar ideas about the human body; it was interesting and, to me and my colleagues, completely unobjectionable. When I was told by the B.B.F.C that this scene must be cut out of the film I protested and pointed out that it had been shown in every civilised country in Europe. "On the Continent- yes, they would!" said one of the censors. I persisted. The B.B.F.C. officials then professed to be surprised and shocked at my attitude. "Surely you wouldn't wish little boys and girls to see revolting scenes of naked miners?" one of them who had not seen the film asked. They were adamant and so the scene had to come out. [...] However, this was only one scene; it was a pity to lose it, but it didn't ruin the film to cut it out. (Nice Work p.121)
It's interesting that Brunel mentions this, because it was a sound film, and yet apparently it didn't come under the heading of films which could not be improved through editing. The scene to which the eager beavers of the B.B.F.C. objected can be seen at 31:20 in the copy of Kameradschaft available on Youtube:

To go directly to the scene in question, click here.

The viewing copy I've seen at the British Film Institute, which is, as far as I am aware, a copy of the UK release print from 1932, shows that the film had added pictorial credits at the beginning, as well as the innovative subtitles. Were these the work of Brunel and Montagu as well? Can we ever know? And should we consider the absence of footage of naked miners part of the film's 'translation' to the UK? Come along on 21 and 22 May to find out....


The 'Splendid Innovations' conference, co-organised by me and the subtitler, translator and historian Jean-François Cornu will take place on 21 and 22 May, 2015 at the British Academy in London. It will be accompanied by a free public performance by the distinguished Japanese benshi, Kataoka Ichiro, with Japanese film scholar Professor Markus Nornes and with live music by Cyrus Gabrysch.

Bristol Silents is a group of extremely nice and knowledgeable enthusiasts who curate some of the best silent film events in Britain and are a big part of what makes Bristol a great place to be a film nerd.

Adelphi Books is my favourite shop in all the world. It doesn't have a website - it has to be experienced in person. Its owner Robert Smith has introduced me to many of my favourite films of the 1920s and 1930s. 



I wonder a bit about this distinction that Brunel draws between silent films which could freely be recut and sound films which didn't lend themselves to editing. Lucy Mazdon and Catherine Wheatley, in their excellent book French Film in Britain, Sex, Art and Cinephilia, quote a 1939 piece by Yvonne Thomas in Sight and Sound as saying that
The only bother with [Continental films] in those days [the silent period] was that from a English audience's point of view, they were far too long. They invariably had to be cut to meet our own requirements, but these cuts could usually be made without detracting from the story.
This certainly supports Brunel's account, but then Brunel also brings in the sound film Kameradschaft. And Joan Hills' obituary of the distinguished subtitler Julia Wolf, who subtitled every foreign film at the Curzon from its opening in 1934 to its closure due to bomb damage during the Second World War (Mazdon & Wheatley pp.27-8), suggests that she recut not only silent, but also sound films - sometimes, as Brunel did, as a way of 'managing' the censorship process. [totters off to do more reading]