Tuesday, 3 January 2017

An Odd Adventure: New Year's musings on subtitles from 1932

Regular readers of this blog or of my Twitter feed will know that I'm working on the history of subtitling. As a happy new year greeting to all three of my faithful readers, here's a short piece from Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times, published on 2 January 1932, a few months after subtitles had begun to appear in the United States (previously audiences had either had to speak the language in question, or make do with a synopsis in the programme).

They were called 'superimposed titles' to differentiate them from intertitles, which were interpolated between moving picture footage, rather than superimposed. Intertitles were referred to at the time as subtitles, to add to the confusion. Reading the rather plodding explanation below, we should remember that these were viewers used to silent films, where the action had to stop when a title card appeared. The idea of a title running concurrently with the action was a bit revolutionary:

Superimposed Titles
Witnessing a picture with superimposed titles, so-called, is an odd adventure. Superimposed titles are explanatory subtitles printed on scenes in the film, which translate the purport of what is being said in another language. They are being used in Europe on the American pictures. The words spoken in English are those translated into German, French or some other language, depending on what country the picture is shown in, so that its dialogue may be understood by the audience.
   I saw the French film, 'David Golder,' with superimposed German titles, and a knowledge of that language made it exceedingly easy to folow. The words spoken in French, which is often a difficult language to understand conversationally, acquired meaning as the picture progressed. It would seem, therefore, that the viewing of pictures with superimposed titles is an aid in acquiring a knowledge of a different tongue. Nor is it as complicated nor as distracting a method of witnessing a picture show as might be imagined.                      (2 January 1932, p.19)

Harry Baur, as David Golder (Duvivier, 1931) with his horrible daughter Joyce, played by Jackie Monnier

As a bonus extra feature on this blog post, here's a snippet by Harrison Carroli a few months later in the Evening News of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania:

A superimposed title, in case the term leaves you with a blank feeling, is the old-fashioned silent title cut down to a narrow strip and imposed across the bottom of the image on the screen. In Japan it's a perpendicular strip along the side. This title translates or explains the English dialogue, which goes on without interruption.(22 April 1932, p.9)

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Lecture by Professor Mona Baker, Bristol, 10 November 2016

We are really excited to welcome Professor Mona Baker, Emeritus Professor in Translation Studies from the University of Manchester, who will give a lecture on:

Fluidity, Uncertainty and Distance: Researching Volunteer Subtitling in the Context of the Egyptian Revolution

Thursday 10 November 2016
5.15pm - 6.30pm
Lecture Theatre 3, 17 Woodland Road (entrance for non-university members via 3-5 Woodland Rd)
Entrance is free and all are welcome.

While interest in volunteer translation and interpreting has grown noticeably in recent years, little field work has been undertaken to examine this important form of citizen media practice in violent and high risk contexts. Drawing on a recent study of the collaboration between subtitlers and filmmakers during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, this presentation will focus on the challenges posed by a fast-paced, fluid, non-hierarchical context of collaboration between relatively distinct groups (filmmakers and subtitlers) who do not interact regularly despite producing prolific output collaboratively. The discussion will also explore the difficulty of offering traditional research ‘findings’ in contexts where intense human relations and experiences are unfolding and taking unpredictable directions during the research period, rendering any notion of optimal researcher distance from the object of study both unworkable and undesirable and placing issues of trust and ethics at the centre of the research agenda. These difficulties are further exasperated by the ethos of contemporary movements of collective action, where there is often no interest in maintaining a record of individual contributions to any output or even a basic hierarchical structure that prevents any member from editing a (subtitled) video after it has been published.

More information at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/events/2016/november/fluidity.html

She's a fantastic speaker, and we hope to see some of you there!

Monday, 10 October 2016

The fate of a Japanese silent film in translation

I have one thing to say about this year's Pordenone Silent Film Festival.


OK, two things:


It was my first visit (it's been a banner year for film festivals, what with the Slapstick Festival in Bristol, Il cinema ritrovato in Bologna, and then the first ever Cinema Rediscovered festival in Bristol) and I can't wait to go again.

I thought I would celebrate the brilliance that was this week by sharing a snippet of film translation history that I came across recently. It's a sordid story of silent film, translation, Ireland, criminal behaviour and flammable nitrate...

In researching the distribution of foreign films in Ireland (a task made more complicated because for much of the twentieth century 'foreign films' meant anything not made in Ireland) I came across a fascinating anecdote. On Thursday 21 September 1944 Dublin's Evening Herald newspaper reported on the theft of eight reels of 'the only English translation in the world of a foreign film, entitled "The 27 Martyrs of Japan". The case was heard at the Metropolitan Juvenile court, as the film had been stolen by a fourteen-year-old messenger boy:

Five rolls of the film had been recovered by the time of this first court hearing, and three were still missing. The unnamed boy reappeared in court on 28 August 1944, at which point it was discovered that the missing rolls of film had met an unhappy fate:

The film was in fact The 26 Martyrs of Japan, which had had a long run in Ireland. As reportedly the first Catholic-themed film to be released in Japan, it was much trailed in the Irish press, and opened at the Savoy in Holy Week, 1937:

It's not clear to me yet what form the translation took (there was some talk of a lecturer alongside the film), and why the print was still in Ireland in 1944 - and indeed whether the remaining reels of that print survive somewhere - but the good news is that a version of the film did survive elsewhere and it's once again being screened.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Mystery dubbed film: WW2 film 'Behind these Walls'?

Hello gentle readers, I've been burrowing in Irish newspaper archives recently, for my own nefarious research purposes, and am a bit perplexed by something (well, more than one thing, but you know what I mean).

On 23 May 1948, Noel F. Moran, film critic of Ireland's Sunday Independent, reviewed an Anglo-French coproduction by the title Behind These Walls in his regular column 'This week's Films' (p.2). I'm unable to find any record of a film with this title, and as you will see below, he doesn't give any helpful information about actors, director etc., because he is too busy complaining about the dubbing.

I'm casting this one out to the 'verse, and would be very grateful if any readers or their acquaintances could shed any light on what the film might be. Here's what NFM says about the film:
The Anglo-French film "Behind These Walls" (Regal) is more notable as a technical experiment than as a story of the French Resistance Movement. It is, to my mind, an experiment that fails but, let me hasten to add, not on the technical side.
     The background is French: the characters are French. By means of the De Lane Lea process of English speech recording (it is known as "Lingua Synchrone"), these characters are given English voices to speak the English dialogue. Technically, as I have already implied, the process is a success. The synchronisation is a definite advance on the old hit-and-miss methods of dubbing, utilised largely on the Continent and in America. But, what has happened to the atmosphere and the realism? They have gone with the wind.
     At its best, the picture could never be regarded as another "Open City". It has not the same scope or stature, nor does it seek to give the same comprehensive survey of a great nation under the heel of the invader. Made with R.A.F. co-operation, it is a recreation of a true incident. A group of ordinary people face a tragically simple problem - whether or not to blow up a German benzine [sic] train and sacrifice the lives of 50 of their fellow countrymen, held as hostages. Emphasis is on the reactions of these hostages as they await their fate - the Mayor, outwardly calm but sick inside; the doctor; the old beggar, facing destiny philosophically; the spiv; the coward; all the unspectacular heroes and heroines of the back streets.
     The characterisation has all the visual appeal and the sensitivity one has come to associate with the French cinema - all set at nought by those English voices, which make the film neither fish, flesh nor good red herring, to to speak. The cockney-like voice of the tramp, for instance, is described in the publicity sheet as "a forthright accent that drives home the essential provincialism of the French original hero of this dramatic part". My imagination is not sufficiently vivid to catch the analogy. Give me the original French version, with English sub-titles, however inadequate. When I go to see a French film, I want to see a French film. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

UPDATE later that evening: Warm thanks to Lucy M. and Sam B. who have solved the mystery. The film is Jericho, also known as Behind These Walls, directed by Henri Calef and released in 1946. There does appear to be some confusion about the title. The film was reviewed in the New York Times on 6 December under the title Jericho ("exultant drama in the truly fine, French tradition"). There is no mention of the translation but it seems more likely that it was the subtitled version since it played at the 55th St. Playhouse which showed a lot of subtitled imports. Jericho was also the French release title. It was reviewed twice in the Monthly Film Bulletin in the UK, on 1 January 1947 for the dubbed version under the title Behind These Walls, on 1 January 1948 for the English-subtitled version, under the title Derrière ces murs. The subtitles were referred to as 'adequate' and the dubbed version 'not too offensive'.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Happy International Translation Day! and 2016 UK translator survey

What better way to celebrate St. Jerome's Day than via this email this morning that made me smile. It's from the indefatigable Paul Kaye at the European Commission representation in London (@PaulKayeEUlangs for anyone who might like to follow him on Twitter):

Subject: Happy St Jerome's Day! He'd do our survey if he were in our target group...

Dear all,

Today is the feast day of St Jerome, an Ilyrian theologian born in what is now Slovenia. He translated the Bible into Latin and is today the patron saint of translators. That makes 30 September International Translation Day.

If you work in translation in the UK, I'm sure St Jerome would urge you to complete our 2016 translator survey:

Best wishes,


Here's the man in question: (For more images of St. Jerome at work, see this old post...)

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

CFP: The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive, British Library, 8 May 2017

British Library and University College London

The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive

8 May 2017 
British Library Conference Centre

Keynote speaker: Jeremy Munday


In 2001 Theo Hermans suggested that while we have recognized that there can be no text without the human translator, translators are still expected to remain “hidden, out of view, transparent, incorporeal, disembodied and disenfranchised”.

Anthony Pym describes the need to look at the “flesh and blood” translator if we are to gain a deeper understanding of translators as cultural agents. D’Hulst suggests that we should ask Qui? - who is the translator? To answer this question he suggests we need to investigate the biographical detail of the translator, including his/her educational, social and economic background. More recently, Jeremy Munday, Outi Paloposki and others have suggested that we should research translators’ archives to reveal their every-day lives, struggles, networks, and even friendships. Munday has further suggested the creation of micro-histories of translators.

This conference sets out to explore current progress in studying the human, flesh-and-blood translator in an historical and cultural context.  A final panel, chaired by Theo Hermans, will focus on the future potentials, limitations and risks of biographical research of translators in Translation Studies and the humanities.

The British Library and University College London are currently accepting abstracts for papers from scholars and early career researchers in Translation Studies, History, Gender Studies, Comparative Literature, Sociology etc. We also welcome papers from archivists, curators and translators.


Themes for papers may include, but are not restricted to:

•    Biographical case studies of translators
•    Translators as political and/or cultural agents
•    The translator’s every-day life
•    Status and agency of translators
•    Translators' networks
•    The translator’s relationship with the author, publisher, editor
•    Translators’ social and cultural profile(s)
•    The translator negotiating her/his public persona – visibility versus invisibility
•    Translator as a poly-professional versus mono-professional
•    Amateur translators
•    Translation as a collaborative act
•    Collection of, and access to, translators archives
•    The opportunities and difficulties posed in of crossing disciplinary boundaries
•    The place of Bourdieu in investigating translators (“field”, “habitus”, capital)
•    The potential of collaborative research

Deadline and further details

Abstracts of 300 words should be sent to deborah.dawkin[at]bl.uk by Friday 4 November 2016.
Selection of papers will be confirmed by the committee by 9 December 2016.

Scientific Committee

Theo Hermans, Jeremy Munday, Outi Paloposki, Mark Shuttleworth, Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, Deborah Dawkin, Peter Good, Rachel Foss.

The British Library and Translation
The British Library is committed to promoting the importance of translation through its collections and events.  Among other translation related events, it is proud to host the annual Sebald Lecture and International Translation Day. “The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive” conference builds on two recent conferences held here: “Archival Uncertainties“, an international conference, exploring  the “diasporic archive” which featured leading Translation Studies scholars presenting their work on translation related archives, and the 2011 Conference “Literary Translators: Creative, Cultural and Collecting Contexts” which served as a forum for translation scholars, publishers, curators and archivists to discuss the future of collecting translators’ archives