Saturday, 21 January 2012

Subtitles: reduce, re-use, recycle? and a forthcoming seminar

A useful-looking seminar on subtitling this week at Imperial (wish I could go) which might well be of interest to students taking our subtitling module this semester: 

Date: Wednesday, 25th January 2012 
Time:  5-6 pm 
Room: Sherfield Building, Room S303A/B, Humanities Department.

Understanding and solving the AVT challenges presented by access subtitling
Andrew Lambourne CEO, SysMedia Ltd

Talk outline 
AVT in the context of subtitling presents a number of challenges due to the need to transform rich information from the aural and televisual domains into the more limited domain of written timed text. The cognitive processing involved in appreciating a multimedia presentation in its original form is significantly modified if the channel for acquisition of dialogue and (in the case of subtitling for deaf people) other cues is switched partially or totally from the ears to the eyes. The AVT task becomes more than just translation – it is also a form of interpretation, and the goals and objectives need to be clearly understood before it is possible to start to appreciate how the factors affecting success or quality might be recognised. When the scope of challenges is appreciated and prioritised, an approach can be taken to establishing guidelines and techniques which will best serve the intended users. Understanding what the audience needs is crucial to good subtitling. Once this is done, the next challenge is how to prepare the subtitles economically and effectively for different types of programme – live, fast-turnaround, recorded, DVD. We will look at some of the technologies and techniques which form part of the current and emerging systems and approaches.

Andrew Lambourne has been working as a researcher, developer and visionary in the field of subtitling preparation systems for over 30 years. His early work at the University of Southampton pioneered many of the techniques which are still used in live and offline subtitling, and since then with his company SysMedia he has continued to push back the frontiers of what is achievable, with new versions of the WinCAPS system being launched at each technological step-change. This technical understanding is informed by a clear appreciation of the needs of the audience as well as knowledge of the commercial pressures which impact the industry. As a result he brings a “real-world” practicality to bear on this challenging AVT field.

More seminars at Imperial here. They are free and open to all. 

Blog post: subtitles past their sell-by date: 

For readers who are interested in subtitling and read French, there's an excellent post on one of my favourite translation blogs, Les piles intermédiaires, about the dangers of re-using existing subtitles. It sounds like good business sense (why re-invent the wheel, after all?) but these subtitles may be more trouble than they're worth. They may date from decades ago. They may fall short of today's quality standards, have old-fashioned language and may leave a lot of the dialogue out because subtitles used to condense dialogue much more aggressively. The post, entitled 'Du vieillissement (ou : vous n'emporterez pas vos sous-titres avec vous)' gives a funny and thorough analysis of the deficiencies of one set of French subtitles for You Can't Take It With You.

So, an area where recycling may not necessarily be a good thing. 

But nor is waste! I will admit to a great fondness for watching films with 'vintage' subtitles, for all that they can be harder to read because there's no dropshadow, they are sometimes oddly positioned on the screen, and they can have various typographic eccentricities. Maybe it's the fonts.... Somehow vintage fonts seem to have more charm than today's digitally-produced subtitles, as in these examples from Le jour se lève (from a late 70s US Videoyesteryear VHS cassette but look to me as though they are from the 1930s): 

It's a real pity that archives often aren't in a position to preserve multiple subtitled copies of films. Ironically, with all the brilliant work that Criterion, Masters of Cinema etc. do, the 'new improved subtitle translations' deliberately 'overwrite' previous translations which may be of interest in their own right. The only place I know of where alternative DVD subtitles are routinely acknowledged is DVDBeaver, and that's only in passing. Very few DVD releases mention the film's prior translations (though Criterion's Region 1 release of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Persona in the Tartan DVD Bergman Collection are two honourable exceptions).

Wouldn't it make a great DVD extra to include a copy of the first subtitled print of a film, with all the inevitable imperfections, as an extra feature for new re-releases? This would be especially interesting for films released in the late 20s and early 30s when subtitling was still in its infancy. Rather than buying into some fantasy of the film in its original, pristine state 'as the director intended', it might make a useful point about the ways that audience expectations and translation conventions have changed over the decades.

More vintage subtitles, please!


Les piles intermédiaires said...

Thanks for the link, Carol!
I too think it would be "a great DVD extra" (and from a purely aesthetic point of view, I quite like the way "old" subtitles used to be actually "burnt in" the video), but I'm not sure it would appeal to consumers and lead to massive DVD sales... ;-)

sunny south coast said...

Boring market realities are boring... ;)