Monday, 27 January 2014

Visual pleasure and vintage subtitles

A snippetlet for those of my readers who enjoy film translations of yore. This clip is from an Italian release of the 1947 musical extravaganza Variety Girl, directed by George Marshall and starring just about everybody who was anybody:

In this sequence Pearl Bailey, in her first film role, part-speaks, part-sings the song 'Tired':

Italy is so well known as a dubbing territory - indeed, almost *the* dubbing territory par excellence - that nobody talks much about the role of subtitling, particularly in the first decades of sound. I did not know that Italian distributors of the 1940s ever subtitled songs, but shall be keeping an eye out from now on.

And look at the font! The size of it! The lovely clean lines of it! As the kind poster of the clip, EmeliusBisestile, observes wistfully, and as I have mentioned before, fonts from the 30s and 40s offer a kind of viewing pleasure which is lacking in resubtitled versions with more functional, modern fonts, for all their legibility and fancy dropshadows, etc.

And yet - I feel that such fonts are wonderfully charming, but I am uncomfortably aware that I cannot say what and wherefore. Are there any font nerds sorry, typeface experts out there who could do a font identification on these subtitles for me? I can just about identify it as sans-serif, but I would love to know more - what it's called, where else it was used, how it evokes that sense of period...? If print texts are multimodal in their use of typeface, and therefore typeface itself is an element of the translation of printed texts (see here for some more thoughts on this) then what's the role of the subtitle typeface, superimposed on the image, as an element of translation? What kind of meaning-making potential does it have (apart from inspiring hopeless nostalgia in geeks like me)? Comments welcome.

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