Thursday, 22 May 2014

What does it mean to 'translate' a film?

My friend @YosemiteBailey posted a nice link on Twitter recently to a debate that has sprung up about US audiences and subtitling. The article, by David Poland on MovieCityNews, was responding to two recent articles. One, by Scott Foundas in Variety, claims that US audiences are increasingly comfortable with subtitled films (practically a topos of movie journalism, by now):

The second is a rebuttal by Anthony Kaufman on Indiewire, who points out that grosses for subtitled films in the US are falling significantly:

Poland makes the point that it's difficult to say whether or not US audiences like subtitled films or not when (a) the stats being discussed don't reflect new broadcast/distribution pathways such as VOD and (b) so many of the indie arms of major studios have backed away from subtitled films in general, so audiences aren't even being given the chance to vote with their feet.

But what interested me most about Poland's article was one of the comments. Poster Gonzalo Jimenez points out that

He's of course quite right that subtitles are widely watched in many countries, and also that Spain is one of the countries where dubbed films are more usual, for lots of historical and commercial reasons (for more on this see Martine Danan's 1991 article which can be downloaded as a pdf here).

What's really interesting here is the contrast that's set up between the subtitling of films and their 'translation', i.e. dubbing. What could it be about dubbing which makes it somehow seem more like 'translation' of the whole film than subtitling does? Is it a linguistic issue? It's not the first time I've seen 'translation' of a film equated with dubbing. Maybe it's something that's characteristic of Spanish usage.

But it also pops up in the research literature. In 1960, Edmond Cary referred to dubbing as 'traduction totale', or 'total translation'. For him, dubbing epitomises translation because it combines elements of text translation (but with the added constraint of not being able to shorten and omit), translation to be spoken and theatrical translation, the specific issue of lipsynch, the problem of the multimodality of film and the matching of the vocal to the gestural. He concludes that dubbing is the summit of the pyramid of types of translation, because 'tous les autres genres ne connaissent qu'une des facettes du langage: le doublage accepte d'être fidèle à toutes' [all the other types [of translation] are only concerned with one aspect of language: dubbing commits to being faithful to all of them].

Cary exaggerates the differences between dubbing and other forms of translation - it's certainly not only dubbing that has to be acutely sensitive to the nuance and the connotative meaning of words - but then he is expressing his ideas in the critical language of the day. Fidelity was the point of reference.  Print literature was the main context in which translation was considered. It's therefore not surprising that audiovisual translation feels like something that has to be clearly differentiated from 'conventional' translation. But it's still interesting that one form of audiovisual translation might feel 'more like translation' than another. It's particularly intriguing because dubbing in some languages, including Italian, gets referred to as a 'reduction', as in this example from an Italian release of Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House (aka La casa dei nostri sogni):

So there are a number of metaphors of audiovisual translation, and different languages may have different metaphors. Indeed, 'translation' itself above functions as a metaphor for audiovisual translation.

I think I feel another post coming on.

No comments: