Sunday, 1 March 2015

Missing the joke? Hellzapoppin! in translation

I'm excited about taking part in the upcoming 'Authors and the World' workshop in Lancaster on Discourses of Literary Celebrity Across Genres (see here for more information). I'll be talking about literary celebrity and subtitling, which are two things that don't really seem to go together.

Well, nearly never. Every now and then, a subtitler makes a name for themselves, like Mai Harris, Herman Weinberg, Linda Hoaglund or Lenny Borger. There is even the rare 'celebrity' subtitler like Anthony Burgess for Rappeneau's Cyrano de Bergerac. When the 1941 Universal comedy extravaganza Hellzapoppin was released in France after the end of the Second World War, it was advertised as a 'version originale sous-titrée par LES ROIS DES LOUFOQUES Pierre Dac and Fernand Rauzéna'. Dac was a comedian who broadcast for the French resistance from Radio Londres during the war. Fernand Rauzéna was an actor whose work included dubbing Stan Laurel and who worked with Dac on the Société des Loufoques radio show in the second half of the 1930s.

(Thanks (again) to Sam B. for pointing this one out). As you can see from the poster, the French subtitler writers' names are bigger than those of the film's stars.

I haven't seen a French version of this film yet, but I'm curious to see how they manage the zany humour of the original film. ("May I take your picture?" says a keen photographer, before removing a framed canvas from the wall and running off with it.) Unfortunately, as I understand it, the DVD of the film released in France doesn't have these much-trumpeted subtitles, but a well-received new subtitle translation by Michelle Nahon.

I do, however, have an Italian dubbed version of the film and I can see already that some of the humour seems to have dissipated in translation. (For one thing, the whole sequence containing the line quoted above has disappeared in the television broadcast version I have so I can't see how they would have done that in Italian.) My current project focuses on written text on screen, so I'm most interested in the credits, insert shots etc. The English credits for Hellzapoppin' finish with a devil (seen below in the far left of the image) pulling down a title card saying:

The camera then zooms in on the card and the film's title. In Italian this insert is reshot, but as is fairly standard when inserts are reshot in translation, instead of reproducing the sequence they simply provide the text, superimposed on the same background as the rest of the credits. Alas, the Italian translators (not credited anywhere on my copy) don't seem to have read the text very closely: the Italian text is a standard disclaimer of the type "any similarity with actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental".

(Screenshots prepared by the indefatigable Sina Stuhlert, to whom all thanks.)

For a longer preview of what I'll be talking about in Lancaster (with added stats!) see here.

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