Saturday, 25 April 2015

Less than a month to go! "Splendid Innovations" conference on film translation history

We're getting very excited that our conference on the history of film translation is only weeks away! (21 and 22 May, to be precise). The conference is very generously funded by the British Academy and features distinguished archivists, film historians and translation scholars from many parts of the world.

Registration is still open via the conference website at Registration runs via the website until 11 May, and thereafter by email, but places are limited.

Please feel free to download and circulate this e-flier to anyone who may be interested.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

"Consultants and doctors for sick films": snippet of film translation history

I have been reading and greatly enjoying Adrian Brunel's autobiography Nice Work, about his early career in silent films and then on into sound films. I'm particularly interested in the editing work he did on silent films, which relates to our forthcoming conference at the British Academy: Splendid Innovations: The Development, Reception and Preservation of Screen Translation.

(Thanks are due to Robert Smith of Adelphi Books, Southsea, for selling me the book some years ago and to Mark Fuller of Bristol Silents for recommending it and galvanising me to go and take the book off the shelf).

In the late 1920s Brunel went into business with Ivor Montagu, co-founder of the Film Society, table-tennis player, filmmaker, conservationist and translator, to edit silent films that weren't quite geared for a British audience. They offered their services, as Brunel put it, 'as consultants and doctors for sick films':
Numbers of foreign films were being imported which failed to appeal to British audiences because of certain remediable 'defects', and after we had very successfully operated on a few of them, Wardour Street began to realise the value of my little unit of editors.
   When the Film Society began importing films, editors were required, and so Ivor used my cutting rooms and my staff. After a time we formed a company, Brunel and Montagu, for editing films - the only one of its kind in the world - and were soon known in the trade as Brunel and Montage. As our business was almost entirely confined to the treatment of completed films with which there was something wrong, we discreetly omitted our names from the credit titles of the majority of those films which passed through our hands; but for this fact, ours would have become a household name in all cinemas, for not only was the volume of our business considerable, but we dealt with many of the most famous films of those days.
   The variety of our work was one of its many attractive qualities. [...] Next week's film might be American, Burmese or Japanese; it might be a spy drama, a village comedy or a medical instructional film. Again, anything might happen in connection with the work; one of us might have to go to Berlin, Rome, or Paris; or F.J. Perry, the tennis champion, might call in for a game of table tennis with Ivor, his coach; or we might have a sudden trade-show job, requiring three or four of us to go down to a film studio and work on the editing of a film for forty-eight hours before going to bed; or an importer of foreign films might call upon us to get passed by the Censor some rather risky and valueless picture, promising us a percentage of his huge (estimated) profits but having no cash to pay us for our work.  (Brunel, Nice Work, pp.117-8)
This business collapsed with the advent of the talkies, because, as Brunel says ruefully, 'it was impossible then to persuade film people that talkies needed any kind of constructive or creative editing or even that editors could do anything to adjust defects in synchronised films - editors were relegated to the position of film joiners, defeatists who accepted what they got and just assembled it' (p.122).

I was interested to see that one of the films he was involved with was G.W. Pabst's Kameradschaft (1931), one of my favourite films, and the first film in England, as far as I know, to be exhibited with superimposed titles:
I remember [the British Board of Film Censors] objecting to a scene in that magnificent film "Kamaradschaft" [sic], a distant shot of a number of naked miners bathing. It was a very pleasing scene from the point of view of composition, and from what one could see, through the steam, the men were fine specimens and were most skilfully manoeuvred so as not to alarm those unfortunate people who have peculiar ideas about the human body; it was interesting and, to me and my colleagues, completely unobjectionable. When I was told by the B.B.F.C that this scene must be cut out of the film I protested and pointed out that it had been shown in every civilised country in Europe. "On the Continent- yes, they would!" said one of the censors. I persisted. The B.B.F.C. officials then professed to be surprised and shocked at my attitude. "Surely you wouldn't wish little boys and girls to see revolting scenes of naked miners?" one of them who had not seen the film asked. They were adamant and so the scene had to come out. [...] However, this was only one scene; it was a pity to lose it, but it didn't ruin the film to cut it out. (Nice Work p.121)
It's interesting that Brunel mentions this, because it was a sound film, and yet apparently it didn't come under the heading of films which could not be improved through editing. The scene to which the eager beavers of the B.B.F.C. objected can be seen at 31:20 in the copy of Kameradschaft available on Youtube:

To go directly to the scene in question, click here.

The viewing copy I've seen at the British Film Institute, which is, as far as I am aware, a copy of the UK release print from 1932, shows that the film had added pictorial credits at the beginning, as well as the innovative subtitles. Were these the work of Brunel and Montagu as well? Can we ever know? And should we consider the absence of footage of naked miners part of the film's 'translation' to the UK? Come along on 21 and 22 May to find out....


The 'Splendid Innovations' conference, co-organised by me and the subtitler, translator and historian Jean-François Cornu will take place on 21 and 22 May, 2015 at the British Academy in London. It will be accompanied by a free public performance by the distinguished Japanese benshi, Kataoka Ichiro, with Japanese film scholar Professor Markus Nornes and with live music by Cyrus Gabrysch.

Bristol Silents is a group of extremely nice and knowledgeable enthusiasts who curate some of the best silent film events in Britain and are a big part of what makes Bristol a great place to be a film nerd.

Adelphi Books is my favourite shop in all the world. It doesn't have a website - it has to be experienced in person. Its owner Robert Smith has introduced me to many of my favourite films of the 1920s and 1930s. 



I wonder a bit about this distinction that Brunel draws between silent films which could freely be recut and sound films which didn't lend themselves to editing. Lucy Mazdon and Catherine Wheatley, in their excellent book French Film in Britain, Sex, Art and Cinephilia, quote a 1939 piece by Yvonne Thomas in Sight and Sound as saying that
The only bother with [Continental films] in those days [the silent period] was that from a English audience's point of view, they were far too long. They invariably had to be cut to meet our own requirements, but these cuts could usually be made without detracting from the story.
This certainly supports Brunel's account, but then Brunel also brings in the sound film Kameradschaft. And Joan Hills' obituary of the distinguished subtitler Julia Wolf, who subtitled every foreign film at the Curzon from its opening in 1934 to its closure due to bomb damage during the Second World War (Mazdon & Wheatley pp.27-8), suggests that she recut not only silent, but also sound films - sometimes, as Brunel did, as a way of 'managing' the censorship process. [totters off to do more reading]

Friday, 10 April 2015

Free webconference: Corpora and Tools in Translator Training, 14 April 2015

This just came round via the IATIS Training Committee and looks very useful. The event will run both onsite and online. There is no charge for participation.

IATIS Training Event: 

Corpora and Tools in Translator Training

IATIS Online/Onsite Training Event, 14 April 2015
Cologne University of Applied Sciences, 
Institute of Translation and Multilingual Communication

The use of corpora has now found its way into both the theoretical/descriptive and applied branches of translation studies. This online event is aimed at stimulating debate on current and future trends in corpus-based translator training and critically appraising current practices.
The training event will focus on strategies, usability and technology in the use of corpora and discuss the following aspects:
1) Corpus types which are particularly relevant to translator training.
2) Corpus use for learning to translate vs. learning corpus use for translating.
3) Corpus compilation and selection criteria.
4) Contextualisation of corpus texts and of the theoretical/methodological set-up underlying corpus- based research.
5) Corpus types, e.g. Do-it-yourself corpora, high-quality translation corpora, such as the Cologne Specialized Translation Corpus (CSTC).
6) The web as a source of corpus texts; the web as a macro-corpus.
7) Situating the use of corpora in translation competence models, e.g. PACTE or EMT.
8) Corpus tools, such as corpus analysis software and Web concordancers.
The event leaders (Prof Dr Silvia Bernardini, University of Bologna, Dr Ralph Krüger, Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Prof Dr Silvia Hansen-Schirra, University of Mainz) will present position papers (ca. 25 min each) covering a number of the issues suggested above and then invite discussion from participants.
More details including schedule, abstracts and login instructions at:

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Oxford conference: Prismatic Translation, 1-3 October 2015 (abstracts by

I heard Matthew Reynolds of St. Anne's College, Oxford, speaking about his concept of prismatic translation at an EHRC conference last autumn and found it a beautifully formulated and intriguing way into thinking about retranslation (which seems, by comparison, a reductive term). I'm glad to see that a conference is in the offing:

Call for papers: Prismatic Translation

Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT)
in collaboration with the European Humanities Research Centre (EHRC)

St Anne’s College Oxford, 1-3 October 2015

Call for papers:
Translation is prismatic when it produces multiple variants. This can happen in the process of a single translational act, or when a text is translated into different languages, or when it is translated into the same language several times. Our conference will explore all these aspects of the prism of translation in order to assess their origins, their effects and their potential.

Presentations might consider multiple translations across languages or within one language; texts that include variant translations; the way prismatic possibilities are handled in different translation cultures; or the way they are controlled in commercial interpreting or in relation to sacred texts.

Questions to be explored might include:
  • what do translation prisms show us about the nature of the texts that are being translated? 
  • Can they illuminate the differences between script systems (Roman, Chinese, Arabic etc)? 
  • Is there virtue in translation practices that display variants instead of choosing between them? 
  • Are such practices more at home in new digital media than in the old technology of the book? 
  • Is the culture of translation shifting, with new ventures showing interest in prismatic translation? 
  • Is the discovery of variants a kind of creativity? 
  • What should we make of the distorting effects of the prism (mistranslation, erasure, collage, pseudotranslation)? 
  • Is there political potential in the way prisms can be harnessed to invert, deviate, split apart? 
  • Is it problematic that global translation is dominated by a few major languages? 
  • Can machines contribute to a prismatic translation culture, or will they blight it? 
  • Could translation prisms be a resource for cross-linguistic, cross-scriptal, cross-cultural study at the micro level?’

Our conference will bring together scholars, theorists, translators, writers and artists to explore these questions. We are open to dialogic and multi-lingual modes of presentation, to scholarly papers focusing on any language and historical period, and to theoretical explorations. The aim will be to generate productive – indeed, prismatic – discussion.

With the participation of Emily Apter (NYU) and Rocío Baños Piñero (UCL).

Essays arising from the conference will be published in the Legenda books series Transcript.

Please send your proposal (300 word max) and short CV to comparative.criticism[at] by 27th April 2015.  The programme will be announced at the end of May.

Comité scientifique: Prof Matthew Reynolds, Prof Phillip Rothwell, Dr Sowon Park, Dr Adriana Jacobs, Dr Mohamed-Salah Omri, Dr Ben Morgan, Dr Xiaofan Amy Li.

More details at

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Poems about translation 23: Pushkin, 'To Gnedich' (1832)

Hot on the heels of the previous Poem About Translation (no. 22 in the series) comes a poem by Pushkin. (You may remember Pushkin has come up in these html pages before, in the form of Nabokov's poem on translating Pushkin.)

I discovered this particular poem via Efim Etkind's fascinating essay 'The Translator', translated from Russian by Jane Bugaeva. The article appears in the latest issue of the Massachusetts Review and can be downloaded here.

Etkind's piece tells the extraordinary story of Tatiana Grigorievna Gnedich, who translated Byron's Don Juan into Russian while a prisoner in Stalinist Russia. She spent two years translating some seventeen thousand lines into Russian rhymed verse, under the supervision of her jailer, before being sent to a labour camp for eight years where she made further improvements to the manuscript.

Pushkin's poem is addressed to Tatiana's great-great-great uncle Nikolay Gnedich, who translated the Iliad into Russian in the early decades of the nineteenth century:

"Gnedich" by Unknown - Transferred from ru.wikipedia Original uploader was Vasbur at ru.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Etkind quotes the first lines of the poem, presumably in a translation by Bugaeva:
For a long time you spoke with Homer,
all alone.
For a long time we waited,
oh so long.
And then, enlightened, you returned
from those high mysteries
delivering your masterpiece.*
On searching for the full poem in English, I was struck by the difference between this translation and the only one I could find on the web, a 1996 translation by Genia Gurarie which seems to be in alternate hexameters and tetrameters, with end-rhyme:
With Homer you conversed alone for days and nights,
     Our waiting hours were passing slowly,
And shining you came down from the mysterious heights
     And brought to us your tablets holy.
Without having any knowledge of the Russian (or, perhaps, because of that), I find the few lines of Bugaeva's translation more appealing than Gurarie's, but I would be interested to hear opinions from any Russianists who might happen to be reading.

*Pushkin may not always have thought so highly of Gnedich's Iliad - see the Wikipedia entry for Gnedich which offers an alternative take on the translation.