Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Snippets from film translation history: the subtitle turners

Following on a very interesting paper by Rachel Weissbrod at the Splendid Innovations conference in May 2015 at the British Academy, where Rachel talked about the beginnings of film translation in Mandatory Palestine, I have been reminded by Sam B. of this story by Israeli film producer Menahem Golan, from an interview in Cinema Scope:

Cinema Scope: You became involved with movies as a child back in your Israeli hometown of Tiberias, when one of your first jobs was as a subtitle-turner.

 Menahem Golan: At that time the subtitles were not on the film, but projected on the side. So you needed someone to turn the wheel. And already as a child I wanted to see every movie, but my father didn’t give me the money to go to the cinema three or four times a week. So I made a deal with the projectionist that I would turn the film subtitles for free, as long as I could see the movie. But it often happened that I got so caught up in the film that I forgot to turn the wheel. And the whole cinema would start yelling: “Menahem! Menahem! Subtitles!!!”

UPDATE 21 August 2015: I have just come across this account on Luke McKernan's excellent Picturegoing blog by the Palestianian author Khalid Totah (1886-1955) of going to see Olivier's Hamlet and another unnamed Hollywood film in Damascus, probably in the late 1940s. There's just a brief mention of the subtitles: 'of course the film was in English, but on the side there was an Arabic translation'. This would have been a bit later than Golan's account - Golan was born in 1929, so was probably turning subtitles in the early 1940s. If any readers know of other accounts of this subtitling-on-the-side in the Middle East I'd be very happy to hear about it.

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