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Cannes Report Day 5.1: Reading is Also Good

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Mark Kermode | 11:35 UK time, Thursday, 22 May 2008

How come every country on Earth can manage subtitles except the English-speaking ones?

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  • Comment number 1.

    I'd rather see the subtitles than watch a film that's been dubbed. I agree, the film loses something when that happens.

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree completely, but let's not let the Europeans get off scot-free - have you forgotten the horror of dubbing? I know the French and Germans both have blood on their hands when it comes to this most shameful of cinematic arts.

  • Comment number 3.

    Definitely agree too. As a fan of Japanese movies in particular the magic is totally destroyed by hammy American dubbing, it annoys me hugely and it's no hassle whatsoeverto read subtitles. As Mark commented You seem to almost hear the actor speaking your language by reading the subtitles.

    However interestingly it's my girlfriend who insists on watching the dubbed versions and she's Hungarian, so I don't think it's an inherent laziness with the naturally English speaking.

  • Comment number 4.

    Completely agree, and I especially want to second Shannahan's comment. Japanese anime really suffers in the dubbing process. Not that some of the Ghibli/Pixar collaborations haven't been good, in their way, but I can't help feeling that I'm missing something of the original entity. Case in point: Tales from Earthsea. I was SO disappointed when my local Arts Centre decided to play only the dubbed version. I was happy to watch it, but would have preferred to hear the Japanese actors on the FIRST viewing. It's only fair, why can't it be done?

  • Comment number 5.

    Completely and utterly agree.

    Can you imagine what would have happened if they'd dubbed Amelie????

    When I saw A Very Long Engagement at the cinema, it was the first subtitled film I'd seen on the big screen and I was worried my eyes wouldn't be able to handle flitting between the action and the words. How wrong I was?

    In fact, I could have quite easily watched that film and also Amelie without the subtitles even though I don't speak French.

    Words are backed up by actions and if the words are being spoken by badly dubbed english-speaking cast then it can distract from the actions and lose some of the meaning

  • Comment number 6.

    I've tried endlessly to get my friends to watch subtitled films but they just refuse saying "If I wanted to read I'd pick up a book". They really don't know what joys they are missing.

    As has already been said, after a few minutes at most you don't even notice it's in another language... well almost always anyway. I remember watching a Takashi Kitano film where a character shouted something for a full 30 seconds before the subtitles came up with "What?!"

    Keep championing subtitled films Mark, you've got my vote.

  • Comment number 7.

    Yeah I totally agree too. I wish all films were subtitled, I might then actually know what Robert Downey Jr and his fellow mumblers are saying.

  • Comment number 8.

    Yet again, the good doctor is so right.
    I have now seen Persepolis in its original language and also more recently dubbed in English. For me the film had more emotion and feeling in French.

  • Comment number 9.

    Actually most countries dub their movies (because they have a vast number of illiterates in their population probably!) in Europe its really only the Scandinavian countries and in Holland where they don't.

  • Comment number 10.

    To be the devil's advocate:

    Subtitling, for all its virtues, does distract one to a certain extent from the events unfolding on-screen. As a simple test of this, watch an English movie with subtitles turned on - you'll continually find your eyes wandering towards the bottom of the screen.

    There are other faults too. Too often you'll find yourself speed-reading ahead of the events on-screen, and so dramatic tension is often impaired.

    Subtitling also doesn't convey effectively the nuances of an actor's performance, as hearing it in your native tongue would.

    Also, genres such as musicals are ill-suited to being subtitled. A good recent example is Miike's Happiness of the Katakuris.

    Unfortunately, dubbing isn't an ideal solution either. The two biggest problems are the quality and suitablity of the voice-actors, and the out-of-time lip synching. However, for an animation, these two problems can be largely negated. If it's possible to find decent Hebrew, Japanese or French actors for the original release of a movie, it can't be any more difficult to find quality native English speakers for a dubbing. Depending on the animation, lip-synching may still be a problem, but clever translation and recording can also overcome this problem.

    Ideally, it's best to watch a movie in its native tongue without the need for subtitles. That either means restricting oneself to English movies, or learning another language. Often neither are feasible, so we must make do with two imperfect solutions.

  • Comment number 11.

    Mark - you are assuming that people can read.

  • Comment number 12.

    Totally agree about Persepolis. The film guide for London's Curzon said it was subtitled. So I found myself feeling really disappointed when the film started and there were English voices.

    It felt so wrong that a film (even an animation) about Iran should be voiced in English.

  • Comment number 13.

    Mark, sorry to burst the dubbing anglo-saxon bubble but in large enough economies movies are always dubbed - it even goes so far, that the voices of Hollywoods titan's are widely recognized e.g. Germany, France - not Cannes, Italy, etc.). Only smaller movie markets don't dub (Slovenia, the Nordic Countries, etc.).

  • Comment number 14.

    Yeah, and the reason we don't dub is BECAUSE WE CAN READ ;)

  • Comment number 15.

    I agree about the 'mumbling English language' actors at the end - I don't consider myself to be particularly hard of hearing but I find DVDs invaluable for having English subtitles available in case I can't figure out a line of dialogue (now if only they could apply this process of pausing and replaying moments with subtitles to real life situations!)

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree with AnthonyLane above. I've been living in Rome for the last year or so and I've been shocked by two things. First, that 90% of the output of the Italian cinema system is ridiculous "Carry On" type comedies, but I've also been shocked at the near-complete reliance on dubbing English-language movies into Italian to secure an audience. And it's not like the Italians are opposed to Hollywood movies - Iron Man did ridiculous numbers here, but only in Italian. ONE cinema in Rome showed it in English - for an entire week.


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