words on a screen

Last week, Kristin Scott-Thomas appeared in a short video on the BBC website talking about her new film, I’ve Loved You So Long.

The film is in French, and the subject of subtitles was discussed:

Interviewer: …audiences in the English-speaking world have in the past tended to shun films with subtitles.
Kristin: Apparently this is changing: I’ve heard that people are less and less resistant to this simply because we’ve all got so used to text messages, visual messages everywhere, and people are getting more and more used to having to read information and gather information very, very quickly.

I don’t know whether this is true, but I do know I think it’s interesting.

In Spain most films, both on TV and at the cinema, are dubbed rather than subtitled, and the subtitles tend to be bad. I suspect they are written by non-natives who only partially understand what’s happening on the screen.

Sadly, I’m a compulsive reader, and if words are flashed on a screen in front of me, I have to read them, even if they are in Spanish and I understand perfectly well what’s being said in the original English. This means I’ve read some dreadful Spanish translations and missed some excellent acting – there’s never time to both read and watch.

The texts are particularly dodgy when the characters use slang. One bad instance I remember came from an early scene in The Doors where a female character referred to her “old man.” She meant her marido (husband/partner) but it appeared in the subtitles as padre (father). There were some dubious relationships going on in the film, if I remember rightly, but not the incest that this mis-translation implied.

Sadly, the few times I’ve had to work on subtitles, they were very low-budget affairs and I was expected to do so without ever seeing the film. So, although I am criticising the quality of what appears commerically, I know that the translators aren’t always working under ideal conditions.

I hope, for Ms Scott-Thomas’s sake, and for the sake of anyone who goes to see her latest film, that a big enough budget was allowed for a good job to be done.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

One thought on “words on a screen”

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