Say What?


on audiovisual and literary translation, subtitling, and the French & American film industries


still photo from the  Piccolo Teatro di Milano and Teatri Uniti di Napoli's production of Goldoni's "Trilogia della villeggiatura"

still photo from the Piccolo Teatro di Milano and Teatri Uniti di Napoli's production of Goldoni's "Trilogia della villeggiatura"

My second theatrical supertitle encounter within less than a week was in Italian, via a production of Trilogia della villeggiatura, also presented by Lincoln Center Festival.

The rapid fire nature of the original dialogue, mentioned in one review I saw, sounded much more attractive than what I was reading though, the translation written as it was in a formal, stuff English register.

One instance stopped me cold, “marriagable”.  I didn’t note the context or complete phrase on the spot, but researching the word afterwards, I think the actual meaning had little to do with the original source.

Because I immediately remember thinking, why not just say “marrying” something more readily understood and used by Anglophones?  Perhaps the translator wasn’t one, or worse neither Italian nor native English speaking?

Other translation choices only made my departure at intermission that much easier, e.g. the non-translation of several Italian card games (which is understandable), and whose exact meaning and definition seemed that much more interesting than the production hélàs.


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Of dust . . . real and imaginary

Théâtre du Soleil's performance space in New York

Théâtre du Soleil's performance space in New York

Over the weekend I was fortunate to see the complete production of Les Ephémères, by the great, storied French theater company Théâtre du Soleil.  They have a long tradition of blurring and crossing boundaries of all sorts.

I was initially curious to see whether they were going to use supertitles, and whether they might distract me as a spectator, as I seek out as many monolingual opportunities as I can to enhance my language skills.  While they did use them, because of the performance space design, I barely noticed them.

Two key things though popped out at me from the get go:  a proper translation of the title (which remains en français naturally because it’s performed in French), and a specific scene in which a translation decision was made that completely broke my suspension of disbelief.

The word éphémère evokes not only something literary but innately human.  To translate it literally (“the emphemerals” or ” the emphemeral things/ones”) confuses the French poetry register with that of English, which to me within English seems like a veritable linguistic subcontinent, but moreover the aims and achievements of the piece itself and its collective makers/authors.

As I was swept up in different directions by its varied themes and stories, one constant remained that any Anglophone would understand:  dust.  I would propose something more like “Of dust . . .”  that better captures the literary register while directly summarizing the many varied scenes it portrays.

One of which fell completely flat because the character/actor/creator said he was originally from Oklahoma when his English-speaking accent sounded ever so slightly Germanic.  Most Francophones (other than African ones) I’ve ever met, when speaking English of any proficiency, either use sounds similar to their native tongue (dropping “h’es”, “i” becomes “e” etc.), or something I only can describe as Germanic.  Never mind the character in question was supposed to be a transsexual who’d moved all the way from Oklahoma to Paris to gain more acceptance . . .

I frequently deal with this choice/”problem” in my work as an audiovisual translator, in terms of properly situating characters with how they actually sound.  In this case though, when the character (played and created by Jeremy James) revealed he was from Oklahoma (earning a well-deserved laugh), he did so in English, making it all the more disjointed.  Many lives back I used to direct and write theatre, so perhaps I am less likely to let it slip by than other spectators.

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The future of employment as we know it?

Fishing around for a different perspective (eg, en français) on the Linkedin crowdsourcing controversy (the ATA’s response to which I whole-heartedly agree with), I found . . . this.  According to Le Monde, it was done in Australia, but sure looks like Central Park to me (I guess that’s the idea).

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Random connections

Saw Jill Sommer’s soft spot for Schoolhouse Rock videos, and I can’t help mentioning Conjunction Junction, my all-time fave, and certainly an indirect fave of my once & forever French teacher, Farida, at the World Bank, who would always emphasize the importance of mots de liaison.

Somehow this reminds me of the Masked Translator‘s post on taking breaks amidst long projects (thanks in part to the Dynamic Duo of the translation blogosphere, Judy and Dagmar Jenner).  Immediately before leaving on vacation, I was very happy to complete translation of an animated full-length film script, the process of which I wish had been as fun as Conjunction Junction (which I wish I could figure out how to embed directly here, but . . . to be continued, obviously).

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Opening new windows . . .

Angela Lansbury from the original B'way production of "Mame"

Angela Lansbury from the original B'way production of "Mame"

Just back from vacation (trying as best I can to extend it as long as possible), I see that France is shortening its release window for films from theaters to VOD.  I remember reading a few weeks back in New York that a whopping 39% of surveyed young people watch TV on their computer!  And I read this, just as I was moving, and facing the analog to digital switch deadline, without a TV (I ended up buying a TV, but HD needless to mention).

I don’t see that the US has any sort of comparable, fixed window, but doing a quick search found that release windows just a year ago were begining to “crack“.  It’s not hard to imagine that going to movie theaters themselves in the not too distant future will be a lot more like going to “legit” theaters.  This is actually a question I posed directly to Jim Schamus, head of Focus Features, at a writers seminar back in March, to which he responded not entirely directly that (from what I remember) the “power of storytelling” will always prevail, and keep us all faithfully headed into bricks n’mortar theaters.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes (particularly watching foreign films) do I so wish I could pause, rewind or whatever to return to parts I can’t fully “get” or would like to revisit.  Our world is changing so rapidly who knows  . . . perhaps one day there might be a happy medium between the two.

Filed under: French film industry, US film industry, ,