Say What?


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

Is Online Killing Movies?


. . . Those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it.
— Werner Herzog

From all appearances, the opposite of the above seems to have come to pass.  What was once “programming,” now morphed into “content,” has rapaciously proliferated like whatever your preferred metaphor might be.  Now I readily admit, as “A Writer who Translates,” that I’ve immersed myself in “must-see TV” stories that submerged its audiences into fantasies or history to brilliantly illuminate the present.

But on some level, whether it’s a pendulum swing or some type of karmatic comeuppance, a shift is underway.  So-called “content’s” accumulation via multiple “platforms” etc. seems to have reached a breaking point. Did we actually ask for all of this . . . information/story worship/making?

In olden times, i.e. pre-2007, there was some separation of media artistic appraisal/criticism and business analysis on all things audiovisual. Now, the critical pile on of praise and worshipful adoration is contextualized by what exactly?  That, save for narrative features reduced to two genres and precious few exceptions, there’s absolutely nothing else out there?  The past, i.e., a prior half century of utter TV dreck in terms of “content” antecedents, and a century of cinema?

The cheerleading justifies “more,” but of what exactly?  The absolutist publisher/”content provider,” instead of curating or nurturing individual voices, has created a self-mirroring kingdom where the business model is all, and the actual story or project is a trivial, detailed afterthought.  This devout, holy cynicism, in which “creatives” fully participate, pollutes the entire landscape, snuffing out and stifling actual trailblazing and risk-taking.

How much more can we take without cultural indigestion or worse? Like some ridiculous sedative, we have become anesthetized by stories where the ultimate goal is simply to get lost. Are we hastening our extinction by bending our heads in prayer like to our screens, ignoring not only the manifold and manifest problems around us but one another? There’s no hint of catharsis, much less a desire to be more awake or alive afterwards. Instead, we’re venturing further off trail from our own lives and any semblance of bonding or deeper connection with those around us and those far beyond.  Of course, there’s endless virtual “watercooler” activity, but whose existence merely perpetrates the content-saturated ecosystem itself.

In all of this submergence, we’re fast losing something critical: the cinema. Almost undetectably, while we were asleep in front of our devices, the business of movies has disappeared. And possibly the most frightening thing about online’s algae-like monopolization is its dominion and domination over all dramatic forms.

So what if or when the dam bursts, and the theaters simply are gone, how will we come together for entertainment?  Never before, to my knowledge as someone with a theatre background, has humanity shirked collective aesthetic gatherings. What’s ultimately at stake is the one mass cultural enterprise where everyone comes together—the masses, the elite, and everyone in between.

Like any bubble or “sure thing,” push eventually comes to shove, and “reality,” in this case something more measured, retrospective, or completely different, asserts its dominion. But what exactly that will look, sound, and feel like is anyone’s guess  . . .


Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, US film industry, VOD, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Un mariage pas très gai

The most exciting news coming out of Cannes this year was on police blotters despite the hullaballo that reigned down when the Palmaires were announced (and after apparently, from the author of the graphic novel which sparked the film.)  Though Cannes endorses artistic achievement and little else, in film, excellence and success can be mutually exclusive, and they rarely translate fluidly and identically, especially from France to the US.

That no major film with LGBT content has ever screened till now is unsurprising, as Spike Lee, flashing back to 1989, might have been one of the first filmmakers of any African descent to screen in competition.  This disconnect between popular media and social issues can also explain the domestic umbrage about the “foreign” laurels flung on the film, revealing the true colors of the anti-marriage crowd.

Unlike the American right which smartly realized that social progress is a one-way street, the French extreme-right, seems to be going after something it can gallantly lose merely to gain attention.  Would that this political contortionism could work to make real LGBT stories successfully visible to more people.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, divers, French film industry, , , , , ,

Actors as Translators (and Interpreters)

Kristin Scott Thomas

Another testament that so much is knitting our world closer; this lovely article only confirms what I’ve noticed for some time.

By necessity, national film market borders are disappearing faster than polar ice floes.  But as formats get smaller and more personalized, and guaranteeing revenue trickier, consolidation is even more critical, all in a search for more “green.”

And along the way to all of that, I’m really happy to see Kristin Scott-Thomas getting much deserved critical attention for the wonderful work she does and has done.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, divers, French film industry, French translation, US film industry, , ,

Film Finance Update

Last week’s Beverly Hills Bar Association film finance seminar laid out the landscape for indie film finance, and the news . . . was not as bad as some might expect.

While certain elements–like investment funding–are lagging, soft money in the form of state film credits  and crowdsourcing are quite steady, depending on the location involved.   Most of the panel felt slate financing and pre-sales are definitively gone, but (legitimate) hedge funds have actually made a comeback, driven by American equity.

Without slates or cherry-picking therein, financing tends to be more random.  The types of content are unlimited though, excepting westerns and musicals, the province of studios.  But trustworthy sales agents are also key as structural differences aside,  little has changed from 2007 in terms of quality content and professional relationships holding sway.

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

‘The Artist’ and Hollywood: What’s It All About, Uggie?

Before the internet, tweeting, and instant messaging, Oscar season sometimes lasted till . . . April!  By way of explaining my consideration of The Artist‘s sweep at last February’s awards.

Consistent with previous observations, this only confirms Hollywood’s coming out à la française not merely as an international marketplace, but more critically a berth for foreign product.  As heinous and Darwinistic Thomas Friedman’s thesis is, the world relentlessly continues to flatten as if in some Ayn Rand/L. Ron Hubbard nightmare scenario.

But instead of the nostalgic look back as most observers have framed it, I think Academy members and perhaps Hollywood generally is in the midst of a ‘media-forward’ conversion.  With the internet tolling the end of so very much–scheduled television, celluloid prints, the preciousness of audiovisual production itself–all at once, no wonder in waving an utterly unsentimental goodbye to a kind of Hollywood that’s increasingly hard to justify, it would seem as if the industry is not only recognizing the rest of the world in ways it rarely has before, but embracing it.

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

Two to Watch Out For

I was delighted to see Dany Boon’s new film the other night, which on the one hand is a send up of our overly partisan yet constantly shifting world, and on the other an attempt to recreate the gargantuan success of his first film.

There’s talk of a remake (after Will Smith snapped up the rights for his earlier film), and it’s intriguing to imagine where they would base the comedy if transplanted here.  Canadian border comedy was long-ago exhausted by SCTV, and demographic-based humor can be tricky these days.

Otherwise, I was on-set last fall across the soundstage where this other film (itself reflective of  previous posts of mine about the ever increasing internationality of film production) was being filmed here in Los Angeles.  “Droid” or “avatar”, it looks like fun, and certainly an homage to American films from that time with a definite French touch.

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

Translation Coming to a Theater Near You

While the piece in the L.A. Times highlighting Point Blank appeared a few weeks ago, the film is still in release, and I plan to see it soon, certainly before a remake happens.  It’s similar to other recent successful French thrillers, so the question arises:  is it still a “thriller,” and French, if the frantically pressured men aren’t rescuing strong but vulnerable women?  And would it be so phenomenally successful there and abroad if it weren’t?

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

Bring on the droids, all hail the droids . . .

Without giving anything away, the new film Hereafter is the apotheosis of a “foreign” film (which might be an endangered species thanks to globalization) disguised as a “domestic” one (ditto).

At the screening I attended, the French star, the ebullient Cécile de France (a Belgian no less, but I won’t go there . . . ) even said director/producer Clint Eastwood gave her, and presumably her numerous Francophone colleagues, rein to translate their own lines into French.  Writer Peter Morgan wasn’t on hand unfortunately to discuss that, and I didn’t get a chance to ask her how that worked collaboratively.

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

Cannes coming up

This years lineup, announced last week, looks particularly . . . mysterious? interesting? . . .  since most of the in-competition films premier there.

I did notice two films that at least have some web presence, one of which is a Facebook page (which clearly states the producers had no part in it-wink, wink).  The first, Draquila – L’Italia Che Treme (my very rough translation:  “Dracula – Italy trembles”) looks to be a political slam of Berlusconi by the comic actress and director Sabina Guzzanti.  A natural disaster is involved, along with the political response, from what I can tell from the trailer.

The other film is Les amours imaginaires by Québeçois wunderkind Xavier Dolan, whose previous J’ai tué ma mère was a big hit at last year’s festival as part of the select Quinzaine de réalisateurs (Fifteen Directors) section.  His new film, like the previous, features a gay protagonist, but this time it’s kind of a retro ’80s thing with boy and girl meet boy, and both fall for him.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry,

Sidebar: Personal recommendation

You’ll know by now that I’m a sucker for romance (with consequences), and my latest recommendation is no exception.  Eyes Wide Open was actually an official Cannes selection from Israel last year, and got a very strong review in the Times, yet despite all this I only heard about the film through an acquaintance.  And this, over a month after the film was released here in New York.

Subtlety is the name of both the games the characters play, and the art and skill employed therein by all involved with the film.  Except the subtitles, which though I can’t critique their accuracy as my Hebrew is long out of practice, but the timing on a good 25 – 30% of them is either early or late, especially toward the end of the film.  But do not let that dissuade you from going.

The film is powerful enough, both in its imagery and emotion to triumph over minor linguistic lapses.  And though I want to rail against the ongoing censorship of gay male romantic imagery as I did earlier, but this film is strong enough to speak for itself.  Shalom.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, divers, subtitling, , ,