Monday, April 27, 2009
I’ve been dubbed, subtitled and translated into sign-language
It seems that we can blame that old sod Franco for the size of the Spanish dubbing industry. Where other countries tamely put subtitles on their cinema or television screens, the Spanish are much more partial to James Dean’s mouth making a ‘hi’ movement as a strange and gravely Madrid voice says ‘hola, ¿que tal?’ Sometimes, they don’t even remove the original soundtrack – just turn it down with the Spanish version bellowed out on top. There’s David Attenborough telling us about snakes in his whispery voice – which at least this viewer can – or could understand – if it wasn’t for the same bloke from Madrid thundering out something about serpientes venenosas rendering the whole thing impossible to understand in any language.
Franco didn’t approve of foreign languages – Basque and Catalonian of course – but anything else either. They might be saying something untoward, immoral or revolutionary. So he banned them. No one was to speak anything but Spanish – including the nation’s deaf, who were not allowed to use sign-language (and even today they sign in a rather furtive sort of way, as if they are still on the look out for a Guardia Civil).
So, forget subtitles, everything imported had to be dubbed. Except, come to think of it, pop music. It would have been a stretch having our friend from Madrid crooning ‘she loves yer ya ya ya’ in castellano over the Beatles. Can’t see many people buying the record either. Anyway, in some cases, films were translated away from their original meaning – if immoral or faintly subversive – and represented in a more acceptable light ‘she’s my girlfriend’, for example, might become ‘she’s my fiancée’. Of course, if the film strayed to far from the Catholic Church’s view of morality, or the Government’s view of political propriety, it would never be shown here anyway. Which is why everyone had to drive up to Perpignan to see Marlon Brando’s ‘Last Tango in Paris’ and why they currently sell porn films (apparently by the lorry-load) out of Spanish gas stations.
But, going back to dubbing. Televisions now have this special button for those who wish to see something in its ‘versión original’. Press it and – whoops – up’ll come David in all his glory, except for anything from the BBC (David again) which won’t for, no doubt, copyright reasons. Bloody nuisance. The National Geographic channel has the choice of Spanish or English, but the Documanía channel next to it on the dial has Spanish or Portuguese – even though most of the material is American. Most peculiar. Some comedies – such as Frasier on Canal Plus – have the original version wiped, and as anyone who has seen a comedy in translation, you know that the jokes don’t always make it past the dictionary. On the ordinary bog-standard television, several channels operate the original language knob, but you have to re-tune it after every commercial interruption (which, in Spain, is about every five minutes). Read a book, why don’cha?
In Madrid, there are a few cinemas that show films in ‘V.O.’ with subtitles, usually lowbrow comedies. They do well with the American students.
Well, at least the Continentals are prepared to look at foreign cinema, as well as their own (and the Spanish make quite respectable movies). In Britain, we think that everything good, if not ours, comes from Hollywood. When was the last time you saw a French film, an Italian TV show or a Spanish documentary? Bloody Americans – if there’s a decent European film out there, they’ll churn out a re-make (gotta have that Tom Cruise as the Good German who wants to murder Hitler).
In Greece or Portugal or Denmark or Poland (well, I’m guessing about Poland to be frank), you’ll sit down with the local version of popcorn and watch the movie in its original language, the subtitles wobbling there at the bottom of the screen and – in the Mediterranean cinemas at least – with the entire audience talking at once.
I suppose dubbing can be useful. The first thing I learnt in Spanish was ‘Hands up’, which I have to admit that I’ve still yet to use in my private capacity. A German friend once told me that he’d learnt English from listening to pop music. Apart from coming out with some odd expressions occasionally ‘(‘Baby, light my fire’, ‘you’re my Rockafella’ and so on), he managed a certain fluency without, apparently, an undue amount of effort. Perhaps some of my readers might want to follow his example and start practicing singing along to Miguel Ríos or Camilo Sesto (If I were you, I’d save the Flamenco until a bit later).
So the dubbing industry, started and encouraged by Franco, had, by the time of his death, become so powerful (in a relatively small field) that it has managed to continue on into modern times.
Where you won’t find it, of course, is in politics. While Carod Rovira, a Spaniard who is powerful in Catalonian politics, won’t speak in Spanish on Spanish television (for which, the American expression ‘go figure’ seems remarkably apt); he drones on in Catalonian – apparently with a slight Spanish accent – and is subtitled by the news channel. Since he’s talking a lot of independence stuff, no one bothers to read what he says.
Curiously though, when he – or any other Catalonian politician - wants to appeal to the larger public about something other than politics, why, he’ll address us in Spanish. This does not happen in the Basque County, however, where all declarations, political or otherwise, are made in Spanish. Perhaps they don’t have a good subtitling service there…
Posted by Lenox at 11:01 PM