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December 1996, Week 2


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Jesse Kalin <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 12 Dec 1996 13:32:18 -0400
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The central, and larger, issue here is trade offs. (And film is not unique
in this, of course, since translation is a central issue in literature and
poetry.  It is simply too great a price to have Cervantes available only in
Spanish or Dostoevsky available only in Russian; the same goes for Ozu and
One dimension of this is translation of non-English dialogue by subtitles
vs. dubbing vs. voice-over (done in some other contexts, though rarely for
the US--except perhaps for documentaries).  I can see no grounds for saying
one is theoretically or categorically preferable to the other.  Of course,
how well it is done is important, or even crucial, and even then relative
value can vary according to the film.  Tarkovsky is a case in point.  In
the early 80s, when it was still available, I found the dubbed 35mm print
of "Solaris" preferable to the subtitled version.  The dubbing was
well-done and, because they didn't have to read, viewers could submit
themselves to the rhythms and images that are so particularly important for
Tarkovsky.  In fact, a really well-dubbed version of any Tarkovsky film
might be preferable to any subtitled version.  Occasionally there is a good
dubbing of Bergman, though I can't watch the dubbed version of "Fanny and
But there are also other dimensions where there are similar kinds of
aesthetic choices and the even more general issue as to whether we can say
that in fact for film, or for any particular film, there is one definite,
determinate, correct "performance" (text).  35mm or 16mm (not to mention
VHS tape, video disc, etc.)?  Seeing Tarkovsky's "Mirror" in 35mm was a
revelation and the 16mm version is something less than that (and both
almost an entirely different "species" than the video "trace")--but this
doesn't mean we don't show/use the 16mm version (especially if there are no
facilities to show the other), or study the video tape, does it?  Size of
screen image: full theater size, small classroom size (not to mention TV or
projection TV sizes), etc.?  Image ratio (just exactly how much of the
image is or should be masked off the top and sides?).  (I saw "Breaking the
Waves" last night in an (art) theater and it looked as though the intended
image was meant to be wider than what the theater had space to project [the
titles were a bit cropped on the left and right edges].)  [Digression:
Should one forbid students to ever look at a nonletterboxed tape of a
widescreen film, eg. "Chinatown" (Yes, eg. Kurosawa's "Ran")?  Should one
(try) to forbid one's library from ever purchasing such video material
(even when strongly desired by other faculty in, say, nonfilm disciplines)?
Is the nonwidescreen video version of "Nashville" truly better than
nothing?]  "Luminosity" also surely makes a difference (I can remember
Roger Ebert complaining about first-run Chicago theaters turning down the
volatage (?) of their projectors, thus casting a somewhat darker image,
inorder to conserve bulb life and save on overhead).  Clear vs. muddy, but
just exactly how clear and just where does muddy begin?  And so on.  Most
of what we see--and study--is somewhat less and different than the ideal
object.  Aesthetic choices are made everywhere (and yet the art survives).
Jesse Kalin
Vassar College
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