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December 1996, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Arnt Maasø <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 14:17:57 +0100
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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The discussion on dubbing has raised several interesting questions. First
of all, for me =ABto dubb or not to dubb=BB does not concern whether the fil=
uses sync dialogue from location, re-recorded dialogue from location,
looped dialogue from post-production, or even if the person we see is the
same person we hear. The main issue, as I see it, is whether or not the
dialogue has tight or loose lip sync; and whether or not we prefer tight
lip sync in a foreign language with subtitles, to loose lip sync in our
native tongue without subtitles. (Both practices have underlying arguments
of authenticity or comprehensibility, that I will not distinguish between
here). I think a lot of the discussion boils down to questions about the
natural vs. cultural aspects of preferences for dubbing or subtitles. On
the one side there is no doubt that synchronicity and tight lip sync is an
important aspect of our natural perception of the world. There has been a
fair amount of research on infants showing that they prefer to look at a
screen with people talking with tight lip sync, when given a choice between
that and for instance a screen with 400 msec offset between the
lipmovements and the sound. (Cf. Barbara Dodd, Elisabeth Spelke and
others). Also research on older children and television, show that kids are
more attentive to programs that have a close audiovisual fit (and also
score higher on comprehension tests after these programs), than programs
where the pictures and the sound go off on their own.
On the other hand the question of preference to tight lip synch /subtitles
or loose lip synch /dubbing, is also a cultural phenomenon. As several
commentators have already pointed out, there are differences between
countries (and may be even continents) in this respect. The main issues, as
I see it, are the questions of tradition, repetition and craftsman ship.
Italy has had dubbing since 1929, when =ABMussolini's government decreed tha=
all films projected on Italian screens must have Italian-language sound
track=BB, as Natasa Durovicova writes (in Altman 1992:149). (PS. Does anybod=
know when these laws were changed? Someone on the list mentioned these laws
in past tense, but have they only recently been changed -- say the last
couple of decades, or much earlier?) Hitler's government did the same thing
in 1933, also to keep the Jews out of the movie business. These decisions
meant establishing a dubbing industry that could provide good dubbing, and
is (I think) important in explaining the little effort for instance Italian
filmmakers have put in to recording sync sound and dialogue on location
Even though many Americans think of Europe as these (and other) big
countries, most of the small countries with their own language, for instane
Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway, have subtitled movies since the
beginning of the sound era. And we are exactly as =ABobsessive=BB about prec=
lip sync as Americans. The only pictures that have been, and still are,
dubbed  on a regular basis in Scandinavia, are movies for children,
obviously because subtitling requires reasonably good reading skills.
Interestingly, a new practice has developed the last 3-4 years in Norway
(beginning with Disney's Aladdin): the big Disney movies are also released
with the original sound track, but without subtitling; so now Norwegian
adults can enjoy the sound of Robin Williams or other un-dubbable
characters, without the film companies spending extra money on translation
(most Norwegians understand English pretty well, both from school, but also
because we're use to hearing it through film and television. Research has
even shown that Norwegians with access to Swedish television, understands
it much better than Norwegians without Swedish television -- even though
you may be living close to the border, having a fair amount of real life
encounters with Swedes).
The subtitling-tradition in Scandinavia has led to a lot of effort being
put in to making good and easily understood subtitles (a lot of research
has been put down in studying the optimum sentence structure, length of
sentences, amount of time on the screen etc.). As a result of these varying
traditions I think Norwegians or Swedes probably make better subtitles than
Germans or Italians; on the other hand these may have better dubbed
versions than Norwegians (...the Swedes have -- sorry to say -- much better
voice-actors, and are more talented than us in the dubbing department).
Therefore I find it easy to understand that surveys performed in Europe
show that people prefer the tradition they have in their particular
country; both because of the developed skills in reading subtitles /
listening to dubbed dialogue, and because of the developed craftsman skills
of making good subtitles or dubbing. Still, there is little question that
BOTH traditions put time and money before quality. An acquaintance of mine
recently translated Richard III into Norwegian for less than $7 an hour;
being a Shakespeare-fanatic he has used a lot more time (180 hours) getting
a high quality result, than the budget allowed for. On the other hand Nick
Pasquariello (1996:188) writes the following about dubbing of Hollywood
pictures into foreign languages: =ABstudios are fairly consistent in
allotting fixed budgets of two to four days, with flexibility only in the
number of hours per day; in Germany a difficult picture like JFK took 80
hours to do, while HOME ALONE was whipped out in seven hours=BB. I wonder ho=
THAT sounded? Not to speak about how it must have looked...
Arnt Maaso
Arnt Maas=F8, Stipendiat
Institutt for medier og kommunikasjon,
Universitetet i Oslo
Blindernveien 11
P.b. 1093 Blindern, 0317 Oslo
Telefon: +47 22 85 04 19 Telefax: +47 22 85 04 01
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