Strange Adventures in Film Language

March 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

It’s intoxicating, the notion that the language of pictures can and does transcend a many-tongued world rife with non-communication, miscommunication and misinterpretation; our globalised Babel. In many ways it’s an ideal that remains robust and exciting, to think that a viewer in one hemisphere (geographically, culturally, economically) could see something of themselves reflected in the face, the gestures and the actions of a fellow human being in a far-flung place. But movies have long been a beautifully variegated beast, a stew of myriad formal elements of which the spoken word has become a major one. And for a monolinguist exploring “world cinema”/“the world of cinema”/“the world through cinema”, verbal language truly adds a layer of complexity and ambiguity to the process of watching movies, sometime acting as a jarring reminder that understanding and empathy are perhaps only ever partial. There is, of course, the perennial anxiety about subtitles subtly detracting from the full visual experience of a film, however speedy the eyes and the mind are at darting and reading and comprehending. This may naturally lead one into the increasingly unfashionable territory of dubbing, unfashionable in the sense that fewer and fewer contemporary releases seem to feature such tracks, perhaps due to issues of performance preservation and cost effectiveness, or just plain old taste. Whatever one’s feelings about subtitles and dubs, the various practices of translating the spoken components of cinema raises some arresting questions regarding the reliability of communication, issues of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation, and the ever dicey matter of artistic integrity. For better or worse, the ‘language of cinema’ means far more than the syntax of images.

* originally published on Fandor Keyframe in 2016

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