Thursday, June 5, 2008

Lost in translation

TCM aired Sophia Loren's Too Bad, She's Bad as part of the opening night of it salute to Loren as Star of the Month. It's a fun enough little farce, although I have to admit that I found it a bit difficult to keep up with, having to read the subtitles. It got me to thinking about how certain movies hold up better than others when it comes to subtitling.

Obviously, silent movies are the best. They're not really in any language, apart from things like signs. The humor has to be more visual, and can transcend language and cultural barriers more easily: Harold Lloyd hanging from the face of a clock is funny regardless of what your native language is.

Historical movies, especially war movies, are probably better suited to translation as well. They're more or less factual, and while the dialogue has some importance, military dialogue isn't that much different in any army. The German officers who are subtitled in The Longest Day don't make you miss anything.

Farces, as mentioned above, don't hold up as well. I don't think some musicals hold up so well, either. Sure, the Busby Berkeley dance scenes need no translation, but the song lyrics do. And having studied both Russian and German, I know how difficult translating any form of poetry is.

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