The Art of Subtitles

Discuss North American DVDs and Blu-rays or other DVD and Blu-ray-related topics.
Message
Author
User avatar
MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
Location: Worthing
Contact:

Re: Artificial Eye

#26 Post by MichaelB » Tue Sep 25, 2012 10:52 am

Zot! wrote:I was watching the Danish "Curb Your Enthusiasm", Klovn, which has fairly spotty English subs (jokes are hard to translate), and they translated something as a "Skivey day." Which is a word I had never heard before in my entire Enlish speaking lifetime.
I've never come across the phrase either, but I assume it means something in the sense of "a day spent skiving off" - i.e. not doing what you're supposed to.

Mathew2468
Joined: Fri Mar 30, 2012 4:40 pm

Re: The Intricacies of Subtitling

#27 Post by Mathew2468 » Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:15 am

I liked seeing "cos" instead of "because" but I'd rather see "cuz".

Zot!
Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2010 12:09 am

Re: Artificial Eye

#28 Post by Zot! » Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:17 am

MichaelB wrote:
Zot! wrote:I was watching the Danish "Curb Your Enthusiasm", Klovn, which has fairly spotty English subs (jokes are hard to translate), and they translated something as a "Skivey day." Which is a word I had never heard before in my entire Enlish speaking lifetime.
I've never come across the phrase either, but I assume it means something in the sense of "a day spent skiving off" - i.e. not doing what you're supposed to.
Yes, through my recognition of the Danish word, applying the context of the usage, and afterwards confirming on the internet I came to that conclusion. Still unknown to American ears (or at least mine.)

Animeigo used to have really elaborate subs and printed guides for translating some of their Anime offerings' more culutrally specific material. This was pretty impressive back in the VHS days.

User avatar
MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
Location: Worthing
Contact:

Re: The Intricacies of Subtitling

#29 Post by MichaelB » Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:34 am

Mathew2468 wrote:I liked seeing "cos" instead of "because" but I'd rather see "cuz".
That means "cousin" to me.

User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Artificial Eye

#30 Post by Sloper » Tue Sep 25, 2012 1:35 pm

Mathew2468 wrote:Aren't there any words that work everywhere? I don't like reading British words and you don't like reading American (I'm Canadian, but...) words. No need for 'aincha's or 'wanker's is there?
Well it's either that or translate 'gens foutres' as 'sperm people', which I think is the most literal rendering. The fact is that subtitles sometimes have to be colloquial, and in those cases you have to opt for a particular dialect. I don't really mind American slang in subs - but perhaps a certain irrational snobbery operates here, similar to that which demands that ancient Romans in films should talk in English accents rather than American ones.
MichaelB wrote:
Mathew2468 wrote:I liked seeing "cos" instead of "because" but I'd rather see "cuz".
That means "cousin" to me.
I believe 'cause is the officially sanctioned spelling, in case anyone gives a toss.

Mathew2468
Joined: Fri Mar 30, 2012 4:40 pm

Re: The Intricacies of Subtitling

#31 Post by Mathew2468 » Tue Sep 25, 2012 3:09 pm

I don't remember the context, it was in MoC's Police, but I'm pretty sure it was 'because' and not 'cousin'.

User avatar
Michael Kerpan
Spelling Bee Champeen
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:20 pm
Location: New England
Contact:

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#32 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun Dec 13, 2015 2:46 pm

On the translation of possibly the most famous (and analyzed) line of dialogue in an Ozu film.

Kyoko: "Isn't life disappointing?"
Noriko: "Yes, it is".

Unfortunately, the translation is pretty off the mark in terms of tone.

Kyoko: "Iyaa nee. Yononaka tte."
Noriko: "Sou. Iyanakoto bakkari".

Kyoko: "This world is really awful isn't it?"
Noriko: "Indeed. Just one awful thing after another."

(translated with the aid of some young friends from Showa Boston and a fellow member of the KineJapan mailing list)

A lot less transcendent equanimity than the official mistranslation. In fact, this confirmed my impression that this whole conversation surely had more than a slight tinge of comedy.

Jack Phillips
Joined: Mon Jun 25, 2007 2:33 am

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#33 Post by Jack Phillips » Sun Dec 13, 2015 5:09 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:On the translation of possibly the most famous (and analyzed) line of dialogue in an Ozu film.

Kyoko: "Isn't life disappointing?"
Noriko: "Yes, it is".

Unfortunately, the translation is pretty off the mark in terms of tone.

Kyoko: "Iyaa nee. Yononaka tte."
Noriko: "Sou. Iyanakoto bakkari".

Kyoko: "This world is really awful isn't it?"
Noriko: "Indeed. Just one awful thing after another."

(translated with the aid of some young friends from Showa Boston and a fellow member of the KineJapan mailing list)

A lot less transcendent equanimity than the official mistranslation. In fact, this confirmed my impression that this whole conversation surely had more than a slight tinge of comedy.
To say nothing of the fact that the characters are mouthing bromides to begin with.

This dialog was never intended to deliver the filmmaker's message. It was the occasion for two characters to bond.

Nice work, Mr. Kerpan.

User avatar
bottled spider
Joined: Thu Nov 26, 2009 2:59 am

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#34 Post by bottled spider » Sun Dec 13, 2015 7:59 pm

Now that it's pointed out, I feel I ought to have guessed the subtitle wasn't quite accurate. Any one who's watched a lot of Japanese movies will have heard over and over again the affirmative phrases "so desu"/"so desu ka"/"so desu nee". This is not what Noriko replies, so even without knowing Japanese one could deduce that "yes, it is" must be an abbreviated paraphrase.

User avatar
Michael Kerpan
Spelling Bee Champeen
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:20 pm
Location: New England
Contact:

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#35 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Dec 14, 2015 3:48 pm

I read about this discrepancy years ago, but had no idea of where -- and couldn't find it again. So, I had to re-create the work someone had already done (so cheers to the unknown benefactor).

Even if this interchange seems somewhat comic at the time it is said. Ozu soon pulls the rug out from under us -- letting us see/hear (for the first time) Noriko's actual feelings in the discussion between her and her father-in-law (and her earlier comment can be seen in a different, more somber and despairing context). The reason I don't think we are supposed to take the comment as absolutely serious (when uttered) is because Noriko is not at all ready to reveal her deepest, darkest thoughts to Kyoko.

User avatar
Randall Maysin
Joined: Tue Apr 02, 2013 12:26 pm

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#36 Post by Randall Maysin » Tue Dec 29, 2015 5:51 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:On the translation of possibly the most famous (and analyzed) line of dialogue in an Ozu film.Kyoko: "Isn't life disappointing?"Noriko: "Yes, it is".Unfortunately, the translation is pretty off the mark in terms of tone.Kyoko: "Iyaa nee. Yononaka tte."Noriko: "Sou. Iyanakoto bakkari".Kyoko: "This world is really awful isn't it?"Noriko: "Indeed. Just one awful thing after another."
Wow, this kind of blows my mind. Because if your newer translation really is accurate, and if the implications of it can be applied to the whole film, and I'm inclined to think it is and it can, then the largely negative impression I had of this film is entirely the fault of the crummy subtitles. I don't think there's much good in the first, presumably incorrect translation. Instead of transcendent equanimity, it strikes me as having a humorless, sickly-stoical, slave-morality cast to it, that when applied to every line of dialogue in the film, as it seems to have been, gives it a childish, kitschy, simple-minded quality. I think if Noriko really talked like this, the other characters in the film would make fun of her, as they would in life. The second translation is way more sardonic, humorous and lifelike. But it seems to me that this simpering slave-morality stuff is how a lot of viewers, at least in the West (like my parents, for example), like to receive, and imagine their Ozu. I am inclined to think that this really has very little to do with what his writing is actually like, but this is the only film I've seen of his.

In a high-school film class a few years ago, we were watching Knife in the Water, and when we had finished watching for the day, a Polish kid in the class said that the subtitles really didn't capture what the dialogue was like, that it was much wittier and cleverer and more subtle and playful than the subtitles rendered it. And this was the Criterion dvd! With subtitles by Roman Polanski himself!!! I believe Michael Kerpan, and the Polish kid, and all the other people I've heard complaining about subtitles. This is why I'm generally less eager to watch foreign films now, particularly if they're the low-key, human-observation type of films that stand to lose the most of their impact from incompetent translation. My question basically is why. Why do subtitlists, whether they're some underpaid hack or Roman Polanski, feel that audiences who don't speak the language need to experience the film's dialogue as the plain, humble, boring words of Chinese peasants in a 1930s MGM movie?

?????

User avatar
swo17
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:25 am
Location: SLC, UT

The Art of Subtitles

#37 Post by swo17 » Tue Dec 29, 2015 5:57 pm

This is an issue with nearly all foreign films, and you only really appreciate it when you see a film for the first time in a foreign language you're familiar with. Part of the problem is that restoring the "life" to the subtitles would perhaps double their length on average, which would often make them difficult to process in a casual viewing situation. I guess another part is that making subtitles more vibrant requires the subtitler to put a lot of themselves into it, and it's difficult to balance this with a desire to honor the original artist's voice.

User avatar
Randall Maysin
Joined: Tue Apr 02, 2013 12:26 pm

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#38 Post by Randall Maysin » Tue Dec 29, 2015 6:17 pm

But but but, they could translate the subtitles properly and then use only the parts of that that were essential to understanding the film, or that could be printed onscreen without drowning the film in subtitles, or something!!! I just think/hope that even if its not possible to always possible for subtitlists to deliver 100% of what is said in the film, with 100% accuracy to the artists original dialogue, that subtitles could still feasibly be improved considerably. Couldn't they?

User avatar
swo17
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:25 am
Location: SLC, UT

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#39 Post by swo17 » Tue Dec 29, 2015 6:27 pm

There's no "proper" translation for anything--it's an art. And sure, it could generally be improved in many instances, but even that would be a poor substitute for learning the language and then watching the film with that foundation. You can't subtitle tone, inflection, wordplay, etc.

User avatar
jindianajonz
Jindiana Jonz Abrams
Joined: Wed Oct 12, 2011 8:11 pm

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#40 Post by jindianajonz » Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:11 pm

swo17 wrote: You can't subtitle tone, inflection, wordplay, etc.
If you can subtitle handing a bouquet to the Fuhrer, you can subtitle anything.

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#41 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:36 pm

Criterion's release of Throne of Blood might also be worth looking at as this features two sets of subtitles, one by Linda Hoaglund and the other by Donald Richie with an emphasis on more 'archaic' language in order to fit the setting of the film more.

Donald Richie's comments about his translation in the booklet are also interesting, talking about the smooth flow of subtitles and necessary compressions of dialogue into limited space, along with the importance of creating clarity and remaining faithful to the tone of the film if not always the exact wording of the dialogue:
I suppose the way one ought to think of this enterprise is not with chagrin that so much gets lost, but with surprise that so much gets through.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Dec 30, 2015 7:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
vertovfan
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 7:46 pm

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#42 Post by vertovfan » Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:47 pm

There's an interesting translator's note for the Borowczyk short stories in the Arrow set. Borowczyk apparently preferred a conservative translation, giving explicit instructions to "do it exactly as I wrote it".

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Art of Subtitles

#43 Post by knives » Wed Dec 30, 2015 4:33 am

Which highlights another issue where in a book (or booklet) you theoretically have infinite space, while with subs you only have as long as until the next person talks.

User avatar
MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
Location: Worthing
Contact:

Re: 217 Tokyo Story

#44 Post by MichaelB » Wed Dec 30, 2015 5:54 am

Randall Maysin wrote:But but but, they could translate the subtitles properly and then use only the parts of that that were essential to understanding the film, or that could be printed onscreen without drowning the film in subtitles, or something!!! I just think/hope that even if its not possible to always possible for subtitlists to deliver 100% of what is said in the film, with 100% accuracy to the artists original dialogue, that subtitles could still feasibly be improved considerably. Couldn't they?
It depends on what you mean by "improved". Since this thread was originally started nearly four years ago, I've become much more extensively involved in the subtitling of my own BD/DVD projects, in some cases taking on the job single-handed. And it's left me with a huge amount of respect for the people who do this full time, as getting it right takes real skill on multiple levels.

The constant challenge is that there's an absolute upper limit to the subtitle word count - my software (Annotation Edit) even colour-codes the subtitles in the master to advise me if the combination of character count and timing is likely to present reading difficulties at normal speed. I'm not remotely a slave to its recommendations and am happy to defy them if I personally think that the subtitles play OK, but I still find myself regularly having to resort to précis for the simple reason that most people's reading speed is slower than their auditory verbal processing.

Two recent examples - in Hard to Be a God, we were supplied with the official subtitle translation that I imagine is the one that accompanied theatrical screenings and the Kino Lorber edition. Since much of it was in strongly colloquial American and the Arrow edition was UK-only, I asked Daniel Bird and Mark Bence (who is professionally fluent in multiple eastern European languages, including Russian) to give them a going-over with the initially modest aim of simply re-rendering them into British English. But it turned out to be a massively time-consuming challenge, partly because of the way that Aleksei German thinks nothing of having several people talking at once (and sometimes with a voice-over on top) but mostly because it quickly became clear that some of the dialogue wasn't meant to be translated - it was only there as a kind of background hubbub or onomatopoeia.

The big challenge here was establishing what needed translation and what could safely be ignored - and the only absolute authority on this had died a couple of years earlier. So Daniel and Mark had to resort to educated guesswork a lot of the time, and it was fascinating comparing their version with the original (as I subsequently did in order to double-check that nothing important had been left out) to see just how many changes they'd made - often simple things like reversing the order of subtitled lines in the case of overlapping dialogue. I think they made some pretty substantial improvements, but that's a judgement call on my part too, and a much less informed one as I barely speak a word of Russian.

But the subtitles I've been closest to in recent weeks have been those for Russ Meyer's The Seven Minutes, whose SDH subtitles I created myself from scratch - and without an existing dialogue list to work from (for some reason, Fox couldn't provide me with one), so I had to transcribe the whole thing by ear. The problem with this film is that it must be one of the talkiest ever made, and while I started off with a full transcript it rapidly became clear that it would be very hard to process comfortably at normal reading speed - so I had to précis quite a few lines in what I hope was a sensitive way that didn't blur or obscure their meaning. A further complication was that Meyer's tricksy editing style meant that the camera was often on someone else whenever somebody started speaking, and so I had to create space within the subtitle to identify the speaker. And don't get me started on the scene in which live dialogue combines with radio song lyrics (which I decided were relevant enough to subtitle) AND Wolfman Jack gibbering over the top of them - in this case it was literally impossible to subtitle everything without resorting to three or four-line subtitles (which would be unreadable in the time available), so I had to use my judgement and pick out what seemed most important at any given moment - which meant stepping back and examining the scene as a whole.

I've just started work on a new project, which is a longstanding personal favourite of mine, so I'm determined to get it right - or at least to my own satisfaction. Thankfully, I have a copy of the original Italian script and two alternative subtitle translations besides the "official" one I was supplied with, so I'm going through the lot line by line to see which translation does the original most justice. But again, there are innumerable judgement calls along the way - for instance, I'm up against the same transcription-or-translation dilemma with Latin that I described in this post (incidentally, I can now reveal that the unnamed project discussed back then was Second Run's Mother Joan of the Angels), as well as scenes where multiple people are talking (and shouting) at once - a particularly common problem with Italian films! Although in this case it's very useful that I have the original Italian script, as this not only clarifies what they're saying but means that I have a much easier time of assessing what needs translating as opposed to what would be nice to translate if there's space.
knives wrote:Which highlights another issue where in a book (or booklet) you theoretically have infinite space, while with subs you only have as long as until the next person talks.
This is why, when I was given a choice of two Aleksei German interviews to include in Arrow's Hard to Be a God package, I decided to favour print over video, partly because the print interview was more recent and more extensive but mostly because it was much easier to add explanatory footnotes - and both interviews badly needed such footnoting, because they were clearly aimed at Russians who'd have a much better idea of the cultural context than the British viewers I was catering for.

User avatar
TMDaines
Joined: Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:01 pm
Location: Stretford, Manchester

The Art of Subtitles

#45 Post by TMDaines » Wed Dec 30, 2015 9:19 am

Translating, especially for art, is underpaid, and for industry it is only a little better. As a freelance translator myself, and someone who created fan subtitles for films previously, I know that doing a very good, well refined translation takes a significantly larger amount of time than a passable translation does.

The market is such that, in the vast majority of cases, you are paid a fixed amount based on the volume of words you translate, as opposed to invoicing for the number of hours spent getting a text to a satisfactory level. There's little incentive therefore to focus on the quality of your work, especially as those buying your services are often attracted to those who can offer a lower rate per word.

Another problem is that those purchasing a translation rarely have the expertise to deduce whether what they have purchased is really any good, otherwise they would have done it themselves. Another issue is style. There's no absolute consensus over what is the best translation of a particular novel, e.g. The Master and Margarita, as much of it is down to your personal preference as it is objectivity. While there are plenty of ways to translate something incorrectly, there are very few occasions when there is only a single correct translation.

So on the one hand, while you may feel inclined to blame the translator for a medicore translation, there's a fair chance that they weren't paid for anything more.

User avatar
MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
Location: Worthing
Contact:

Re: The Art of Subtitles

#46 Post by MichaelB » Wed Dec 30, 2015 9:30 am

Tom Milne (a hugely experienced subtitle translator as well as a critic) once commented on this very issue, saying that while it was perfectly feasible to subtitle a routine thriller from scratch in a few hours, he might spend that same amount of time chiselling away at a couple of lines in a Bresson film. Although he certainly wouldn't have been paid per hour.

Mind you, it's the same in most industries based on the written word. There's an issue of Sight & Sound a few years back that contains two of my reviews, of Pavel Lungin's The Island and Joel Silver's Ninja Assassin. They're both the same length, so I was paid exactly the same amount - but while Ninja Assassin took me less than three hours including actually watching the film (handily, I had a surprisingly extensive knowledge of Sho Kosugi ninja films to draw upon thanks to a misspent 1980s youth), The Island required far more delving into the cultural and spiritual context - I'd say it took roughly twice as long, and therefore I was paid half as much pro rata. I don't mind, because that's how it's always worked, and I didn't have to spend six hours on the Lungin film - but I felt it deserved it.

Incidentally, the subtitle houses I work with charge a fixed rate per minute of subtitled video - the only variables concern whether the subtitles are originated at source (inc. translation/transcription) or whether text is supplied to them. (There's a small amount of negotiating wiggle room for films where there's very little dialogue, but not much.)
TMDaines wrote:Another problem is that those purchasing a translation rarely have the expertise to deduce whether what they have purchased is really any good, otherwise they would have done it themselves. Another issue is style. There's no absolute consensus over what is the best translation of a particular novel, e.g. The Master and Margarita, as much of it is down to your personal preference as it is objectivity. While there are plenty of ways to translate something incorrectly, there are very few occasions when there is only a single correct translation.
I'm very conscious of this when assessing subtitles. I've recently worked on French, Italian and Czech-language films, and in all cases I have a basic working knowledge of each language to the extent whereby I can flag up omissions and potential mistranslations, but I'm hopeless when it comes to judging style/tone. Which in any case is harder to do with spoken dialogue than it is with prose, where you're more likely to encounter a unified style.

Orlac
Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2009 4:29 am

Re: The Art of Subtitles

#47 Post by Orlac » Wed Dec 30, 2015 10:29 am

I'm forgiving of many subtitling quirks from Criterion/Arrow/etc. Anything is better then the hokey Hong Kong Chinglish subtitles still in use. The nice looking German BD of Crippled Avengers has English subtitles featuring howlers like "Who the blithering idiot are you?"

User avatar
MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
Location: Worthing
Contact:

Re: The Art of Subtitles

#48 Post by MichaelB » Wed Dec 30, 2015 10:44 am

That's magnificent. I'd hate to have to clean something like that up, as it would be heartbreaking to get rid of it.

I felt a similar pang when I changed "your scarce ears" to "your Scouse ears" on The Long Good Friday. There's absolutely no question that my version is correct (since the owner of the ears is the distinguished Liverpudlian thespian Paul Barber), but I can absolutely understand the original transcriber's thought processes. After all, if you don't recognise the accent and aren't familiar with the term "Scouse", you're far more likely to guess "scarce" than otherwise, not least because that's precisely how Bob Hoskins pronounces the word. And who's to say that "scarce ears" isn't an East London colloquialism meaning "deaf"?

User avatar
djproject
Joined: Sat Oct 09, 2010 3:41 pm
Location: Framingham, MA
Contact:

Re: The Art of Subtitles

#49 Post by djproject » Wed Dec 30, 2015 12:19 pm

A classic observation about subtitles: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... Id=1471267" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The Art of Subtitles

#50 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 30, 2015 12:28 pm

Not to continue the recent Criterion pile-on, but I wish someone had bothered to even look at their subs for A Special Day, as there's an obvious homophone mixup in the first ten minutes...

Post Reply