Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The subtleties of subtitling

Here you go, gentlemen: your pick-up line for the day. You can thank me later. Image found here.

Seeing as I don't spook at the sight of a subtitled film, I'm intrigued by the intricacies of the subtitler's art and craft but hadn't exactly sought out anything on the subject. Until this morning. Guy La Roche of A Fistful of Euros is a subtitler in the daytime, and he has a wonderfully-detailed post up (hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan) on the many, varied constraints shaping his work (many of which, if you're like me, you've probably never considered before).

One of those things I'd never considered before, being the relative naïf that I am, is that porn needs subtitling--indeed, La Roche reports, its consumers insist on it. La Roche reports that he hates subtitling porn for several reasons, one of which follows:

People often ask me what kind of stuff I translate. Typically, I’ll then cite a list of movies and documentaries and make sure to proudly mention that I have done notoriously difficult things like Shakespeare and comedy. The British bard and comedy, however, do not generally impress people much. When I mention Japanese anime the reactions get a little better, “way cool” and all that, but not much. By now you must know that subtitlers have a frustrating job with little or no gratification and that it is always nice for us if we can extract at least a glimmer of recognition out of somebody. So, inevitably, I will be forced to bring up the subject of porn. Remember the enthusiasm with which Obama was recently welcomed in Berlin? That is exactly the reaction I tend to get when I mention porn. All of a sudden I am the toast of the party. How humiliating is that?
This entire piece has more to recommend it than just the art (and frustrations) of subtitling naughty bits. It's longish but well worth your time if you've ever watched a subtitled film and, you know, wondered.


Ariel said...

I think it must be one of the most aggravating aspects of being a "professional" artist: being toasted, not for the high points, but the low points of the craft.

John B. said...

Agreed, Ariel. (Sounds like you might be thinking of ad copy you've had to write in the past?) I have to admit that I laughed out loud as I read the paragraph that I posted--it just caught me completely by surprise on several levels.

Thanks for commenting.

Ariel said...

Haha, touche. People don't necessarily want creativity when there's tried and true, formulaic sensationalism available. :)