Ms. Kawasaki: He want you to turn and look in camera. Okay?
Bob: Is that all he said? – Lost in Translation, 2003
When I was 12 years old and finishing the sixth grade in Virginia, I planted a time capsule with my classmates as a rites of passage. I don’t know what I put in it and I will never be there to unearth it. There was a photograph of me standing in a circle with the others watching it being buried. Some things, I guess, are just not meant to be resurrected. I write of this memory as in the surplus charity shops of England I picked up a DVD of the film International Velvet. I put it back straightaway. It is a film I can no longer watch. Not because I don’t like it, on the contrary, it’s because I know it will be in English.
When I was very young, I lived in France and my older sister was very much into horses, showjumping and dressage. She adored this film and I would watch it with her on a videotape recorded from French television. It was dubbed of course but I didn’t understand that at the time. How could I understand that a recording was transferred from one medium to another?
I know many people who hate dubbed films.
“There is nothing worse than Bruce Willis speaking like a Spaniard,” a Spanish friend told me in London. It was exquisite for him as he settled in the capital and was able to watch Hollywood and BBC films in their original language.
When I moved to China, I was at a party and chatting about films to a Chinese woman who enthusiastically told me that Brad Pitt spoke Mandarin. I laughed, thinking it was a joke but she was serious. I tried to explain that the film was dubbed but she was very stubborn about it. Let’s just say it was a real conversation stopper. I did turn off The Karate Kid when I was there. Some things are sacred!
There are people who refuse to watch subtitled films. But I find when you read and hear the characters, you are engaging on a much more meaningful level. They are there, electric before you, like having your very own simultaneous interpreter. You are active. If they were dubbed, threre is a blockage. They are packaged to appeal to you, in a reassuring language or accent. You are passive.
What of adaptations? Was it necessary to remake The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in English? Did it add anything to the Swedish? As an interesting aside, the original title is Men Who Hate Women.
In any case, there is an exception for me. I was an adult and in England when I first saw International Velvet in English. It was incredibly unnerving for me to hear the characters. I felt like I’d been lied to, that something had been taken from me. That it had all been a hoax, a mirage. I turned it off. Though I speak French, it was a language I long resisted as I felt its intrusion and amalgamation onto my English. But it was in French that I felt the emotions of the Olympic competitors when they had to shoot the horse on the airplane. It was in French that I watched the man and woman falling in love. It was in French that I watched Velvet Brown winning the Olympic gold medal.
I will keep International Velvet in a time capsule.