Saturday 5 June 2010

Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film (Egoyan/Balfour, MIT Press)

Its pages shaped to duplicate the dimensions of the cinema frame, Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film (2004) is a fascinating volume which features essays, interviews and images that engage with issues of translation, otherness and "foreignness" in film culture. Edited by Atom Egoyan and Ian Balfour, and published by MIT Press/Alphabet City, the book offers an abundance of riches for any world cinema lover, including early film writings by Jose Luis Borges, an interview with Claire Denis, essays by Fredric Jameson and (inevitably) Slavoj Zizek, and much, much more. My favourite piece, though, is B. Ruby Rich's extraordinary "To Read Or Not To Read: Subtitles, Trailers and Monolingualism" which explores the history and the politics of subtitling. I quote the essay's concluding remarks here:

"I hope it's not too big a leap to imagine the resurgence of subtitles, also, as an incipient anti-war gesture. Subtitles allow us to hear other people's voices intact and give us full access to their subjectivity. Subtitles acknowledge that our language, the language of this place in which we are watching the film, is only one of many languages in the world and, at that very same moment, elsewhere they are watching movies in which characters speak in English while other languages spell out their thoughts and emotions across the bottom of the frame for other audiences. It gives me hope. Somehow, I'd like to think, it's harder to kill people when you hear their voices. It's harder to bomb a country when you've seen their cities in films that you've loved. It's hard to pretend whole cultures needn't exist when you've entered the space of their own yearning and fear and hope. Subtitles, I'd like to think, are a token of peace" (Rich, 168).

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