It’s time to celebrate the humble film subtitlerby Hephzibah Anderson / July 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Scene from A Bout de Souffle by Jean Luc Godard, who has refused subtitling in some films
In his seminal teaching notes on filmmaking, Alexander Mackendrick, the director best known for Whisky Galore! and The Ladykillers, defines cinema as an essentially “pre-verbal” medium. A good movie, he says, should be 90 per cent understandable even if it’s in a language that nobody in the auditorium speaks.
But what of the other ten per cent? If it happens to be in a language we don’t understand, we are reliant upon subtitles. But even as Nordic noir muscles onto our television screens and new foreign films by the likes of Michael Haneke and Thomas Vinterberg win acclaim at Cannes, this crucial tool remains underexamined.