Supertitle of the Week

From THE RING. During the climactic battle-of-the-last-century between Carl “the melodic Dane” Brisson and Ian “punchbag-face” Hunter, Hitch boldly experiments, for one shot only, with the supertitle.

I’m not sure why.


“Don’t hold, Corby.”

But the idea is a promising one — if the silent period had continued uninterrupted by Vitaphonic honkings, I bet more directors would have opted to superimpose dialogue over the image, rather than breaking the flow of action with inserted text-frames. On the one hand, this would have made the preparation of foreign versions much more complicated — no longer could you simply snip out the English intertitles and paste in Dutch or Swahili ones. A lot more lab work would be called for. But on the other hand, it still wouldn’t have been half as complicated as dubbing or subtitling a talkie, or even making three versions in three different languages, my favourite solution to the talking picture crisis, because it’s so mad. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Laurel & Hardy doing their thing in schoolboy Spanish or French. I’ve never seen Keaton’s foreign-language versions, but I bet they’re superior to his regular MGM talkies.

21 Responses to “Supertitle of the Week”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    In the early sound period, making films in different languages was cheaper than dubbing. Go figure.

    Or the best solution to the problem is probably the single most bizarre film experience in my life.

    I once went to a screening of CARMEN JONES where it was projected on a screen digitally from a DVD. Said DVD was a Korean import. The DVD producers came up with a weird way at making the film accessible to Korean speakers. What they did was dub the dialogue portions of the film into Korean and the music portions were the original English tracks and whenever the film steps into music there’s small Korean subtitles on the bottom – accessible for those who want to read the lyrics or want to sing-a-long. However the DVD producers instead of making the original soundtrack available on the disc instead supplied…English subtitles.

    So I was watching an English language film dubbed in Korean subtitled in English with portions in English which had Korean subtitles at the bottom. Adding to this is the fact that neither Dorothy Dandridge or Harry Belafonte did their own singing in the film so the job was complete. Amazingly despite this handicap, the film still worked dramatically and the performances were still powerful as was Otto’s use of ‘Scope.

  2. Beautiful. Britain’s South Bank Show arts documentaries did a special on Iranian cinema, with interviews with all the luminaries. Abbas Kiarostami chose to give his interview in aviator glasses, Wong War-Wei style, which made his presence a little elusive. Added to that, the idiot producer decided to dub the interviews, even though the film clips were presented with subtitles. So Kiarostami was interviewed except we couldn’t see his face or hear his voice. Might as well have hired an actor to play the part.

    On a related note, I got ahold of a fuzzy WS copy of Preminger’s Porgy and Bess, which is pretty damn rare, so I ought to give that the once-over soon…

  3. It’s a shame better copies of that aren’t available because it’s an incredibly beautifulm fil — one pf Preminger’s very best. The Gershwin estate hates it because it’s not the full version of the score, and they’re constantly pushing for it to be seen as a complete “classy” opera, rather than the great mongrel that it is. Sammy Davis Jr. was BORN to play Sportin’ Life, and the picnic scene where he does “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and his climactic “There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon For New York” are two of the greatest movie musical moments ever.

    Frances Nealy, a friend of mine now deceased, was one of the supporting players. She stands quite near Sammy in the picnic scene. She had a great time making the film.

  4. Amazing anyone could have a good time working for Otto! But maybe he was a cheerier chap at the time, what with having Dorothy Dandridge in his bed.

    Half the trouble in this world seems to come from dead artists’ and authors’ estates. And the rest comes from the viewing public.

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    Interesting…someone admitting that they had a good time on Otto’s set.

    I have never seen “Porgy and Bess” which I would love to being so much in love with “Carmen Jones”. So thanks for the recommendation. I don’t know what the Gershwin Estate is doing in suppressing the film. For any estate to work, they need popular support and awareness and films are a great way for that. Suppressing it isn’t helping anyone and is in fact self-destructive.

    Oh and Abbas isn’t dressing up like Wong-Kar-Wai both of them are trying to look like Godard in the 60s(is there a picture of Godard without his glasses) with his cool glares making him the height of auteur cool. Even Bono of U2 with his fly glares are his attempts at that or maybe that’s a nod to Bob Dylan in what Todd Haynes calls his Jude Quinn phase. Kiarostami is hardly ever seen without his glares. He has a reputation as a philosophical film-maker dabbling in Sufi themes and he’s dressed in dark glasses. He wants it both ways. Good for him.

  6. Arthur S. Says:

    Ah you beat me to it.

    From what I heard, Otto being in love with her did Dorothy very little in the way he treated her except in that he did his best to make a star but we know from Citizen Kane that that’s a case of “love on my terms”. Preminger strangely enough was quite a ladies’ man. Reminds me of that line in in Glauber Rocha’s “The Age of the Earth” where a woman raves, “Yes! Tyrants are good in bed! The Best!”

  7. The materials for the film are in very bad shape and the Gershwin estate has made it cear it wants no restoration. I’ve discussed this over the years with a number of epopel, inlcuding those in charge of restoring Lawrence of Arabia and they all tell the same horrendous story. The estate loathes the movie and wants it to rot.

  8. Yeah, Otto was a babehound, fathering a lovechild by Gypsy Rose Lee (Erik P, who later worked for his dad) and rarely being seen without a beautiful blonde in tow.

    Perhaps a post on “filmmakers and their stylish shades” would be worth pursuing.

  9. Arthur S. Says:

    That’s awful. My advice is…piracy. Send someone into whichever vault the materials is stored in or wherever in the world prints are available and steal it, hide it, copy it and do their best to protect it. That’s how NOSFERATU survived when the law damned it to oblivion. It’s absolutely immoral to let a film rot like that. In America, there’s nothing like the droits d’auteur that’s legally protected in France. The film would then have fallen into Preminger’s descendents.

    Preminger let’s never forget once tried his best to change that. When he found out how his films were shown on TV in cut versions he tried to go to court to establish that his rights were being violated and he lost. If he had won, maybe it would have made a difference.

  10. I like the idea of putting together a crack team of cinephile bankrobbers and making off with the neg. No shortage of explosives experts among the film cognoscenti.

  11. The thing about Preminger’s Porgy & Bess is it’s done almost entirely in master shots. There are no close-ups and only one or two moment approaching a medium two-shot.

  12. Here (somewhat cropped ) is Sammy

  13. Here’s Diahann Carroll doing Summertime (right at the top of the movie.

  14. And here’s I Loves You Porgy (with William Warfield dubbing Sidney)

  15. I should upload the whole movie onto Google or something, to make it slightly more available. It’s possible to shoot all mastershots and still get some closeups in, of course.

    Scorsese was fired from The Honeymoon Killers for shooting only masters — “What’d’you do if the film’s four hours long?”

  16. I saw clips of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestller and Meryl Streep in Doubt dubbed into French on French TV the other evening. It’s quite amusing. As is seeing some of Ford’s Wagon Master dubbed into French.

  17. I saw Tex Avery films on French TV, but they just left the soundtrack in English, as I recall. Some things are sacred.

  18. Sacrebleu!

  19. Arthur S. Says:

    For some reason that short works even better in French and I am sure Tex would have liked it that way. The over-the-top Freudian stuff would be too ridiculous in English.

    Anyone noticed how PIGMANIA’s shape is a lot like USA’s?

  20. I had noticed PIGMANIA’S shape. There sure are plenty of big guns.

  21. Ouch, that widescreen cropping hurts.

    I have the French box set of Avery toons (in English). The Freudian stuff works just fine, and is utterly outrageous (shotguns wilting when the gunman becomes scared…). I like them especially when, as in King-Size Canary, they get grotesque and kind of terrifying.

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