On the plus side, there is clarity and employment to be gained from dubbing foreign language films and reports. A familiar voice is often more immediate than hearing someone speaking another language. Also, the whole dubbing industry provides work for needy actors as well as translators: it is an industry in itself. The simultaneous translation services provided in conferences and routinely at the top levels in diplomacy and in the UN and EU foster some of the best practice and ensure that what is said by someone in one language is understood as far as possible in the way that it was intended.
The Italian film industry has a long record of dubbing films and later TV shows for broadcast on local stations throughout the country. In the 1960s and early 70s, the multi-lingual film sets of Visconti, Bertolucci, Pasolini and Zefirelli made good use of the traditions of dubbing, and effortlessly rendered Burt lancaster and Dirk Bogarde into Italian. Indeed, I remember seeing “jesus of Nazareth” on a church door in Naples in Italian. Laurence Olivier sounded particularly smooth. Many of the tricks these directors used are still the basis of directing animated dialogue, hitting the beats of the original text rather than trying to slavishly copy the sounds and shapes of the true mouth movements. In the end, it is an illusion that the audience gladly accepts. Of course, those of us growing up with Heidi and White Horses in the early 1960s will remember some very oddly detached dialogue dominating the schedules every weekday just before the evening news. And then there is “the Magic Roundabout”…
“The magic Roundabout” is remarkable for its cavalier approach to dubbing. It was creative with its story-telling, often moving wildly away from the original and ensuring that the humour of the french visuals was matched to a thoroughly British soundtrack. While this might have worked for Serge Danot, it owed alot to the skills of Eric Thompson (Emma’s father) and, indeed, the series that began on French ORTF in 1964 was originally rejected by the BBC as too “difficult to dub into English”. The Thompson ruse owed alot to the fact that Ivor Wood, who went on to make the Herbs, Wombles and Paddington worked with his french wife Josiane on the original series together with Danot. The english version, therefore, sprang from the artistic forces that created the series in the first place. Almost certainly, by the 1970’s, I think some of the french plots must have been constructed with an eye on the likely British narrative. 441 original episodes were aired with Thompson’s anarchic text by 1977 and a further 51 were dug up in the early 90s and narrated by Nigel Planer.
It is more worrying when the freedom of “the Magic Roundabout” is introduced into factual programmes and basic reporting. It allows, of course, for a foreign TV station to air a text that might be better-phrased than the original, and might preserve what was intended by the original speaker, but equally, there are three more disturbing options: firstly, it is an opportunity to drop an editorial gloss surreptitiously into a programme; secondly, there is a chance to distort the sense of what was originally said, and thirdly, there is an option for the producer to introduce an entirely new idea. This seems broadly deceptive and it is far removed from the whimsy and good nature of “the Magic Roundabout.”
In many countries where news’ reports are dubbed, it is possible to hear the original words behind the added vocal. This seems very sensible and offers a bilingual viewer the chance to compare. It is transparent. The same is true about subtitles. Of course, there are instances when legal rules or security dictate that the words used “are spoken by an actor”. But again, one would trust the actor would pace the new text to match the original. In my experience of being interviewed and recorded for Russian TV on Irada Zaynolova’s news’ programme particularly, two features stick out: the first is an insistent orchestral beat that, together with a slightly manic presentation by Zaynarova herself, suggests a continual state of anxiety. Accordingly, I have been very measured and calm in what I have done for her. The second is that the dubbed voice is so loud, it is impossible to detect anything of the original.
This was the first subject I dealt with for HTV’s news programme hosted by Irada Zeynalova just before Christmas. The interview was fairly full with questions about the impact of Russian animation in a global market. The particular controversy, however, was a result of an article in the TIMES, prompted by a number of academics- Professor Anthony Glees, of the University of Buckingham, an intelligence expert, had said: “Masha is feisty, even rather nasty, but also plucky. She punches above her slight weight.” He was, in turn, quoting a slightly obscure paper by an academic in Tallinn University’s Communication School claiming that the bear symbolised Russia and was designed, according to the Daily Mail, to “place a positive image of the country in children’s minds.” A Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, reported this in November 2018 but Professor Priit Hobemagi had actually written his paper nearly a year earlier. I do not quite understand why it took so long to come into print at all.
Speculation elsewhere that this story is really about anxiety in the Ukraine was missing from the report on HTV and reports in the Daily Mail and the Times.
The programme is deliciously designed and the soviet details are precise – that is partly where the humour lies- the cap that Masha wears here has a blue band= the colour of the border guards.
I gave a detailed breakdown of the development of Russian animation and made reference to some current projects including the amazing Hoffmanidea and further work by Yuri Norstein who animated the Hedgehog in the fog. tWhat I said was dubbed into Russian though I could not be sure that what I was saying was actually what was being spoken and the studio would not let me have access to the original tapes. Nevertheless, the dubbing seemed to be in line with the general points I raised in the interview.
This is the second interview as it appeared on HTV (NTV)
There is a problem here – specifically that the words I am supposedly saying, dubbed by a Russian actor, are not in the original interview. The previous interview that I did before Christmas about a children’s tv series called “Masha and the bear” was equally questionable- but when I asked to see the original footage, I was told this was not possible, and I was assured that the words dubbed were an accurate representation of what I said. In the case of this interview about Brexit, however, the entire interview was also filmed (though not by me) on a mobile phone so it is possible to compare what I actually said with what the tv station felt was convenient for them to broadcast.
There were by their own admission other complaints about the dubbing. I was invited to meet Ms Zeynalova and members of the senior management of the station last week. In the event, I went up to the studio, went through a barrage of (last-minute and quite excessive) security to have tea in a staff canteen with an editor, a charming lad called Andrey who promised to arrange a further interview to correct the station’s errors. So far, nothing has happened. There has been no written apology, and no explanation on air and of course the proffered meeting with senior execs has still not taken place. I wonder whether this sort of thing (what might be called “deceptive dubbing”) is therefore accepted as standard practice. It beggars belief.
I will add to this and post further images and details over the next few days.
This is a translation of what NTV claims I said, “She even put her neck on the line by saying that she would if the plan was supported, even this didn’t help. Look at it from a different angle. She planned to be another prime minister from the ruling party, after Cameron who did nothing and just went to watch from the side as the county crumbles”
This is actually what I believe I was saying to coincide with the visuals (I take this from the recording made on a phone at the same time and now posted elsewhere on the internet): “She said she was going to resign if she gets the deal through. It’s an extraordinary thing to do to say if I’m successful, I will resign. And if that’s the deal she’s got to do, well, I understand it’s been successful and people are already lining up to compete for the next job of leader of the conservative party, therefore leader of the country and prime minister. It may have had a negative effect because the labour party detests the thought that there could be an even stronger leave voter in place to lead the country after Mrs May goes.”
Here is the original footage: