Mary Mary quite contrary

Quite apart from the fact that she is first seen floating around on a cloud, the imagery of Mary Poppins is loaded with intense Christian symbolism. I was awoken last night by the sudden thought that “Feed the Birds” is fundamentally religious and the centre of the film itself. It is a metaphor of hope and love and she is still on the steps of St Paul’s as Jack speeds past in the opening song of “Mary Poppins Returns”. Richard Sherman says “He [Walt Disney] loved that song and knew it was the heartbeat of the whole movie”. He adds that it was “deeply spiritual.”

It is a song set around the Cathedral of St Paul’s with reference to the “Saints and Apostles” as well as references to charity/agape/caritas. But the image of the bird is loaded with more significance than twitter: the bird is not only a symbol of peace in a troubled world, it is the Holy spirit, the paraclete or comforter who remains with us after the ascension.

To check the significance of the “feed the birds” scene, I listened to the score again today- the composers open the film with the tune and it is this tune that underscores the sunset reflection before the children, Bert and Mary descend from their vision of London. It is played also as Tomlinson walks towards the bank to be sacked. It is the thoughtful heart of “Mary Poppins”.

Here’s a quick summary of the main religious features of Poppins.

1) She is a Virgin Mary figure, equipped even with the same name. The imagery of “white witch” which Travers provides is all but excised by Disney.

2) Her divine arrival (and later ascension) by umbrella on the East wind (matthew 24:27), her simple costume and nun-like demeanor; her poverty (she carries her life in a carpet bag that is apparently empty); her magic acts which are there to reassure the children that their belief in her is worthy. (like miracles); she consorts with the working class (chimney sweeps); she is led by her heart rather than by considerations of money.

3) She is victimised by the father who accuses her without reason (like Judas or the High Priest if she represents Christ, but simply recalling the gossipers who worried about her speedy pregnancy and questioned the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.) She turns dirt into hope and takes the Children from the fireplace/chimney/hell? upwards to a vision of London- “the whole world at your feet.” There is even a moment of communion over spoons of magical medicine (a few years’ later, the Scaffold did a song about “medicinal compound- most efficacious in every way”).


4) She is not the prophet or the saviour- she points instead to others- in this case to the bird woman (Jane Darwell) who is surrounded by a nimbus on the steps of st pauls; but positive changes come over the whole household (beginning with the cook and maid)

5) She takes the children (and Bert) into an enriched vision of the world- an iconic landscape. A window into heaven, first in a chalk pavement picture and later in seeing reality transformed as the sun sets over the chimneys of London. Certainly enough for some serious thoughts about the theology of the icon as presented by St John of Damascus! When the children emerge from both ecstatic visions, they have a tendency to shake hands indiscriminately and use nonsense words – is this a reference to glossalalia?

Most importantly, the birds’ song recall the birds and lillies of Matthew 6:24-34


Kadir Mısıroğlu – RIP

kadir misiroglu by TIM.jpg


A man with celebratedly unorthodox views- including questions about Ataturk’s past- as well as some quite crazy ideas. But everybody needs to cherish eccentricity. A champion of the present President. His funeral is this evening.

EKREM IMAMOGLOU in Istanbul but for how long?

Ekrem Imamoglou by TIM.jpg


The current new Mayor of Istanbul- but his position is still being challenged and who will face an odd future as the leader of a council largely composed of AKP councillors.

UPDATE: Monday 6th May:

There will now be another election in 2 months’ time.

More on the ethics of Dubbing

tim on dubbing in HTV Irada Zeynalova


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.

magic roundabout facts by tim.jpg