Watching films in their original version is increasingly becoming a question of a snobbish understanding of culture. That’s not right, says our author. How often have we heard the sentence: “Well, we only watch films in their original version.” This is often a small talk topic at parties in foreign kitchens, where, for example, the person with the interesting glasses and the even more interesting résumé explains how bad synchronization is.
Most of the time we nod
We are also someone who watches a Czech documentary with English subtitles in the late night screening. But sometimes we also sit in front of the screen and, perhaps a little ashamed, press “German”. Or we go to the cinema, which many of my friends would describe as soulless, and buy myself a ticket for a dubbed Hollywood ham. You can watch free movies online and find the best solutions there.
Will my cinematic offense be written on my face afterward?
Synchronization wasn’t easy from the start. In the early years of sound film, films were simply made several times either with different actors who spoke scenes one after the other in different languages. Or the actors simply learned the foreign language text by heart and did their best.
What came out of it can be seen on the trailer of a 1931 “Dick and Doof” film. The text is somehow understandable, but only if you acoustically decipher every word penetrated by the English accent.
This method was not only uncomfortable to listen to, but it was also laborious and expensive. This is why dubbing caught on in Germany. But it was not without controversy. According to the Goethe-Institut, contemporary critics described the synchronization as “amputation in which an artificial voice prosthesis is screwed onto the bloody stump”.
Voice and actor are two
The audience had to get used to the gap between voice and acting. “This is a cultural learning process in which viewers have to be able to forget in a certain sense that the person who speaks is not exactly the same as the person they see on the screen,” explains film and television scholar Joseph Garncarz.
- It wasn’t until the post-war period that synchronization really blossomed. The Germans sought distraction in the cinemas and their English was insufficient to understand the original versions.
- In addition, the dubbing offered an opportunity to “bend” the film politically. The romance “Casablanca”, which came to German cinemas in 1952, has been shortened to include all its references to National Socialism. In Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (published in Germany in 1951 under the title “Weißes Poison”) the dubbing studio turned the villains of the film from Nazis into drug dealers.
- Today almost all foreign-language films are dubbed in the German-speaking area. Smaller European countries like Sweden or the Netherlands rely on subtitling. This saves costs, but should also be responsible for the good English skills of the people in the respective countries.
A particularly curious form of translation can be found in Russia and Poland: There a man speaks relatively emotionlessly all the roles over the quieter original sound.
Those who scold say something about themselves
When exactly the loud rejection of dubbing became hip in certain circles in Germany, we couldn’t find out. However, it becomes clear that the ranting about German synchronization has less to do with its quality than with the self-portrayal of those who rant.