Saturday, March 18, 2006

Subtitled films: love or loathe them?

Do you love or loathe subtitled films? Most people I know are very against them, complaining that the words are a distraction, and that they spend so long reading the words they miss the action on the rest of the screen!

Yet, some of the best films I’ve seen in the last six months have been subtitled.

I’d be surprised if you’d heard of more than one of them. Why? The local multiplex cinemas in Belfast (Vue, Moviehouse) are very safe in their viewing options and rarely show anything that hasn’t been made in or dubbed into English.

The Queen's Film Theatre is probably the only screen in Northern Ireland that dares show more “arty” or limited distribution stuff.

I spend a few days working in London most weeks, regular enough to make it worth while joining the Curzon cinema club to get around the exorbitant London film prices. It’s also a great excuse not to work all night as well as all day.

Now the Curzon’s schedule is full of surprises – it’s like a bigger version of the QFT. All of the above played there for a run of at least three weeks. Even some of the English films in their programme – films like Primer – would have been hard to find elsewhere in the London multiplexes.

Your eye gets used to reading the words and taking in the picture fairly quickly – if you stick at it. And you get an insight into different cultures and genres. French films are often very abstract: completely lacking the Hollywood necessity of tidying up the loose ends and doing all the thinking for the audience.

You know a French film is good if everybody walks out of the screening quietly looking puzzled, and then start asking strangers “What happened at the end?” as they go up the stairs and spill out on the street!

All these films ask questions - that's what makes them good. They ponder friendship, ambition, and what makes people tick. So don't expect easy viewing and Jennifer Aniston!

So my advice - take any opportunities you have to watch any of the films above if you find them on DVD. And don’t be afraid if the cinema listing says “(subtitled)” after the name of film.

3 comments:

John Self said...

The QFT is actually very good by the standards of any UK city other than London (which obviously outstrips all rivals). Lots of English cities the size of Belfast don't have independent/arthouse cinemas at all.

I'm a subtitles man myself. I got my girlfriend to watch her first subtitled film recently - Almodovar's Talk to Her (Philip French said it was the first great film of the 21st century... and he was right!) - and she loved it and is now a convert. She even insisted on going to see Tsotsi at the QFT a few weeks ago, and we both thought it wonderful - in a grim, tearjerking way...

Anonymous said...

I'm astonished people find it hard to read subtitles. People should give the brain some credit. The brain and eye co-ordination adjusts really very quickly in the same way that typists can type without looking at the keyboard. Most people who say they find it a distraction don't actually watch the films because they think it will get in the way, when in fact it doesn't. They also fall into the category, erroneously I feel, of being arthouse, when in fact the only thing that seperates them from an English films is that they are a. usually better than most Hollywood tat and b. in another language. I think of all the films I have seen recently, like 'Pan's Labyrinth', '13', 'Angel on the Left', 'Reykyavik 101', I can't even visualise that I watched in subtitles. Watching in the native tongue is infinitely preferable to dubbing or watching a poor remake in Hollywood. Just think 'The Vanishing' and you will know exactly what I mean.

Anonymous said...

I'm astonished people find it hard to read subtitles. People should give the brain some credit. The brain and eye co-ordination adjusts really very quickly in the same way that typists can type without looking at the keyboard. Most people who say they find it a distraction don't actually watch the films because they think it will get in the way, when in fact it doesn't. They also fall into the category, erroneously I feel, of being arthouse, when in fact the only thing that seperates them from an English films is that they are a. usually better than most Hollywood tat and b. in another language. I think of all the films I have seen recently, like 'Pan's Labyrinth', '13', 'Angel on the Left', 'Reykyavik 101', I can't even visualise that I watched in subtitles. Watching in the native tongue is infinitely preferable to dubbing or watching a poor remake in Hollywood. Just think 'The Vanishing' and you will know exactly what I mean.