Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film


"Every film is a foreign film," Atom Egoyan and Ian Balfour tell us in their introduction to Subtitles. How, then, to translate the experience of film -- which, as Egoyan says,
makes us "feel outside and inside at the same time"? Taking subtitles as their point of departure,
the thirty-two contributors to this unique collection consider translation, foreignness, and otherness in film culture. Their discussions range from the mechanics and aesthetics of subtitles themselves to ...

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"Every film is a foreign film," Atom Egoyan and Ian Balfour tell us in their introduction to Subtitles. How, then, to translate the experience of film -- which, as Egoyan says,
makes us "feel outside and inside at the same time"? Taking subtitles as their point of departure,
the thirty-two contributors to this unique collection consider translation, foreignness, and otherness in film culture. Their discussions range from the mechanics and aesthetics of subtitles themselves to the xenophobic reaction to translation to subtitles as a metaphor for the distance and intimacy of film.The essays, interviews, and visuals include a collaboration by Russell Banks and
Atom Egoyan, which uses quotations from Banks's novel The Sweet Hereafter as subtitles for publicity stills from Egoyan's film of the book; three early film reviews by Jorge Luis Borges; an interview with filmmaker Claire Denis about a scene in her film Friday Night that should not have been subtitled; and Eric Cazdyn's reading of the running subtitles on CNN's post-9/11 newscasts as a representation of new global realities. Several writers deal with translating cultural experience for an international audience, including Frederic Jameson on Balkan cinema, John Mowitt on the history of the "foreign film" category in the Academy Awards, and Ruby Rich on the marketing of foreign films and their foreign languages -- "Somehow, I'd like to think it's harder to kill people when you hear their voices," she writes. And Slavoj Zizek considers the "foreign gaze" (seen in films by Hitchcock, Lynch, and others), the misperception that sees too much.Designed by Egoyan and award-winning graphic designer Gilbert Li, the book includes many color images and ten visual projects by artists and filmmakers. The pages are horizontal, suggesting a movie screen; they use the cinematic horizontal aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Subtitles gives us not only a new way to think about film but also a singular design object.Subtitles is being copublished by The MIT Press and
Alphabet City Media (John Knechtel, Director). Subtitles has been funded in part by grants from The
Canada Council for the Arts, The Henry N.R. Jackman Foundation, and the Toronto Arts Council, and the Ontario Arts Council.

The MIT Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A big treat of Subtitles is the 'art object' graphic design...
and the book's unusual Cinemascope shape." Gerald Peary The Boston Phoenix

The MIT Press

"With this lovingly edited and designed collection, filmmaker Atom Egoyan (The Sweet
Hereafter, Ararat) and literature professor Ian Balfour celebrate the much-maligned middlemen of world cinema: subtitles. While definitely a high-brow gift-tome, it's an approachable one, thanks in large part to its exceptional attention to design. The book's gorgeous layout was created by Egoyan with designer Gilbert Li, and they've simply outdone themselves. It's the little things that matter:
the book's wide-format layout mimics a silver screen, right down to an insanely anal use of the cinematic 1.66:1 ratio." Boldtype

The MIT Press

Sukhdev Sandhu
...a remarkable 500-page book, printed in 1.66:1 Cinemascope ratio, that not only explores the history and contemporary usage of subtitles, but uses them as a metaphor for discussing a very wide range of topics... Ultimately, and this is what makes the book so rich and resonant, to talk about subtitles is to talk about the boundaries that we construct, or that are constructed for us, to separate the local from the foreign, "us" from "them".
The New Statesman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262050784
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Series: Alphabet City
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Atom Egoyan is an internationally acclaimed film director whose works include The
Sweet Hereafter
, Ararat, Exotica, and

Ian Balfour is Associate Professor of English and Social and Political Thought at York
University in Toronto and the author of The Rhetoric of English Poetry.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 21
The sweet hereafter 33
Little life lines in "Desperanto" 65
Outside myself 69
Cultural ventriloquism 79
The birth of cinema 89
Soundtrack 93
Borges night at the movies 111
Word images 123
Epistolarity and textuality in accented films 131
To read or not to read : subtitles, trailers, and monolingualism 153
The use and abuse of subtitles 171
Alterite : the d-image effect 193
Filmic foreigness, filmic homecoming : on Garine Torossian's Girl from Moush 211
Thoughts on Balkan cinema 231
(De)realizing cinematic time 259
The foreign gaze which sees too much 285
Where are Kiarostami's women? 309
The great dance : translating the foreign in ethnographic film 335
In limbo : Creolisation and untranslatability 355
The Hollywood sound tract 381
A new line in the geometry 403
My last interview with Ulrike Ottinger : on Southeast passage and beyond 421
The foreignness of the intimate, or the violence and charity of perception 439
A name on a page 489
Blue : archive of devastation 507
Afterword 531
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  • Posted January 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Useful and Entertaining Essays

    This is a book for fans of film--in particular, viewers that enjoy non-native language movies and have an interest in how they are subtitled. Many subtitlers may find this interesting, of course, but in fairness it's not written for professionals in the field. This is not a criticism. The book's strength is it accessibility for the casual reader.

    'We need to make sense of the foreign on our own terms,' authors Atom Egoyan and Ian Balfour write. 'Subtitles offer a way into worlds outside of ourselves.' To that end, they collected essays and interviews from every area of the subtitling industry. Professional subtitler Henri Behar has an endearingly gruff and pragmatic moment, as does director Claire Denis in her discussion of the subtitles for Friday Night. Amresh Sinha's essay on how subtitles can make one's own language foreign is particularly insightful. Jorge Luis Borges' early film reviews alone, as translated by Calin-Andrei Mihailescu, are worth the price of the book.

    Much is made of the design, and rightly so, but the essays would be just as compelling in a standard trade paperback format. The publisher has done the material justice, however, by creating a book as fascinating to hold in one's hands as it is to read. It's not entirely convenient for most bookshelves, but that's a quibble compared to the binding, quality paper, and cinematic faux-widescreen design.

    There is something here for every film fan. Like all great anthologies, the book observes its theme without seeming to do so. The essays come at right angles to each other, but all oddly fit the primary goal of the text--to expose readers to this little-understood area of global cinema. In that regard, the book is a remarkable success.

    D. Bannon is author of The Elements of Subtitles: A Practical Guide to the Art of Dialogue, Character, Context, Tone and Style in Subtitling (ISBN-10: 0557130727; ISBN-13: 9780557130726).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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