Friday, January 14, 2011

What Did He Say?

I'm old enough to remember when the Godzilla movies were first run in the theaters. Not the first one, mind you, but the later versions that got gleefully campier with each new edition to the franchise. The special effects even then were cheesy beyond reason but at the ripe old age of eight it was all great fun. I may have mentioned previously that I never could figure out how they managed to rebuild Tokyo so quickly after one of the big guy's walks through the center of town.

What made it more palatable to my young ears and certainly to larger audiences of the time was the fact that all of the dialogue was dubbed in English. At the time we kids were too young to care that the words didn't match the movement of the mouth supposedly uttering the dialogue. Nor did we concern ourselves too much with the fact that the American accents were no match for how the language WOULD sound if the Japanese actors had in fact been speaking English in the first place. None of that was the point. Godzilla was the point! Or whatever other foreign film, French, German, Italian, Brazilian, whatever was being watched by whoever was watching it.

I'm older now. And I've traveled a bit. Few things delight me so much as the sound of a language complete different from my own. It matters not that I understand precious little if any of the sounds I am hearing, I simply enjoy the rhythm and cadence of the language in its natural form. The rapid fire, almost hurried staccato delivery of Japanese or the smooth as silk but equally fast sound of French in full voice is part of the fun of being overseas. Why shouldn't it be THE only soundtrack available in a foreign film?

On business recently in Los Angeles I flipped through the channels until I found the NHK Network, the Japanese channel that broadcasts much of its programming in that language. Couldn't understand a word of it but I used to also travel to Japan for business and, now that I live in Texas, rarely if ever hear the language in these here parts! I didn't need or want sub-titles, I just wanted to hear the language. In a foreign film I get distracted if I hear some disconnected language and accent that has nothing to do with the setting of the story. I prefer subtitles!

Don't get me wrong...I enjoy foreign films quite a lot but admit that I need to be in the mood to devote up to two hours in the dark to reading while rapidly shifting my eyes to the action on the screen so I can put the two together. I felt, however, that the experience was richer to watch "Y Tu Mama Tambien" in the original Spanish or "Central Station" in Brazilian Portuguese than waste time wondering if the voice-over talent hailed from the accent neutral environs of Nebraska! Hearing the language simply makes me want to know more about the language, the culture and the country, to go there one day if I haven't already gone and long to go back.

"Das Boot" in German? It flat out would not have had the same impact in its initial release if the U-Boat crews were speaking the Queen's English, I'm sorry.

So, having seen films in Japanese, Mandarin, German, Xhosa, Portuguese and Spanish, are there any good films in Russian or Arabic out there that I should know about?

Gotta go.

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