Point of view Serendipity
We are just reaching the two year milestone and ASINC is maintaining the pace, resisting time and keeping up the effort needed in its professional engagements and tasks which it has pre-established. It's thanks to some publicity (a bit too little to tell the truth: come on dear sponsors, Mecenatism is good for the health!) and to the unforeseen and surprising sales in Italy and abroad of our well-known t-shirt which seems to have become a collector's item, that ASINC can confirm that the first part of the bet has been won.
We are here and we are here to stay, at least until we have won and consolidated the second part of the bet, the more complex question of the professional right to criticise and report in order to contribute to the general quality increase in dubbing.
Why 300? Don't worry, we don't want to bore you with one of the latest films of the recently elapsed cinematographic season - moreover interesting from the cartoon-graphic point of view, less so from the narrative point of view and even less so from the dubbing one, - we simply would like to consider some aspects which condition choices and therefore, indirectly, the quality of Italian dubbing starting from the number of messages which arrived at the editorial office from 1st of January 2007 of last year referring to the problem of the quality of the Italian language used (164 messages) and of the acting (136 messages).
In short, all these remarks have forced us to search in the environment to find the reasons for this qualitative decay and through the creation and elaboration of statistics and opinions we're unfortunately having confirmation that our assumptions are even more inferior to the truth: almost the whole dubbing system appears to be moving in a mire or in quicksand which suffocate every attempt to create a balanced, respectful market of the interests at stake, amongst which the most important one for us: the paying spectator.
The phenomenon naturally also regards television fiction, cartoons and documentaries but in these fields we were already used to a rather low standard, apart from some rare exceptions, but in films which end up on the big screen - where dubbing investment should be more considered - the decline seems to be without ending.
The reasons for such a breakdown seem to be determined by a number of reasons and certainly more than one factor:
Therefore we are in the midst of a very serious situation for the very same survival of dubbing which, principally, the associative companies, trade unions and entrepreneural sectors, but also the single agents, cannot abandon without accepting responsibility. On our behalf, we assume the task of carrying out, in this 2008, a detailed, profound examination which deals with all the above mentioned and which makes everyone aware of the responsibility, on all sides, and which helps pin-point the solutions and the possible correctives available.
Valerio De Paolis in “Giornale dello Spettacolo” (an entertainment newspaper) accuses dubbing of being the cause of the scarce box office success of the film “The Queen”, from which, after Helen Mirren’s Oscar, we evidently expected a bit more. According to De Paolis «il doppiaggio di “The Queen”, che peraltro è costato un sacco di soldi, è stato completamente sbagliato. In questa maniera è stato inficiato il risultato al box office di un film che non è stato apprezzato come poteva e doveva» (the dubbing of “The Queen”, which furthermore, cost a lot of money, was completely wrong. In this way, the box office result has been invalidated by a film which hasn’t been appreciated as it could have and should have been).
That a distributor, for the first time, takes into consideration a fact which is generally neglected is real news. It would be good news if it weren’t for the fact that De Paolis chooses not to mention that the dubbing of his films isn’t done by someone else, that he’s the one who chooses who does it, that it’s always him who gives the ‘go ahead’. So, if the dubbing of one of his films doesn’t work, he’s the only one to know about it before the film is shown and he can do something about it if he’s not satisfied. Also the choice to dub a certain film or not is all his: no-one prevents him from letting it come out with subtitles or even without subtitles. Even more so because to dub the film costs him a lot of money. So one asks oneself: what makes him do it? Why bother?
Unless he’s looking for a scapegoat, and the accused dubbing arrives at precisely the right moment, at a time of successful films like “Letters from Iwo Jima” or “Apocalypto”, which, it’s true, come out subtitled but here also it’s not mentioned that they came out subtitled even in America, and that if they’ve been successful there too, it’s despite the fact that no-one speaks the antique Mayan or Japanese languages.
Perhaps therefore, it’s time to re-establish some truth and do the accounts.
“Lettere da Iwo Jima” (Letters from Iwo Jima), which came out in Italy on February 16th 2007, up to March 10th, earned 581.000 euro, “The Queen” up to March 4th earned 1.915.000; which, seeing the genre and different reputation of the directors, is not a flop, and however went better than Frear’s previous film “Lady Henderson presenta” (Lady Henderson Presents), whose 927.000 euro revenue did not make BIM rant and rave against the dubbing.
Eastwood’s “Mystic River” was more successful, distributed by BIM in 2003, which in the dubbed version, earned 5.713.000 euro, and even better was “Million Dollar Baby”, always dubbed, with proceeds of 7.786.000 euro. This means maybe that “Lettere da Iwo Jima” (Letters from Iwo Jima) did not have the success which one is led to believe it had at the box office all the more so according to the parameters of a Warner like distribution.
As far as Mel Gibson is concerned, “Apocalypto”, luckier than Eastwood’s film, in Italy earned 6.600.000 euro. His “Passione di Cristo” (The Passion of the Christ) had earned 19.244.000: merit maybe of the Aramaic language, more familiar than Mayan to our provincial ears?
To answer Valerio De Paolis, an appreciation of his on the dubbing of “Mystic River” or of “Amélie” (which had earned 8.321.000 euro) or of “Brokeback Mountain (4.460.000) does not come to mind. Perhaps the truth is that it’s hypocritical to blame dubbing for the flop of a film and in fact everyone is also careful in recognising its merits, because there are many factors which attract the public to cinema. “Iwo Jima” in America earned 13.316.000 dollars, “Apocalypto” 50.205.000. Not that much for their standards but it cannot be due to the language seeing as “The Passion” earned 370.271.000.
If the problem is that the public is tired of seeing dubbed films, why has De Paolis insisted in dubbing “Inland Empire” despite the fact that Lynch had publicly said that he was against it? Did he think perhaps that in the original version it would have earned less than 288.000 euro which it so laboriously obtained? Pity that, despite being chased for months, he didn’t want to tell us.
In any case, we think that good dubbing helps a film or at best, it doesn’t damage it. Bad dubbing doesn’t do any good to the film, doesn’t do any good to the public, doesn’t do any good to anyone. Our contribution wants to go in this direction because it’s too easy to wage a private war, as does Masenza in the same article, in favour of the freedom of choosing the original language. It would be nice to have him and other critics side by side in another war… against bad dubbing.
We invite Valerio De Paolis and the others to reflect on this.
New technologies, from satellite to DVD, and the exponential growth of communication systems are causing radical changes in the audiovisual circulation panorama. After over a year of sector analysis, the reflection which is triggered starts with the realisation that most non-national audiovisual communication takes place in our country via dubbing, or rather through that complicated operation borne from the effort of transforming an order of ideas into another, readapting it and reinterpreting it, in definitive, recreating it. Within this scenario, therefore, the dubbing sector is invested with a double responsibility: on the one side, concerning the original authors’ work and on the other, concerning cinema goers and television viewers. A high level cultural problem therefore, involving every linguistic sector.
So here predominant questions come to mind to which, at first, experts, researchers, academics, professional people in the business and the institutions are called upon to provide answers. What should dubbing rules be so that the languages and the work have maximum protection and guidance? Which role must authors, artists and companies providing facilities and services cut out for themselves in this new scenario? How does one establish the technical-artistic level which satisfies every requirement? What is the task and role of training and formation?
In reality, beyond the above mentioned developments, these questions are the same that have been asked over the years in various conferences which have taken place and to which no answers have ever been given, neither from the institutional side, nor from the critics side, nor from the companies’ side in their role as those who transform the work – that is the so-called editing companies – and in their role as copyright owners – that is the production and distribution firms.
Such a serious absence of consideration, due to a sensitive and obvious structural fault, helped by an almost total indifference on behalf of the original authors of the work (directors and screenwriters), as well as of the producers who do however invest in the realisation of the product, leaves the field to the rules of the market, who see to it that a work, behind which there is an artistic effort, as well as – as we’ve already said – a no less important productive and economical effort, is dubbed in Italian at the lowest cost – hence with the most inadequate operators – with results which can be seen both on screen and on television networks.
To this rather depressing panorama (exception made for those moments of healthy hilarity unexpectedly provoked by the spontaneous stylistic work of certain operators and their mentors) we must furthermore add and highlight that the effort of the academic world in analysing the phenomenon and in offering a scientific support to a practise which has always had a low-key profile and which exists in an almost empirical nullity, falls practically on deaf ears, in that there is a communication fault which doesn’t permit a profitable de-flow of information to pass and therefore doesn’t position itself as a critical filter in order to reach an effective level of sector decontamination of the faults generated by the above-mentioned free market.
This situation, with the permission of the dubbing detractors, is bringing the qualitative standard to its lowest levels ever, and will soon bring its very survival into discussion. In fact, taking note that a diminishing of the audience is under way due to a more and more conspicuous and differentiated product offer, if the plus-value given by dubbing is no longer justified by its cost, we will see copyright owners choose a more economic way to communicate, such as subtitles (so much so that in the move from the cathode tube to the flat screen, the average width of the TV has increased from 21 to 28 inches and therefore reading the subtitles is noticeably easier). And then we could say we have really lost something, a near miraculous privilege which allowed the spectator to be totally seduced by fantasy and imagination, in order to earn our right in being provincial intellectuals who pretend to know foreign languages as opposed to the neutered and castrated vision of subtitles, like in a depressed country.
Such a slightly apocalyptical scenario could be warded off, but the necessary measures will probably never be taken; in fact, why should the relative institutions – the Department of entertainment of the MiBAC (the Ministry of Cultural Heritage), the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Education – take a decision which leads to rules of guarantee for a practise which deep down creates only slightly more cultural traumas to an already rude population of minors who watch TV, on average, only three hours a day and who in 65 per cent of cases don’t even read a book a year? Why should the dubbing service care about quality, which has a cost, having to certify their own behaviour according to a recognised regulation system, which has a cost, when their client probably doesn’t even know where Italy is? For what obscure reason should specialised journalists and critics – apart from, as it appears, our meagre handful of pioneers – intervene in a penniless system which is worth, in all, between cinema, home-video and TV only 32/35 million euro a year, compared to the economic flows which combined create about 750 million euro from cinema, about 1.200 million euro from home-video and 25/30 per cent of the resources which come from television publicity dispensed by UPA partners/members, of more than two billion euro? It’s very rare for a dog to bite its owner. And finally, why should dubbing operators (exception made for the odd few) want their objective to be the achievement of a professional and artistic dignity when – victims of a structural feeling of guilt which comes to them through a total lack of formation – they’re the first to scorn their own work and that of others and are ready to transform themselves in kapò heads/bosses as soon as the clients of the moment promote them to businessmen/entrepreneurs?
So it’s typical of the ‘bel paese’ not to know how to appreciate its own peculiarities and never going further than folkloristic small workshop aspects; and therefore – unless salvation comes from the outside and that is from a European activity which after continuous signs coming from the academic and associative world seem to be giving some signs of interest (the Commission has just accepted a study project on dubbing activities in the EU countries) – this funny practise, once defined as the highest level of translation, is dying out; at it’s deathbed I can already see subtitlers masochistically celebrating, ready to pick up the pieces and to fight for a place in the sun in a gloomy market which for them is forecast as being worse than the dubbing one; in fact, despite the efforts made by trade-unions to put them in the national contract, which as far as they are concerned is totally unheard of, neither on their part or on the part of the ever immobile Enpals (which should collect obligatory health/insurance contributions), or on behalf of the supervision commission for the CCNL application, has there ever been a complaint or a request for protection.
Leaving the darkness of dubbing mortality to its destiny, allow me to go to the area of Italian cinema, also led here by the dark gloom of death. Someone will ask why: soon said. Still producing – thanks to a more concrete assistance – nearly ninety films a year, Italian cinema earns more or less (depending on the success of the latest film on offer) 200 million euro each season occupying a market quota which varies from 17 to 25 per cent; totally insufficient resources to produce films which could be competitive with those produced on the other side of the world; in fact, the cost of an average production is six million euro per film, whilst the American average is over forty. If all the revenue of Italian cinema is worth the cost of five American films and with the cost of one American film, seven Italian films could be made, it’s natural to think that the average spectator sees the Hollywood product as being richer and therefore more desirable, but seeing the revenue prospects it’s just as normal to think that our (Italian) producers rightly avoid investing higher resources in the production in order to render his film more competitive and prefers to stay in his asphyxiated, airless little corner complaining about why commercial decision-makers and the ‘baubau’ of the TV don’t want to screen their project, their masterpieces and demanding ever higher public financing. Again this time the possible solution comes – logically – from the country which has made the cinematographic industry its second national industry and which, at the dawn of sound invention by the Italian Giovanni Rappazzo, invented dubbing to maximise, to its best, its own product in other markets and therefore obtain maximum profit and higher resources in order to offer always more desirable products and works.
The question which spontaneously springs to an interlocutor of average intelligence is: “so then why don’t we do the same thing? If we’re feeling squashed in our market with such low percentages, let’s take our best films to the rich USA market, dub them in English and in that way have access to a market of three hundred million potential spectators, so if we work hard and well, we can weave ourselves a quota of three percent of the home-video market and we can take home that half a billion euro with which we can enrich the above-mentioned productions and thus offer national and international markets – as long as our Italian authors don’t abandon their creativity – more and more impressive and fascinating films!” Unfortunately average intelligence isn’t a common trait and therefore this simple equation has been looking for its practical application for years. Let’s content ourselves on reflecting on the Polanski way of thinking, when he states that dubbing in America can’t work in that – according to him – when the Mediterranean people speak to each other they look into each others eyes, those of Saxon origin look at each other’s mouths. Amen.
As from 12th December 2005 we are on-line and we’ll be talking about cinema, home entertainment and television but from a particular point of view, that of dubbing.
As all those in this field know, the term “a sinc” means that the dubbed sound track superimposed upon the original film is done practically to perfection and the movements of the actors’ lips during the scenes – thanks to the scripts written and adapted by the dialogist – coincide perfectly with the words expressed by the dubbing actors. We see our name as a sort of good-luck omen!
During the dubbing festival “Voices in the Shade" (Voci nell’Ombra) last September, “a sinc” going on-line was announced. Its rich site, though not full of contents, will satisfy all its potential readers and will develop and grow with the requisites of an ever changing film world.
aSinc will fill a structural void in the Italian critic world regarding audiovisual and cinematographic works; the quality of dubbing enables the Italian public to enjoy over 300 foreign films which together represent about 80% of all box-office proceeds, about 85% of the home-video market and over 75% of fiction and documentaries broadcasted by television. An absence that during these years has led to a qualitative degradation in the field, dominated by a confused if not entirely deregulated market, ultimately damaging the public, amongst which we see minors who are major viewers of film and fiction identifying themselves in often debatable cultural role models.
aSinc’s objective is to give accurate information on the reality of the dubbing world, to spot the necessary policies for its safeguard and its development, to revalue the professional dignity of all those who work in the sector and to start the development of an historical archive of all dubbed film reviews (with a look at other methodologies of linguistic transposition) open to the Italian and international public – increasingly sensitive to quality factors – to protect and enhance this significant activity for Italian culture and for the industry of national and international entertainment.
A group of professional scholars and experts are with us in this adventure, as guarantors, who have this matter at heart and who will have ample space at their disposal to trace lines of conduct and to express general and particular opinions and considerations.