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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

I’ve been Dubbed, Subtitled and Translated into Sign-language
Monday, April 24, 2023 @ 7:37 PM

It seems that we can blame that old sod Franco for the size of the Spanish dubbing industry. Where other countries tamely put subtitles on their cinema or television screens, the Spanish are much more partial to James Dean’s mouth making a ‘hi’ movement as a strange and gravely Madrid-accented voice says ‘hola, ¿que tal?
There are those who are surprised to discover how their favourite star really sounded - think of Humphrey Bogart or Homer Simpson.
Sometimes, they don’t even remove the original soundtrack – just turn it down with the Spanish version bellowed out on top. There’s David Attenborough telling us about snakes in his whispery voice – which at least this viewer can – or at least could understand – if it wasn’t for the same bloke from Madrid thundering out something about serpientes venenosas rendering the whole thing impossible to understand in any language.
Franco didn’t approve of foreign languages – Basque and Catalonian of course – but anything else either. They might be saying something untoward, immoral or revolutionary. So he banned them. No one was to speak anything but Spanish – including the nation’s deaf, who were not allowed to use sign-language (and even today they sign in a rather furtive sort of way, as if they are still on the look out for a Guardia Civil).
So, forget subtitles, everything imported had to be dubbed. Except, come to think of it, pop music. It would have been a stretch having our friend from Madrid crooning ‘she loves yer ya ya ya’ in castellano over the Beatles. I can’t see many people buying the record either.
Anyway, in some cases, films were translated away from their original meaning – if immoral or faintly subversive – and represented in a more acceptable light. ‘She’s my girlfriend’, for example, might safely become ‘she’s my fiancée’. Of course, if the film strayed to far from the Catholic Church’s view of morality, or the Government’s view of political propriety, it would never be shown here anyway. Which is why everyone had to drive up to Perpignan to see Marlon Brando’s ‘Last Tango in Paris’ and why, between the death of Franco and the arrival of the Internet, they sold porn films by the lorry-load out of the Spanish gas stations.
Dubbed porn films, if you can imagine such a thing.
Televisions now have this special button for those who wish to see something in its ‘versión original’. Press it and – whoops – up’ll come the show in all its glory. My Spanish step-son, who is learning English and is fond of Bob Esponja, inexplicably refuses to avail himself of this useful service of switching him into SpongeBob SquarePants. Perhaps he doesn't want me to get the joke.
Of course, humour don't always translate, which makes watching Friends or Frasier a bit hit or miss when enjoying the Spanish version. And anyway, Niles was funny because of his voice!
The dubbers, there must be a small coterie of them working out of a cellar underneath a multiplex in Madrid, are usually unknown - until one of them ups and dies. Then the media will tell us that Paco Orbera was the beloved voice of Errol Flynn, Fred Flintstone, The fellow with the big chin in Gunsmoke and Bruce Willis.

In the City, there will be a few cinemas that show films in ‘V.O.’ with subtitles, usually lowbrow romantic comedies. They do well with the American students.

Now, for all I go on about the desecration of Die Hard ('Jungla de Cristal' for some reason) by the dubbers - who I think must have some kind of cast-iron contract - at least the Continentals are prepared to look at foreign cinema, as well as their own (and the Spanish make quite respectable movies). In Britain, we think that everything good, if not ours, comes from Hollywood. When was the last time you saw a French film, an Italian TV show or a Spanish documentary? Bloody Americans – if there’s a decent European film out there, they’ll churn out a re-make (gotta have that Tom Cruise as the Good German who wants to murder Hitler).
In Greece or Portugal or Denmark or Poland (well, I’m guessing about Poland to be frank), you’ll sit down with the local version of popcorn and watch the movie in its original language, the subtitles wobbling there at the bottom of the screen and – in the Mediterranean cinemas at least – with the entire audience talking at once. It's just Spain that's being contrary over this.
I suppose dubbing can be useful. The first thing I learnt in Spanish was ‘Hands up’, which I have to admit that I’ve still yet to use in my private capacity. A German friend once told me that he’d learnt English from listening to pop music. Apart from coming out with some odd expressions occasionally ‘(‘Baby, light my fire’, ‘you’re my Rockafella’ and so on), he managed a certain fluency without, apparently, an undue amount of effort. Perhaps some of my readers might want to follow his example and start practicing singing along to Miguel Ríos or Camilo Sesto (If I were you, I’d save the Flamenco until a bit later).
And thus the dubbing industry, started and encouraged by Franco, had, by the time of his death, become so powerful (in a relatively small field) that it has managed to continue on into modern times.
One rare occasion when subtitles are used outside of entertainment is when a Catalonian politician holds forth on the TV, and his pronuncios are posted below: usually too briefly to be read. Curiously though, when a Catalonian politician wants to appeal to the larger public about something other than politics, why, he’ll address us in Spanish. This does not happen in the Basque County, however, where all declarations, political or otherwise, are made in Spanish.
Perhaps they don’t have a good subtitling service there…

Like 3


henna5 said:
Friday, July 21, 2023 @ 6:57 AM

Thanks for sharing about that. I am looking for more information about it. I will follow you to update the latest posts.

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