Rightwing Film Geek

It’s shite bein’ subtitled

I didn’t mention this in my NEDS review, because the capsule was already long enough and had enough personal diversion. But several times during the film, I became quite annoyed by a practice that’s aggravated me every time I’ve seen it — subtitled Scots, specifically subtitled Glaswegian.

Now I’m not gonna pretend there’s not a small element (OK, a large element) of personal pique in the fact that nearly every time I’ve seen my native English dialect used in movies, it’s been subtitled as if it were a foreign language that needed translation. And this is compounded by the fact that for the most part, films set elsewhere in Scotland or among Glasgow’s upper-classes — SHALLOW GRAVE, all but a couple of scenes in TRAINSPOTTING, LOCAL HERO, COMFORT AND JOY — don’t get subtitled for US exhibition.

While obviously I am by definition the perfectly worst judge of whether subtitling Glaswegian is necessary for American audiences, I really think there are gradations. I didn’t think the accent/dialect in RED ROAD or ORPHANS was nearly as thick as in RIFF RAFF, SWEET SIXTEEN, MY NAME IS JOE or NEDS. At least those first two movies, so says my memory, were not unintelligible to anyone paying attention after maybe 10 minutes, the amount of “ear adjustment” time I need to get accustomed to a working-class English or Australian dialect. Yet those movies all were subtitled … grrr.

Still I try to be a clear-eyed realist, and so I have to acknowledge that Glaswegian seems to pose more difficulties for other Anglophones than other English dialects do. In fact I can “code-switch” into Glaswegian upon command (or the impetus of another British accent) and lose Americans within five seconds.

But … if you’re going to subtitle on the assumption that Glaswegian needs translation — actually “translate.” Several times during NEDS, I couldn’t believe what I was reading, thinking “how would this subtitle help anybody for whom Glaswegian is too foreign to follow in the first place?” Very early on, there is a line that sounds like “doant start greetin own meh,” which the subtitles render, accurately enough, as “don’t start greeting on me.” But, for the non-Glaswegian who doesn’t know that the verb “to greet” means “to cry,” that subtitle would just be mystifying, especially since “to greet” is a verb in standard English, but with a very different meaning. Other slang terms go untranslated throughout. You can probably figure out what a “cheeky wee sod” is or the meaning of “brainbox.” But I’m not sure the same is true for calling someone or something (and which of the two it is matters for meaning) a “stoater” or referring to a bunch of “eejits” (which is not its own word, but a colloquial pronunciation of a standard English term, “idiots”).

At other times, you just have to scratch your head wondering how familiar the subtitler actually was with Glaswegian speech. Late in the movie, there is a line that sounds like “gawen away aggen thamawrra,” which the subtitle translates (hilariously) as “going away again the mawrra.” I snorted and giggled at the same time — even Glaswegians don’t *write* “the mawrra,” however we may pronounce the word we and everyone else spell “tomorrow.” Again … for whom can “the mawrra” be clearer? On another occasion, one character says to another what sounds like “ahll gie ye a coalcarry” and the person addressed leaps onto the speaker’s back for a ride, what Americans call a “piggyback.” The subtitle translated that line as “I’ll give you a co-carry.” I’m aware that in actual speech, syllable-ending l-sounds like that are often ellided or unvoiced. But if you’re going to spell out the word, it’s a “coal-carry,” so called because of how coalmen used to deliver bags of coal to Glasgow tenements by carrying them on the their backs, slung over the shoulder. Maybe coal is now used so rarely that the term’s origin is lost to today’s Glasgow youth and the “l” sound has been dropped entirely. But I know I *heard* “coal-carry” right away, and the movie was set in the 70s when coal was still widely used for home-heating.

This probably sounds a little dyspeptic and is obviously about more than NEDS. I know and appreciate that Peter Mullan has done more, as a director and actor, to portray working-class Glasgow in feature films than any man alive. But … Peter … subtitle idiomatically or don’t subtitle. Dae it rit or no attaw.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | Peter Mullan, Scotland, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

♫ We sent them homeward … ♫

morrison.jpg

Sorry for the lack of weekend posting … but Saturday’s rugby score explains it all: Scotland 15, England 9. It was necessary to watch and celebrate (and then celebrate some more and then do penance for the celebration).

celebration3.jpgThis year’s Six Nations had been crap … lopsided losses by 21, 15 and 21 to Paddy, Taffy and Evil. And we had to struggle to beat Italy in nasty conditions at a neutral site last year at the World Cup, so in sunny Rome next weekend … who knows. But … if you beat England and spoil the record day for Proud Edward’s Army Jonny Wilkinson … and get the Calcutta Cup from Princess Anne — nothing else matters too much.

There is no question that technically it was not the prettiest game and played in awful Scottish weather — no tries at all, and Scotland never even came close. But our defending was brilliant (theirs wasn’t bad, to be honest) and the reason that there were few try chances was that our line kept discipline and didn’t break. OTOH, they made penalty-costing defensive mistakes that we didn’t. The English media have been saying that their team couldn’t have played worse, which is true, but that assumes that the World Cup finalists suddenly turn into a bunch of schoolboys (a frequent analogy) for reasons having nothing to do with the other team on the pitch. Saturday’s effort was exactly the kind of grind-it-out, kick-it-away, ruck-heavy game of denial we needed to have to beat England.

Anyway … the 6 Nations was not a waste. And this weekend, all props to my Singapore-exiled bud Dan and the rest of the Welsh as they go for the Grand Slam, against the Perfidious French in Cardiff. It wasn’t our year, but at least they’ll have tae think again.


(That was old, but it always brings shivers and tears … though it was the occasion and outcome as much as the performance per se)

March 10, 2008 Posted by | Rugby, Scotland | , | 5 Comments