Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Ho ho, Monsieur


Last night J. and I watched A Prairie Home Companion on one of the French film channels. A bit sceptical to start with, I gradually became more and more engrossed, then helpless with laughter, and by the end I couldn't wait to order the DVD via the link here.

It was in prairie English, with French subtitles. Very often French subtitles are poor. Sometimes they don't even complete the sentence, e.g. 'Je t'ai demandé si' (I asked you if) or 'Avez-vous terminé votre?' (Have you finished your?)

And of course there's the clever stuff that just doesn't, or won't, translate. Carry on, Cleo had the immortal line 'Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me! which came out in French so unconvincingly (L'infame! L'infame! Ils m'en veulent tous!) that I suspect the low-grade translator hadn't twigged Kenneth Williams' line.

But full marks last night to the subtle subtitlers. In a song called Bad Jokes singing cowpoke Lefty (or Dusty, I can't remember which) sang about his horse which, although gifted in chemistry, physics and mathematics, had problems with philosophy: he found it hard to put Descartes before the horse.

I could imagine the translator thinking long and hard about this one. He/she came up with a stroke of genius: the horse 'ne savait pas la différence entre Socrate et sa crotte', didn't know the difference between Socrates and his dung.



Z said...

That is brilliant. I suppose the translator was anonymous, which is a pity. I always enjoyed Anthea Bell's translations of the Asterix books (she is the daughter of Adrian Bell, whose writing I have adored for the last forty years).

Garrison Keillor is also someone I have loved for years. About twenty years ago he came to Norwich. I had a ticket to a concert at Snape Proms that night, I ditched it - I think I made my daughter take my mother instead of taking her myself - and went to see him instead. He had the entire audience rapt, and helpless with laughter. And this shy, embarrassed Norfolk audience sang a Gospel song because he asked us to.

Rog said...

Thanks for providing the useful "aide memoire" in the form of a picture of some horse poo Christopher. I'd almost forgotten what it looked like.

I suspect the French pun hit the translator with a dull thud. Dunggggg!!!!

Rog said...

I was eating my croque monsiuer.

Dave said...

Nice link. Much appreciated.

Tim said...

Yes, dubbing English-language films into Italian was an art form when I lived there in the sixties. One I remember was the otherwise forgotten Casino Royale spoof of 1967, in which David Niven played a kilted version of one of several Bonds, immaculately dubbed into a Genovese accent (the Genovese being the Italian stereotypical equivalent of British culture's Scots). A smidgeon of serendipitous subtlety there, I thought.
Of course, Rog is obviously more interested in Dobbin.

letouttoplay said...

Splendid photo. Only misses the steam rising.

Christopher said...

Z: Agreed. It pays to employ a really gifted translator, like Anthea Bell. Had you noticed that in Asterix even the shop signs, for instance, which aren't part of the dialogue, are translated just as wittily as the speech balloons?

Rog: Sorry about the croque, monsieur. Do lead speech balloons go 'Dunggggg!?

Dave: So you looked?

Tim: I never knew Rog was a cub scout. Thank you. Or that you'd lived in Italy. I hope you received many letters with ITALY both on the front and on the back.

Mig: We did keep ponies once, but that was along time ago, before the age of steam.