Friday, 4 September 2009

Subtitles. For and Against. (with tangents on Nazis)

FOR: Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino's long-awaited Nazi film-meets-spaghetti western-meets macaroni-combat film, was criticised by some for being told in three different languages; French, German and English. Actually, there was some Italian in there along the line as well, put to use by the evil Col. Landa in a hilarious, yet teeth-bendingly tense scene towards the end of the 3-hour epic.

As much as the use of three main languages ruffled a few critics' feathers, the disparities of language is integral to all of the hierarchies of knowledge of the film. Each language is needed to create different sets of knowledge in each character. For the audience to get used to the subtitles, scenes are long and tedious; they are necessary to create a verisimilitude, a semblance of real-time. So that, when the action happens, it shocks the audience as much as the victim of the testicly-recieved bullet.

Hitchcock famously said that if you show an audience two people having a conversation at a table, speaking for ten minutes before a bomb goes off from under the table, the audience only gets 10 seconds of surprise. However, if you show the audience the bomb is under the table before the ten minutes' conversation, you get 11 minutes of suspense.

It could be argued that Tarantino refuses to strive for suspense, instead creating long, meandering, seemingly irrelevant conversations. But Tarantino is being wonderfully self-reflexive by not telling the audience where the gun is. He knows what his fans (and critics) expect of him, especially after Kill Bill. They expect violence, gore, blood and, if Aldo Raine's preface is to be trusted, a whole lotta Nazi scalps. The self-reflexivity even flows into the end of the film, when you, as a cinemagoer are brought into the Nazi cinema, and, well, I won't give too much away, but it gets fucked up and you start to question your own bloodthirsty drive to rush out and see films with one-word reviews ranging from 'gory' to 'bloody'.

When you watch the 15-year-old Pulp Fiction, you don’t strive too hard to fit all the pieces together, the colours aren't in strict blocks on the rubik's cube. But the film still proves appealing because it is fucking cool, and all the action is held firmly apart by a fair bit of suspense.

Inglourious Basterds is no different. The range of different languages mean that, whilst watching, you know who knows more than the person next to them, and who’s fooling who, but if you were given a piece of paper after each chapter and had to establish who knew what and who didn’t know what, you’d probably put the pen down and just carry on watching because it’s a stupid thing to try, especially when the lights are dimmed in a cinema and you're watching a great film.
Inglourious Basterds *****

AGAINST: Coco Avant Chanel

About two and a half hours into this, I thought: 'Wow. I really like this. The pearls, the dinner suits, the monochrome, the clean edges. I really like Chanel couture. I like dresses.' Then the film ended.

Coco Avant Chanel bore all of the signs of sloppy filmmaking. The memoirs of the life of an iconic fashion designer who became hated by her homeland after a bit too much pleasure taken at the Nazi occupation (wink) BEFORE any of the fun stuff like MAKING PRETTY CLOTHES or SHAGGING NAZIS happened…was, quite frankly…terrible. Not only did the whole story belittle the life of a very complicated woman, merely showing the two men she shagged in an awkward downsizing of the Edith Piaf biopic (La Vie En Rose, 5 stars) * the subtitling was atrocious. It was clearly subtitled by an intern found through an episode of The Hills. I was trying to take the film seriously, but then a character said ‘I’ll drop you a line’. In 1930’s France, was that really ‘par de course’? The colloquial contemporaneous Americanisms were innumerable, and I tried to mentally exorcise them like you would the image of the last person you slept with fellating a poo you did yesterday, but, mustering some strength to remember, I swear I read ‘hook up’ amongst that ill-commissioned text.
Also, Audrey Tatou looked like a massive hag. It was bad enough that the story was misogynistic in its latent dismissal of Chanel's career-related achievements, but its lighting was the filmic equivalent of a weekly glossy magazine's photoshopped red-ring around an exercising celebrity's left armpit - gasp - sweating!

*I understand that Coco Chanel and Edith Piaf did have some similarities in their lives – both singing in gaudy bars as young women, being mistaken for prostitutes, finding their way up in the world and shagging a man who, betrothed to someone else, dies in a crash. However, Edith Piaf’s life story did not cut out the heroin and the bingeing and the aides and the cancer. Why should Coco Chanel’s story cut out the Nazis and the emigration to Switzerland, the working with Audrey Hepburn?

Coco Avant Chanel **

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