Friday, March 04, 2011

My Magnum Opus

I think I've done it - the best subtitles I've ever done or ever will do. I translated and created subtitles for Claude Autant-Lara's 1955 film "Marguerite de la nuit" (Marguerite of the Night), a wonderful movie almost completely forgotten today. It stars Yves Montand and Michele Morgan, and is a modern version of Faust. (I can never see or hear those words without thinking of The Bandwagon, and the disastrous stage show Jeffrey Cordova put on with just that theme.)

The sets are incredibly weird - very artificial, almost Expressionist in appearance, though not in theme. There's very little on this movie online - just a few clips, and they don't show the sets at their best. Here are some still photos:

This one has a very Caligariesque feel to it, as does the entire scene - it shows old Dr. Faust, in his tall hat and black cape, walking home from the opera, past the unrealistic walls and pavements of this fantasy Paris.

That is Yves Montand, as Mr. Léon, aka Mephistopheles. Note the date on the wall above his head: April 30, Walpurgis Night. I wonder if his name isn't a little Biblical allusion too: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."

Now look at the weird scene with the church and the graveyard:

Some people complain that the movie is too long at 2 hrs. 5 mins., but how can you possibly have too much time on your hands when you can fill it looking at visuals like these?

The movie was quite a flop when it came out, but I don't think there was anything wrong with the film. I think it was just created at the wrong time; the New Wave of French cinema was on the verge of arriving, and people just weren't in the mood for a stylized fantasy like this. I wish it could be released on dvd in North America - now that I've done the subtitles, it should be a cinch! It came out on dvd in Germany, in an Yves Montand collection - it wasn't subtitled, they provided a German dubbed version along with the original. What a shame to dub Montand's wonderful baritone voice, though! He doesn't sing, Michele Morgan does, but it's delightful just listening to his voice speaking the lines in that deeply ironical way he has. Maybe I can teach myself dvd authoring and figure out a way to build my subtitle file into the dvd; I've seen other people do it, but I've never tried.

Well, as I say, this is my best project so far. Now I don't know just what to do - it'll take me a while to find another movie I'll enjoy as much.


Blogger Tina said...

I always feel a little awkward at times like this: your skill is something I know so little about as to be unable to even imagine what kind of talent and tasks go into the work. Yet, by reading your posts about translation and subtitling, I learn new things - and new pathways open up in my mind.

If it ever does become available to us in the US (maybe Netflix?), I'll be sure to watch (and I'll pay more attention to the nuances of subtitles in future.)

The set design is something I can understand. These photos bring to mind "The Autobiography of Quentin Crisp" when it appeared on PBS eons ago. It was staged or presented so that the other actors all resembled cardboard standees, with Crisp's character the only "live"-seeming performer. The effect was so pronounced that that is all I recall from the play.

Anyway, congratulations on a job well done!

9:32 pm  
Anonymous Pageantmaster said...

You do surprise, Dr Mabuse. It does sound a gem of a film and a labour of love from you. Perhaps it is worth writing to whoever has the rights to/ is distributing the film in Germany with that suggestion, and with the offer of your subtitles. There is usually a human being at the other end and you never know - they might just not have thought of it.

Nevertheless even the text of the subtitles might enable us to follow along if published somewhere on the net.

6:34 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

I never saw "The Autobiography of Quentin Crisp", though I did see "The Naked Civil Servant" - I'll have to look for the former. Dean says there was a fad for this sort of stylized scenery in the post-war period, though maybe it's more correctly from the 50s. Judy Garland's "A Star Is Born" was on TCM a day or so ago, and that interminable "Born In A Trunk" musical section had similar sets. You can see why a musical could get away with it, since it's already several steps away from realism, but "Marguerite" has the whole movie in that style. Then again, 'Faust' is a supernatural legend, so we're not in the realm of strict realism there either.

10:10 am  
Blogger Tina said...

Doc, actually I think it is the same movie, but you have the title correct: it is "The Naked Civil Servant". I don't remember the sets being stylized so much as the people were.

Cinematic fashion does tend to get on a theme and camp, doesn't it?

I like Pageantmaster's suggestion. :-)

12:15 pm  
Blogger Alfonso said...

hello :) is there a way to get the subtitles ?

please i don't know french and i can't find the subtitle .

thnx for reply


4:12 pm  
Blogger Catinka said...


For my thesis I am looking into magical realism and found this great essay by Johan Daisne in wich he states that Marguerite de la nuit is one of the most beautifull examples is of magical realism. I tried to buy it, but couldn't find it anywere. Then i did find a copy to download, but it has no subtitles. This is how i found your blog.

I would love to be able to see this film to complete my chapter about Faust. (in this chapter i'll talk about Faust by Goethe, The master and margarita by Bolgakov and Marguerite de la nuit.)

So, now i am hoping that you would want to help me. Would you be willing to share you subtitles with me? I will mention you in the credits! :)

you can e-mail me at:

(I read you last blog post, i hope you are feeling better by now!)

8:20 am  

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