Friday, July 05, 2013

Great classics of literature - minus one letter

At Buzzfeed, this guy created book covers for the best titles in an online game: taking titles of famous books and removing one letter.

I thought of one: "Little Omen".   And "Lord of the Lies", but that would only require a photo of Obama on the cover - not very challenging.

Actually, this is similar to an old 'Spectator' issue I remember with a Jaspistos competition on the back page: people were asked to CHANGE a single letter in the title of a book, play, song, etc. My favourite was "'Wein Kampf' - The inspiring story of Hitler's struggle with alcoholism."

Earlier this year, I did an interesting DOUBLE subtitle job for a 1933 movie by Curtis Bernhardt called 'The Tunnel' (Le Tunnel). In those early sound days, before they'd figured out the technique of dubbing films in different languages, European filmmakers sometimes tried to widen the appeal of their films by filming a second version of the same film in a different language. This required a different-language cast and a translated script, but it would be shot exactly the same way, on the same sets.

 It wasn't every film that got this treatment, because it was pretty expensive. Fritz Lang's 'The Testament of Dr. Mabuse' was filmed this way: the original was in German, and then a second version was shot in French with a different cast. That also happened with 'The Tunnel' - it was filmed both in French and German.

I wanted to translate the French version, but when I watched the German version I realized that they really were almost identical, and I figured I knew enough German that I could also produce English subtitles for that film once I had done the subtitles for the French one. It was cheating a bit; I couldn't translate a German film just relying on the audio, but with an English script of the parallel version, I could pull it off.

Anyway, there's one scene in the German version where the hero, the brilliant engineer Mac Allen, who's also a worker like the men he leads, has to face down an attempted strike instigated by saboteurs. He addresses a big meeting of the miners, who are hostile and upset, and gives them a rousing speech about the dignity of their work, and how they can't abandon their comrades, but must struggle through all the dangers and difficulties to victory.

Considering the era (1933), I don't think it was too difficult to see why the new Nazi government would have approved of this film: charismatic leader, man of the people, solidarity with the working class, shadowy plots by bankers and speculators. You get the picture.

Well, during this speech (which I had to listen to quite a few times), Mac Allen several times uses the word "Kampf" in a very passionate way. Dean was starting to make some cracks about it, and I said, "It's a perfectly good word! It just means "struggle", and he's talking about how hard their lives as miners are. There's nothing more to it."

"Yeah," said Dean, getting ready to imitate Mac Allen. "'Work is a struggle! Life is a struggle! Why, let me tell you about MY struggle...' 'Noooooo!!!!' moan workers. And six hours later, he's just getting warmed up..."


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