‘I Didn’t Come Here To Read’
Sociologist/writer Dominic Sandbrook makes a good point in his history of the UK in the 1960s, ‘White Heat’; while it seemed everyone was obsessed by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the truth was very different. The most popular album of the decade was ‘The Sound of Music’.
In the same way, while critics get excited about world cinema (My God, the furore around the dreary ‘Neon Demon’!), it’s barely watched outside of its native countries (made worse by the fact that France refuses to subtitle its films). The public hates the idea of reading subtitles. So is there a way around the problem?
‘We discussed with Fox Searchlight how to make the movie more entertaining for English-speaking audiences,’ says director Timur Bekmambetov of ‘Night Watch’, which was meant to be the first in a three-part epic trilogy. Subtitles were treated like animated comic book captions, and worked brilliantly, but the process was too expensive and the film bombed in America. The director was seduced by Hollywood and ended up making the new mega-flop ‘Ben-Hur’.
The reason for the clever idea failing? If subtitles ‘aren’t invisible, you fail,’ says Henri Béhar, subtitled. ‘The titles should subtly give people the impression that they are understanding the characters speaking, not reading words on the screen.’
Polled audiences didn’t recall that ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ was subtitled, they just liked the film – which strands foreign movies increasingly without international audiences. Despite brilliant use of subtitles, Fox eventually hid them entirely in their campaign for ‘Night Watch’.
If you’re interested in world cinema there are many online services including Curzon and the BFI, both excellent, and this weird one, where you can see ‘Nightwatch’ and the sequel ‘Daywatch’ (but not ‘Twilight Watch’, which will probably never be made) for free –