21 March 2007

Damn that elegiac Bill-Murray-whoring-himself-in-Tokyo movie

by Matt Rubinstein at 8:05 pm

bomb.jpg…because if you could ever use the common phrase that is also the name of that movie as the clever title of your article or blog entry about the difficulties people sometimes have trying to express things in different languages, you sure can’t now. Oh no <a href="http://www.guardian.co More hints.uk/germany/article/0,,1781004,00.html”>wait, maybe you can.

I’ve got a novel coming out soon whose main character is a contract subtitler for an unnamed multilingual television network, so I was interested to read this imaginatively-titled article complaining that the modern trend of Hollywood studios outsourcing their subtitles to the sweatshops of India and Malaysia has had some unsatisfactory results:

Frustrated at seeing what are already low wages forced down still further, native subtitlers have begun compiling examples of the errors littering British and American movies released in foreign markets. And from their research, there certainly seems no shortage of cases where literal-minded or just plain odd translations have rendered Hollywood movies incomprehensible (or, if we’re going to be honest about this, more incomprehensible).

Unfortunately, the examples offered aren’t all that compelling. The Guild of Native Subtitlers reports that “Sir David Attenborough” has been translated as “Sherlock Holmes”, “an asteroid field” as “a steroid field” and “Vietnam vet” as “veterinarian from Vietnam”, but most of these mistakes are pretty understandable and their results quite comprehensible (except the Sherlock Holmes thing). Faced with such slim pickings, the journalist is reduced to speculation:

After all, would you want the pivotal line of Stanley Kubrick’s meditation on war, Full Metal Jacket, to have been given to you as “I love the smell of napalm in the morning – smells like Viscounts”? Or seen Some Like It Hot end with Jack Lemmon being told by his amorous suitor: “You nobody! You are a prefect?” And, as for Silence of the Lambs, surely no audience deserves to have Hannibal Lecter terrify Clarice Starling with the revelation that: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate some liver with him and then we had ice cream”?

This last one sounds more like what CleanFlicks and the other “movie sanitizers” used to do, but all of them are pretty much beside the point. Mysteriously, our guy ignores the only really funny one caught by the Disgrunted Subtitlers’ Union: a television broadcast in which “she died in a freak rugby accident” is rendered as “she died in a rugby match for people with deformities”.

But if Her Majesty’s Own Subtitlers can’t come up with a lot more examples than that, maybe it’s no wonder they’re losing work to India. Haven’t they heard of the Internet? It’s full of great stuff. A lot of it might be as flagrantly invented as Hannibal Lecter’s ice cream, but whatever. And they could easily have used some of these old favourites, which are actual subtitles from unspecified Hong Kong films:

I am damn unsatisfied to be killed in this way.

Same old rules: no eyes, no groin.

Take my advice, or I’ll spank you without pants.

You always use violence. I should’ve ordered glutinous rice chicken.

You daring lousy guy.

Beat him out of recognizable shape!

Greetings, large black person. Let us not forget to form a team up together and go into the country to inflict the pain of our karate feets on some ass of the giant lizard person.

I know, but they’re fun. Back in the real world Subtitling Worldwide, a Dutch outfit whose English website adds another layer to the whole thing, offers its own salutary examples:

After all he put you through. This was said to someone who had been given a hard time by her boyfriend. Still the subtitle read, ‘after all, he connected you/put you through (by telephone)’.

Rest easy. A soldier was shot dead, another soldier closes his eyes and says, ‘Rest easy.’ The Dutch subtitle said: ‘Take a nice little break.’

A famous anachronism. In the Dutch subtitles of The Onedin Line one of the saddest/funniest mistakes ever was made. The series is situated in the pre-steamship era, a time when Alexander Graham Bell hadn’t been born yet. From a sailing ship a character surrounded by old rope, old sails and old wood, shouts to the shore, ‘I’ll call you.’ The subtitler, maybe focussed on different things entirely, maybe under time pressure, translated: ‘I’ll phone you.’

Send me a carbon copy. This again incredibly was translated as ‘send me a copy of coal’.

They mate for life (about swans which stick together their whole life). This is continually wrongly translated in subtitles, usually implying vehement or continuous copulating, which forms a comic contrast with the almost conventional nature of swans (and other wrongly treated birds).

Again, many of these are understandable mistakes. The trouble is, most professional subtitlers do know more or less what they’re doing. You have to venture into the black market to dig up the really astonishing attitudes towards captioning. It’s not always easy to imagine why these things exist at all, but we can all be thankful that they do. This guy gets a lot of mileage from a bootleg copy of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or indeed Gentlement) he picked up in Bangladesh:

The errors in subtitles start off as banal mistakes. A drunken sot’s remark to a visitor, “And I suppose you’re another traveler, got it in your head to sample the dark continent” becomes the reverse: “And I suppose you aren’t a traveler. Got it into your head to stuff from the dark continent.” Dire predictions of an unstable world, “Baying for blood, it’s a powder keg.” changes to “Being for blood, it’s a powder cake.” The Invisible Man’s jest, “I’m feeling a bit of draft in my nether regions” becomes, “I’m feeling a bit of drafted another agents.” Individual phrases also provide a challenge: “Thief” changes to “faith,” “boon” to “bone,” “sick note” to “sick knot,” “as patriotic” to “the speech” and “prerogative” to “perlocutive.”

Some sense can still be made of the subtitles, until utterly nonsensical constructions start to appear. “There is great unrest, countries set at each other’s throats” mutates to “That’s glad on rest, countries set each other throat.” “These attacks have every nation clamoring for the very weapons that assail them” changes to “And he attached every nations claiming very weapons to the sierra.” Sean Connery’s guttural growl after a fight, “Wasn’t there another one of these buggers?” becomes “You guys sent another this baggage?” Strangest of all, Quatermain’s boast, “I don’t know whether to regale with how I found King Solomon’s mines,” becomes “I know how to regret you with how I found to kick soloman’s mind.”

This other guy has an even better experience with a Chinese boot of Star War III: the Backstroke of the West, which has captions like:

You are a sacrifice article that I cut up rough now

He big in nothing important in good elephant

Giving first aid the already disheveled hair projection

I hope that these dreamses really can’t become

Send these troopseses only

They want to know him at fuck

I was just made by the Presbyterian Church

A line have beened distorted by the dark world

…and which pretty much closes the loop on the whole All Your Base thing pictured above.

20 March 2007

Sucks to be Hicks

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:36 pm

hicks.jpgABC Radio National’s Lingua Franca has been running a series of programs on the language of the law in the David Hicks case—that’s “case” in the generic sense, of course, not in the sense of a legal action decided in a properly constituted court. All three programs are well worth listening to, even if you already suspect that certain ancient legal precepts shouldn’t just be tossed out without a thought even if these are the Last Days. Each is only fifteen minutes long and they’re all available online: there’s Julian Burnside QC on habeas corpus and hearsay, and Peter Vickery QC on ex post facto or retroactive legislation. Transcripts are available for the first two and should be up for the last one soon, but listen to them if you can: they’re as concise and persuasive as you’d expect.

Burnside comes to some particularly frank conclusions about our various leaders. On habeas corpus, the idea that nobody should be detained unless the reason for their detention can be assessed by a competent court:

The principle of legality carries with it the assumption that the lawfulness of executive action is examinable in the courts. Liberty is one of the most fundamental and cherished of all rights. Where a person is deprived of their liberty, habeas corpus is the device which enables the lawfulness of the detention to be examined.

Stripping away the habeas right for detainees at Guantanamo is a step of such awesome significance that it is tempting to think that President Bush has lost his mind.

And then on the admission of hearsay evidence and evidence obtained by coercion:

An Australian citizen, held by our ally America, is about to be subjected to a trial in which hearsay evidence and evidence produced by coercion is permitted. A trial of this sort offends the most basic principles of our justice system, but Philip Ruddock says he is satisfied it will be a fair trial. If he actually believes it, he is not fit to be attorney-general.

There was a time when only refugees were terrified of Philip Ruddock: now we all should be.

A Newspoll last December found that 70% of respondents wanted David Hicks returned to Australia, and another in January found that 56% were against the way the Government had handled the case; only 27% were in favour. The usual nutcases continue to marvel at Hicks’s ongoing popularity despite the overwhelming evidence that the guy is at best a dickhead and at worst really wants to kill a bunch of us. They think we’ve been persuaded by lawyers in snappy uniforms or we can’t believe that a top bloke like Terry Hicks could have a son who’s a terrorist.

It shouldn’t need repeating, but for the benefit of the professional trolletariat: we are not gay for David Hicks. We don’t think he’s dreamy. Few of us even think he’s a harmless idiot. But he is an Australian citizen being denied fundamental human rights, and the fact that our Government is doing so little about it is shameful and terrifying.

Burnside can’t resist quoting Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons—as many others have done, but damned if it doesn’t still send a shiver down this old lawyer’s spine:

This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast…and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Burnside leaves out the last bit, though, which is really the whole point:

Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

There are many poor wretches out there who are less guilty than Hicks and are treated worse. But Hicks is our wretch. We can influence his treatment more than we can anyone else’s. And if we choose not to, then we give up a lot of credibility that we might use to suggest that other countries treat their own unfortunates better. You know, if we were into that sort of thing.

Bring the bastard home!

19 March 2007

Credit where it’s due

by Matt Rubinstein at 2:23 am

credits.jpgA while ago now we were talking about the attribution rules set down by the Writers Guild of America and ably summarised by the otherwise corrupt Wikipedia here. In one of those spooky coincidences that can only be explained by the existence of an intelligent designer, less than six months later I came across an actual example of what I was talking about.

This is from Matt Groening‘s underappreciated Futurama, which finished up in 2003 but may yet have a last gasp next year. The gang go to the movies to see the big-screen version of robosoap All my Circuits. The credits imply that Writing Unit 5 wrote the first draft of this triumph, but the second draft was written by Writing Unit 12 together with Joe Eszterhas. 12 and Eszterhas must have been responsible for more than half of the final script; it’s possible that 5 just throws out ideas Stratemeyer-style these days, and it’s good to see that Hollywood has finally forgiven Eszterhas for Showgirls.

15 March 2007

Law and Laureates

by Matt Rubinstein at 9:24 am

judge.jpgJust like those chumps who win the lottery and keep going to work every day, even after I published my novel in verse about Adelaide I still finished my law degree and then practised for five years. I still do a bit of contracting and consulting, for the sole purpose of keeping it real. And of course I’m interested in the occasional intersections of law and literature.

I was particularly pleased to see that the House of Representatives in Minnesota has tabled a bill appointing a poet laureate. Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed a similar bill in 2005 on the basis that the North Star State already had a “state folklorist” and he was worried about the inevitable “requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter”. (The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also burdened with a state mushroom (the morel, Morchella esculenta) and a state muffin (blueberry) as well as a couple more nicknames not already mentioned, including the Bread and Butter State and the Gopher State.) But perhaps the pottery-hating Governor will change his mind when he sees that this bill is written in verse. It’s too awful to extract in full, but at least it admits it:

Subd. 2. Removal.

The poet will be free to write rhyming lines,
With removal only for cause,
But we trust that the bard will promptly resign,
If the verse reads as badly as laws.

Legislation is hardly ever written in verse, but there are quite a few examples in case law. You might remember a couple of years ago when Macomb County (Michigan) Circuit Court Judge Deborah Servitto dismissed a defamation suit against Eminem with a little rap of her own. This one stands up a bit better (citation is DeAngelo Bailey vs Marshall Bruce Mathers, III aka Eminem Slim Shady, Case No. 2001-3606-NO):

Mr Bailey complains that his rep is trash
So he’s seeking compensation in the form of cash
Bailey thinks he’s entitled to some monetary gain
Because Eminem used his name in vain

Eminem says Bailey used to throw him around
Beat him up in the john, shoved his face in the ground
Eminem contends that his rap is protected
By the rights guaranteed by the first amendment

Eminem maintains that the story is true
And that Bailey beat him black and blue
In the alternative he states that the story is phony
And a reasonable person would think it’s baloney

The Court must always balance the rights
Of a defendant and one placed in a false light
If the plaintiff presents no question of fact
To dismiss is the only acceptable act

If the language used is anything but pleasin’
It must be highly objectionable to a person of reason
Even if objectionable and causing offence
Self-help is the first line of defence

Yet when Bailey actually spoke to the press
what do you think he didn’t address?
Those false light charges that so disturbed
Prompted from Bailey not a single word

So highly objectionable, it could not be
—Bailey was happy to hear his name on a CD

Bailey also admitted he was a bully in youth
Which makes what Marshall said substantial truth
This doctrine is a defence well known
And renders Bailey’s case substantially blown

The lyrics are stories no one would take as fact
They’re an exaggeration of a childish act
Any reasonable person could clearly see
That the lyrics could only be hyperbole

It is therefore this Court’s ultimate position
That Eminem is entitled to summary disposition.

Well, it starts out all right. But it’s not a patch on the 1983 Michigan Court of Appeals case of William L Fisher v Karen Lowe et al (122 Mich App 418) which reads, somewhat delightfully:

We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.

A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree’s behest;

A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy’s crumpled crest;

A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;

A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.

Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court’s decree.

That is the full judgment (minus a couple of footnotes that contain the actual prosaic decision) but it was later embellished, apparently by headnote writers at Westlaw, with an opening synopsis which is also pretty good. Then there’s the pretty workmanlike version of “The Raven” found in In re Robin E. Love, Bankruptcy No. 85-03011-BKC-AJC. There’s the Dr-Seuss–like Brown v State 134 Ga App 771, and… ah, hell, there’s a big list of them here, although all the links are to the pay-per-view Westlaw.

The Hon. Gerald Lebovitz writes in Ethical Judicial Opinion Writing (big PDF here):

Judges should not construct opinions in the form of poems. Although “[p]oetic justice is always entertaining,” it is “rarely poetic or just.” Poetic opinions undermine the key aspect that is central to judicial opinions—they lack “a clearly articulated holding supported by precedent.” Litigants, especially the losing side, may feel as though the court treated their issues and arguments frivolously.262 And the public will conclude that the court spent more time constructing the verses than contemplating the law. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “The law is not the place for the artist or poet. The law is the calling of thinkers.” Judges should spend more time contemplating the law than creating verses.

This seems like a bit of a downer, but given how terrible most of the judicial verses are I don’t think anybody’s going to fight too hard for them. Mary Kate Kearney makes a spirited argument based on Porreco v Porreco 811 A.2d 566, which turns out to be quite poetic, though it’s only a dissent:

A groom must expect matrimonial pandemonium
when his spouse finds he’s given her a cubic zirconium
instead of a diamond in her engagement band,
the one he said was worth twenty-one grand.

Our deceiver would claim that when his bride relied
on his claim of value, she was not justified
for she should have appraised it; and surely she could have,
but the question is whether a bride-to-be would have.

The realities of the parties control the equation,
and here they’re not comparable in sophistication;
the reasonableness of her reliance we just cannot gauge
with a yardstick of equal experience and age.

This must be remembered when applying the test
by which the “reasonable fiancée” is assessed.
She was 19, he was nearly 30 years older;
was it unreasonable for her to believe what he told her?

Given their history and Pygmalion relation,
I find her reliance was with justification.
Given his accomplishment and given her youth,
was it unjustifiable for her to think he told the truth?

Or for every prenuptial, is it now a must
that you treat your betrothed with presumptive mistrust?
Do we mean reliance on your beloved’s representation
is not justifiable, absent third party verification?

Love, not suspicion, is the underlying foundation
of parties entering the marital relation;
mistrust is not required, and should not be made a priority.
Accordingly, I must depart from the reasoning of the majority.

Way to go, the Hon. J Michael Eakin!