Dubbing


Dubbing
   Dubbing foreign films was introduced in Spain in 1932, and was carried out for years largely at Trilla-La Riva, a Barcelona company. It was in the Catalan capital that the practice flourished in the prewar years. The practice of shooting "alternative versions" (often with different actors) in Hollywood and in European studios, which had prevailed as a standard in the early years of the talkies, was costly and soon abandoned in favor of simply adding a different soundtrack. Dubbing took off quickly in a country where rates for illiteracy were around 50 percent.
   Inspired by recent measures introduced by Benito Mussolini in Italy, Francisco Franco's government made it compulsory for (misguided) political reasons: following a 1941 decree, every foreign film released had to be dubbed into Spanish first and required a license only government institutions could award. The explicit rationale was that in dubbing, the Spanish language (and the essence of Spanish culture itself) would be "protected." But from the very beginning, even directors closest to official ideologies disagreed: it was claimed that what was introduced as a way of protecting the language could have a detrimental effect on the Spanish film industry as a whole, since one way that Spanish films could compete with U.S. products was that they could be more easily understood. Clearly, dubbing benefited exhibitors and distributors, but had a negative impact on Spanish producers and filmmakers. When it ceased to be compulsory in 1947, audiences were used to it and there was no going back.
   During the late 1940s, new measures for the protection of Spanish cinema were introduced, and dubbing was integrated in the scheme. Since dubbed Hollywood films could bring in more money, it was decided that permission to exhibit the Spanish version would only be granted to a distribution company when it also released a certain number of Spanish films (the result being that cheap films were produced to "buy" dubbing licenses that allowed the release of more-attractive Hollywood products). Within the ideological project of Francoism, dubbing could be a way to censor films and eliminate offensive or politically sensitive motifs. A number of cases have gone down in history: in the dubbed version of Casablanca, Rick did not support the Spanish Republican army, and a married couple in Mogambo (John Ford, 1952) were dubbed so that the wife's affair with Clark Gable would not be adulterous.
   The status of films in the original version changed slightly with introduction in 1961 of special cinemas ("Arte y ensayo") that were allowed to show problematic foreign films as long as they were subtitled rather than dubbed. Thus, films in foreign languages were also associated with "art" and obscurity, and therefore ghettoized by wider audiences who preferred entertainment. Even today, only in the largest cities are Spaniards offered the alternative to see films in their original versions. Dubbing became a practice even for Spanish films, as it meant a quicker shooting period, and some Spanish directors claimed it smoothed the projects and allowed actors to concentrate on performance, rather than on the location of microphones. In spite of these economic advantages, the result is a certain flat quality to sound and voices in Spanish cinema overall.
   It is unlikely that the situation will ever change. Given the centrality of dubbing, a solid industry had grown up around it, employing a small body of committed professionals. Important stars were dubbed by the same actors, and in time directors such as Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg chose to work with specific dubbing directors (Carlos Saura directed the Spanish version of Kubrick films). Such auteurist dubbing brings issues of its own, as it seems a central condition of dubbing that it is "invisible" and audiences will consistently reject dubbing that calls attention on itself. The result is that dubbing professionals work to keep Spanish versions flat and standardized, and any dialectal and stylistic richness of originals tends to be lost in translation.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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