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The Politics of Dubbing

Film Censorship and State Intervention in the Translation of Foreign Cinema in Fascist Italy

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Carla Mereu Keating

During the late 1920s and the 1930s, the Italian government sought various commercial and politically oriented solutions to cope with the advent of new sound technologies in cinema. The translation of foreign-language films became a recurrent topic of ongoing debates surrounding the use of the Italian language, the rebirth of the national film industry and cinema’s mass popularity.
Through the analysis of state records and the film trade press, The Politics of Dubbing explores the industrial, ideological and cultural factors that played a role in the government’s support for dubbing. The book outlines the evolution of film censorship regulation in Italy and its interplay with film translation practices, discusses the reactions of Mussolini’s administration to early Italian-language talkies produced abroad and documents the state’s role in initiating and encouraging Italians’ habit of watching dubbed films.
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This study aimed to unveil how the translation of foreign cinema in Italy has been subject of top-down political choices driven by state cultural agenda and commercial gains. Archival historical research has brought to light the government’s direct and indirect intervention in matters of film censorship and in the translation of film dialogues, documenting how the state controlled and regulated not only the content of foreign films but also their theatrical reproduction. Legislative historical watersheds have been traced back to: 1) 1913–1914, when the film censorship system was officially established under the liberal government of Giovanni Giolitti; 2) 1923–1924, when the fascist government confirmed this system of censorship, gradually strengthening its control of cinema activities through various offices at home and abroad; 3) 1929, when the film censorship office at the Ministry of the Interior decided to silence films spoken in a foreign language, dismissing the requests of the film traders that followed; 4) 1933–1934, when dubbing was nationalised (carried out in Italy, by 100 per cent Italian staff) and used as a ‘customs surrogate’ in support of domestic production.

If subtitled films were not permitted, intertitled silent and/or silenced films were instead exhibited until the early 1930s and disappeared when cinemas nationwide were wired to sound. Research has revealed how Italian-American film versions faced the government’s opposition and mixed reactions from the critics when they appeared on domestic screens. The introduction and establishment of dubbing was also controversial. The insightful, rich and...

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