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The Politics of Dubbing

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


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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The Italian term doppiaggio, a word adapted from the French doublage, is used in Italy to refer to a practice also known as post-sincronizzazione in the more technical jargon. With dubbing or post-synchronisation we generally indicate: 1) an (intralingual) operation consisting of the recording in a studio of a film’s dialogues and/or sounds and/or music which have not (or have only partially) been recorded live during shooting; 2) an interlingual practice which refers more specifically to the re-acting and recording of a film’s dialogues spoken in a source language into a target language. When we look at dubbing as an interlingual practice, we must take into account the various stages highlighted by Whitman-Linsen (1992) and Chaume (2012): the preliminary written translation of the script precedes the adaptation of the dialogues, which is then followed by the voice re-acting phase (or re-voicing); during the re-acting phase, a new dialogue track is recorded to replace the original voices under the supervision of a dubbing director and then edited and mixed by a sound editor, technician or engineer. We must also keep in mind that several technological innovations in sound recording, editing and mixing affected the way sound and dialogue tracks were designed, split out and prepped for international distribution throughout the twentieth century and later years. For example, in the mid-1930s Italian dubbing studios would not only be recreating the dialogues, but also a film’s sounds, noises (Foley) and occasionally the music. In the present day, studios are instead able...

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