Translating Australian Cinema for an Italian Audience

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Translating Australian Cinema for an Italian Audience

    Translating Australian Cinema for an Italian Audience

    The bloody case of Ned Kelly and Picnic at Hanging Rock

    By Mariacristina Petillo (University of Bari)

    Abstract & Keywords


    Assuming that films are a powerful new medium through which Australian directors can establish and export their country’s national identity around the world, the aim of this paper is to explore the construction and representation of Australian identity in Italy, through the analysis of dubbing and subtitling choices in the Italian version of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Ned Kelly (2003).

    Even though the two films belong to two distinct stages in the Australian film industry, they still represent a pivotal moment in Australian cinema and are worth being analysed in terms of cross-cultural differences emerging between the Australian source text and the Italian version. Due to their themes the collision

    between English and Australian culture and the conflict between nature and culture in Picnic at Hanging Rock, the history of the Australian hero par

    excellence in Ned Kelly the two works show some linguistic and cultural

    elements which are worth investigating in detail. More specifically, the paper will illustrate how some geographical and cultural data strongly embedded in the Australian identity are more or less distorted or simply omitted on the basis of the “domesticating” or “foreignizing” strategies used by Italian film translators. Ultimately, a particular emphasis will be placed upon the translation of “the great Australian adjective” and other expletives mainly used by those characters

    belonging to Australian lower classes, whose linguistic register is often misrepresented in the Italian versions of the two films.


    Questo studio intende riflettere sul ruolo che le tecniche di traduzione audiovisiva possono esercitare sulla rappresentazione linguistica e culturale della realtà australiana, attraverso l’analisi di alcune scelte di doppiaggio e sottotitolazione in due prodotti filmici di rilievo nella cinematografia australiana, Picnic at Hanging

    Rock (1975) e Ned Kelly (2003). Riprendendo la terminologia di L. Venuti

    nell’ormai celebre The Translator’s Invisibility, si esamineranno alcuni esempi

    significativi di strategie traduttive “addomesticanti” o “estranianti”, mostrando come talvolta l’identità australiana sia stata adattata alle esigenze del pubblico

    d’arrivo italiano, risultando infine modificata e distorta. Più in dettaglio, si analizzerà la traduzione di alcuni dati culturo-specifici che meglio esprimono l’alterità del mondo australiano agli occhi di un pubblico d’arrivo assai distante

    per ragioni geografiche e culturali, la cui resa linguistica costituisce talvolta una sfida per il traduttore audiovisivo. Ampio spazio sarà infine dedicato alla traduzione del turpiloquio, con particolare riferimento a quello che è stato definito “il grande aggettivo australiano”, bloody, la cui frequenza d’uso è assai

    elevata nei testi filmici originali, ma la cui resa traduttiva nelle versioni doppiate e sottotitolate altera profondamente la connotazione socio-culturale dei personaggi australiani, e dunque la loro percezione/rappresentazione sugli schermi italiani.

    Keywords: audiovisual translation, traduzione audiovisiva, expletives, cultural references, australian movies, turpiloquio, dati culturo-specifici, film australiani “In no part of what was once the British Empire has bloody established itself more fully and become a more indispensable part of the national vocabulary than in the Commonwealth of Australia (Montagu 2001: 167).”

    1. Constructing and representing Australian identity through audiovisual translation: some methodological remarks A highly controversial issue in Australian history has been the quest for national identity. Indeed, it is hard to ignore today that “Australia is a country of diversity in its landscape, in its climate and in its people” (Clyne and Kipp 1999: 1), where the debate on ethnicity, immigration, assimilationism versus multiculturalism is far from being settled. Unknown to European explorers until 1606, when a Dutch navigator first sighted the remote peninsula of Cape York, Australia was slowly turned into a space of ethnic, cultural, social and linguistic plurality at the end of the eighteenth century, when a system of convict settlements was established by the British Crown. As a result of the contact among Aboriginal people, convicts, free settlers, migrants coming mainly from the British Isles and later from other European and Asian countries, Australia has always been sensitive to such issues as self-perception, interaction, diversity, sense of belonging and rootedness. As a matter of fact, the polarity between the survival of British cultural values and the promotion of Australian independence is still encouraging an ongoing reflection on Australian distinctiveness, whose main features can be easily traced in language, literature and all forms of artistic communication.

    Assuming that films are a powerful medium through which Australian directors can establish and export their country’s national identity around the world, the aim of this paper is to explore the construction and representation of Australian identity in Italy, through the analysis of dubbing and subtitling choices in the Italian version of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Ned Kelly (2003). Even

    though the two films belong to two distinct stages in the Australian film industry, they still represent a pivotal moment in Australian cinema and are worth being analysed in terms of cross-cultural differences emerging between the Australian source text and the Italian version. More specifically, the translation of expletives, of geographical references and of culture-bound words will be taken into account, showing how the considerable time span between the two films ends up by affecting many translation choices. Although it is not the author’s intention to

    focus on the historical evolution of translation norms over the decades, nonetheless it is worth mentioning that in the 70s a different sensitivity and aesthetic sense, more severe publishing policies or even censorship could often intervene to soften or delete most of the foreign culturally-bound markers, so that the translation itself could be presented as a text originally written in the target language, as far as possible. In more recent years, a source-oriented approach to translation has emerged and, combined with an increased familiarity with foreign realities and a new taste for exoticism, can be held partially responsible for a new trend in translation habits, which now seem to privilege a more faithful rendering of the “otherness” implied in foreign languages and cultures.

    If it is true that translation is “a battlefield of many opposing strategies and views” (Paloposki and Oittinen, 2000: 375), the role of translators becomes further complicated when dealing with the highly hybrid field of audiovisual translation, where a successful multi-semiotic transfer is the one that ensures a fluent and effortless comprehension of the film, thus possibly paving the way for a commercial success too. It cannot be denied, indeed, that a good audiovisual translation can contribute to a wide circulation of the film abroad, whereas “[t]he low quality of the language transfer that takes place in the audiovisual sector is often blamed for the international failure of some productions” (Díaz Cintas, 2008:

    103). It is no surprise, then, that translators should adapt audiovisual products to the new audience, in order to meet the linguistic and cultural requirements of the receiving market and to avoid cultural clashes between the source and the target language.

    Moved by the need of adapting language and content to foreign target cultures and conventions, translators can opt for different strategies which imply a certain

    degree of either domestication or foreignization. Although it is undeniable that “[d]omestication is an elusive term: it can entail a wide variety of different things, and marking the boundaries of what is domestication and what is foreignization is nearly impossible” (Paloposki and Oittinen, 2000: 375), Lawrence Venuti’s categories still offer an interesting perspective on the analysis of translation procedures and will be adopted throughout this work. Hence, the methodological approach for the investigation of the Italian version of the two Australian films will be based on Venuti’s second edition of his seminal work, The Translator’s

    Invisibility, where the scholar describes domestication in terms of “an

    ethnocentric reduction of the foreign text to target-language cultural values, bringing the author back home” (Venuti, 2008: 15) and foreignization as “an

    ethnodeviant pressure on those values to register the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad” (Venuti, 2008: 15). In other words, domesticating strategies aim at producing a kind of translation in which a transparent and fluent style is adopted in order to minimize the strangeness of the source text for target language readers, while foreignizing strategies allow translators to deliberately break “target conventions by retaining something of the foreignness of the original” (Yang, 2010: 77). As will be evident from the examples discussed below, Venuti’s theories can be applied to all forms of audiovisual translation, since films may contain culture-specific items which do not belong to the target language system and which can be either domesticated or foreignized by translators.

    2. The translation of geographical references

    Welcomed as a landmark film by both film critics and cinema goers, Picnic at

    Hanging Rock was directed by Peter Weir in the 70s, when a new sense of national identity fuelled the so-called Renaissance of Australian cinema. Since the time of its release, it has been considered one of the most meaningful Australian films in terms of cultural self-representation, aesthetic and historical significance. Therefore, as the film retains an outstanding place in Australian national culture, it is worth investigating how Australian identity has been adapted and modified in order to be successfully conveyed to a different geographical and cultural context, as the Italian one, where many issues related to Australian self-representation are not so commonly known or explored.

    Consequently, the insufficient knowledge about Australian reality that is likely to be expected by an Italian audience may be a partial explanation for one of the most recurring features in the Italian version of the film, namely the almost

    complete deletion of geographical references. The translation strategy adopted by Italian film translators appears to be underlain by the need to move the filmic text towards a foreign audience by avoiding to relay what is presumed to be an unnecessary geographical specificity. Not surprisingly for such an evocative and suggestive film, much emphasis is given to places. While the Australian audience is informed about the exact time of the events and the exact location of the action from the very beginning, the Italian version provides its audience with a simplified Australian geography. In fact, already in the opening caption of Picnic

    at Hanging Rock, the Italian subtitles betray the translators’ intention to reduce the potentially estranging effect of some geographical items and to retain only the essential information about the Australian region:

    Other examples show how Italian translators have often replaced Australian toponyms, with generic expressions. For instance, references to Mt. Macedon

    the name of the mountain peak and of the small township lying on one side of it

    are either absent in the Italian script, or are translated as “questa zona”; the

    resort town of Woodend, seven kilometres from the volcanic formation of Hanging Rock, is rendered as “abitato” or “villaggio”; the state of Queensland is broadly referred to as “nel Nord”:

While the Italian version of Picnic at Hanging Rock shows a general tendency

    towards domestication, the Italian script of Ned Kelly represents Australian

    identity in a more faithful way and keeps some culture-bound features which may be perceived as unintelligible or redundant in a foreign context. Of course, it must not be forgotten that the film directed by Gregor Jordan in 2003 belongs to the historical genre, with the ambition of re-narrating a new Australian epic inspired by Ned Kelly’s myth. So far, it is the last of an interesting list of films spanning almost a century which portray the adventurous life of Australia’s most famous

    outlaw bushranger and his gang[2]. There is no doubt that “the Kelly legend is

    influential in terms of Australian self-image” (Beeton 2004: 125), hence the

    importance of an accurate audiovisual translation of the film in other languages. Differently from what happens in Peter Weir’s film, where references to places tend to be simplified, in Ned Kelly all geographical items are translated or preserved in the Italian version:

    As reported in Table 3, all geographical references to the Australian places visited by Ned Kelly and his gang are kept in the dubbed version of the film. In this way, a feeling of historical accuracy is conveyed to a target audience who is very likely to be uninformed about the iconic Australian story of Ned Kelly. As far as the subtitled version of the film is concerned, it can be reasonably inferred that the few omissions are due to the time and space constraints which are typically involved in the subtitling modality of audiovisual translation and which are obviously responsible for a considerable loss of information.

3. The translation of expletives

    Another linguistic aspect which plays a major role in the portrayal of Australian society in 1900 is the large number of expletives mainly used by those characters belonging to Australian lower classes. The most striking contrast in the film is offered by the polished language spoken by Michael Fitzhubert, a young English aristocrat, and the coarse slangy talk used by his working-class Australian servant Albert, who loves providing emphasis to his statements through the constant repetition of “bloody”[3]. As is well known, the forced arrival of convicts from the overcrowded English prisons ended up affecting the linguistic usage of free settlers too, who soon began to introduce an unusually high frequency of swearing in their language, as many early commentators visiting Australia indignantly remarked. “Bloody”, which was defined as “the Australian adjective” by the Sydney Bulletin on the 18th of August 1894, was perceived as a swear word during the whole nineteenth century and in the first four decades of the twentieth century, at least until World War II; by the 40s, in fact, “bloody” ceased to be regarded as swearing and was no longer considered indecent in such respectable contexts as the language of law and politics. As is frequently the case with expletives, whose shocking force can be eroded by overuse and changing social attitudes, “bloody” has a reduced offensive power in actual Australian English and is more a colloquial expression stressing the informality of a situation than a swear word causing serious offence[4].

    The mysterious and unexplained schoolgirls’ disappearance in Picnic at Hanging

    Rock is set in the year 1900, at a time where “bloody” was still considered a coarse expression in Australia. However, while “the great Australian adjective”[5] had

    partially lost its shocking force in Australia, in England the word was considered a term of abuse which could cause public outrage in decent society. This is exactly what happened in 1914, when a single occurrence of “bloody” caused a theatrical

    sensation in London at the first performance of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

    The controversial adjective pronounced by Mrs Patrick Campbell in the phrase “not bloody likely” was immediately labelled as a “forbidden”, “offending”, “shocking”, “dreadful” word by The Daily Sketch[6], thus contributing to turn that

    expletive into a major social issue, with people being fined for using it in public and the Lord Chamberlain and his board of censors intervening to excise it from other plays.

    Although a scandal similar to the one provoked by Pygmalion is hardly

    conceivable today, the intensity of this adjective has not faded in Great Britain, as revealed by a recent decision by the UK Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre to

    ban a television advertising campaign launched by the Australian National Tourism Commission in 2006. The unexpected controversy was due to an allegedly offensive headline, featuring the infamous adjective: “So where the bloody hell are you?”. However, apart from the political decision taken by the Advertising Standards Authority which ultimately claimed that the word “bloody” was not an

    inappropriate marketing tool the episode still confirms that the word continues to have offensive overtones in Great Britain and is well established as a taboo word in most circles of British society. By contrast, by the early nineteenth century the great Australian adjective “had become almost a shibboleth in Australia, at least among the labouring class” (Purcell 2006) and by the beginning of the twentieth century it had lost its most pejorative associations, turning into a mild expletive.

    3.1 Picnic at Hanging Rock

    When translating Peter Weir’s film, the frequent use of this favourite Australian oath should not, in my view, be underestimated, since it has a significant role in shaping the Australian identity as a whole and in representing the sociolect spoken by the lower classes in 1900. However, in the Italian dubbed version almost two thirds of the occurrences of “bloody” have been removed, as shown in Table 4:

    In the Australian usage, the great Australian adjective can be placed before every noun, but it is also used adverbially before all adjectives. “Bloody” may also be inserted in-between words to provide further emphasis, or even between the letters in a single word, especially for humorous effects in witty puns, such as those expressly created for advertising campaigns[7]. In Picnic at Hanging Rock

    “bloody” is always used as an intensifier and occurs fourteen times. More specifically, it comes before a noun twelve times; once before an adverb (“bloody well”) and once before the verb (“no one bloody can”). In the Italian dubbed text:

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