Saturday, April 02, 2005

Les Titres Étrangers

Apropos of absolutely nothing (and of what else should a blog post be apropos?), I was wondering: why is it that some titles are referred to in their original language, and others are referred to in translation? Take movies. There seems to be no way of knowing whether a movie will wind up known by its original-language title or not. Everybody refers to Renoir's La Regle Du Jeu as The Rules of the Game, yet if you say you're going to see Renoir's version of Zola's The Human Beast, no one will know what you're talking about until you say it in French: La Bête Humaine. You go to see Godard's Breathless instead of A Bout De Souffle, but in the same festival they'll have Godard's Pierrot le Fou instead of Crazy Pierrot. Kurosawa's Kagemusha might have sold a few more tickets if it had been released as Shadow Warrior, but nobody felt it was necessary to release The Seven Samurai in America as Shichinin no Samurai. We fell asleep in the middle of Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad, not Hiroshima My Love and L'Année dernière à Marienbad. Is there any real reason to call a movie L'Eclisse or La Strada when The Eclipse and The Road will do just as well? And the list goes on and on.

It's not just movies, either. It happens occasionally with operas. We go to see La Clemenza Di Tito and not The Clemency of Titus, but most people sensibly refer to The Magic Flute and not Die Zauberflote. Handel's Julius Caesar is usually listed as Giulio Cesare but it's Verdi's Macbeth and not Macbetto. But for the most part, operas have pretty much been taken over by the original-language-title brigade, so that English-speaking audiences all refer to Un Ballo in Maschera and not A Masked Ball and Il Trovatore rather than The Troubadour, and even Madame Butterfly tends to be called Madama Butterfly these days.

Personally, I prefer to refer to the title in my own language unless the title is something that doesn't really translate, like Cosi Fan Tutte or even Les Miserables (I could call it "The Wretched" but it would remind people of the name of that band Vanessa Huxtable snuck out to see in that Cosby Show episode, and I don't think that's what Victor Hugo intended). However, I will try to say hard-to-pronounce titles in their original languages, just to annoy and/or impress people. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see Tchaikovsky's Lebedinoye ozero.

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