film on the big screen subtitled...

M Arnold ma_iku
Tue Apr 13 17:00:46 EDT 2004

Tom wrote:
> Both these reactions seem to suggest that a film's visuals are mere
> and that the narrative is conveyed on some other level, ie the dialogue.

I didn't intend to suggest that visuals are _merely_ one thing or another.
And I agree that turning the sound off and ignoring the dialogue can be a
good visual exercise. I simply think that the script (dialogue, narration)
and sound shouldn't necessarily be considered subordinate to the image. Of
course the visual image is one extremely important part of films, but that's
only part of the "picture." If you only watch a film you might miss a lot of
the movie.

Ozu worked in both silent and sound film. As we all know he created an
intricate and involving (or alienating, depending how you look at it) visual
system that requires a lot of careful attention. However the dialogue in his
stories is also crucial to the movie presentation as a whole. Sometimes the
words reinforce what we see, both in the content and the form--for example,
repetition of seemingly banal greetings and cliches--and sometimes they
contradict what we see, or set up narrative or visual expectations that
aren't resolved. I agree that the image usually forms one very important
piece or dimension of the narrative, but cinema narrative is not purely

Even if we say subtitles distract or distort the visual picture, printed
text is visual too and not all audio is speech (music, sound effects). In
silent films, intertitles are arguably one cinematic aspect of cinema as
well. We may be able to make a similar argument for subtitles. (And as Aaron
Gerow's message reminds us, "cinema" is not necessarily limited to what's
stored on a reel of film.)

Michael Arnold

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