Tarantino’s – Inglorious Basterds
Last year I went to see Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds at the cinema. I loved the use of subtitles and language to create humour and sometimes tension – the problem is in trying to explain this to someone else as what I see as one example of subtitles being used in a creative way. Thankfully Beloved Beasts an English major at Princeton has written about this in a far better way than I could attempt to explain. If you have not seen the movie – you should know that the movie audio dialogue switches from German to French and to English:
As subtitles comprise a major stylistic and plot device of Inglourious Basterds, we see that Tarantino was playing on the historical emergence of dubbed and subtitled cinema during that time. French moviegoers consumed films that had a fundamental disjuncture between the image and sound. The moving lips of the actors did not directly map onto the superimposed sound of the film. Tarantino’s subtitles similarly create such a separation between the image and the sound. The subtitled film shifts the emphasis of the scene, imprinting the spoken words onto the screen as a component of the image.
To explain further:
Some of the humor of Inglourious Basterd derives from the untranslated subtitles, where the sounds of the words signal a play upon words. Instead of translating the French “oui” into the English “yes,” Tarantino places this untranslated French word into the space of the yellow English subtitles, signaling a point of entrance into a seemingly indecipherable tongue. This moment is humorous because it calls attention to our process of reading, rendering us feel foolish for our dependence on the subtitles as the mediator between the characters and ourselves.