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The Translation of Films, 1900-1950$

Carol O'Sullivan and Jean-François Cornu

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266434

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266434.001.0001

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Creativity under constraints: The beginning of film translation in Mandatory Palestine

Creativity under constraints: The beginning of film translation in Mandatory Palestine

(p.239) 13 Creativity under constraints: The beginning of film translation in Mandatory Palestine
The Translation of Films, 1900-1950

Rachel Weissbrod

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter addresses film translation into Hebrew in Mandatory Palestine, from the 1920s to the 1940s, when silent films were gradually replaced by talkies and the need for translation increased. It combines ‘macro history’ with ‘micro history’, the study of history through primary sources. Its main primary sources are the autobiographies of two pioneering translators, Ya’akov Davidon and Yerushalayim Segal, who specialised in dubbing and subtitling, respectively. While local production at that time served Zionist ideology, the main function of foreign films was to provide entertainment. Film translators faced two obstacles: official British censorship and the objection on the part of some sectors of Jewish society to the screening of films in foreign languages, considered a threat to Hebrew. Despite these obstacles, translators had the freedom to import, invent, and experiment with new technologies, and to adapt not just the translation to the film, but also the film to the translation.

Keywords:   British censorship, Dubbing, film translation, Hebrew, Mandatory Palestine, Subtitling, Ya’akov Davidon, Yerushalayim Segal, Zionism, audiovisual translation history

  • Before cinema turned into art
  • We used to go to the movies to dream
  • Before Antonioni was suspected to be a genius
  • We loved to go every day and watch:
  • Lips and legs
  • Brilliantine and Rin Tin Tin
  • A lady with camellias
  • The son of the sheik and Aladdin …1

THE SELECTION OF AN AUDIOVISUAL translation mode—either subtitling or dubbing—has been explained by scholars in translation studies on the basis of commercial considerations, on the one hand, and ideological and political ones, on the other hand. According to one view, dubbing—which is more expensive than subtitling because it involves a recording studio, a director, and actors—usually developed in countries with large populations, where the profits justified the investment. By contrast, subtitling was preferred in countries with small populations.2 Martine Danan regards explanations of this sort as partial and emphasises the relevance of ideological and political (p.240) considerations.3 In her research, she found a correlation between the standard mode of film translation—dubbing (and its variations such as voice-over) or subtitling—and the political regime under which it evolved. She claims that ‘subtitling and dubbing represent two extremes on the translation spectrum … Subtitling corresponds to a weaker system open to foreign influences. Dubbing results from a dominant nationalistic system in which a nationalistic film rhetoric and language policy are promoted equally.’4

The correlation between subtitling and ‘a weaker system’ exists because a subtitled film exposes the audience to the sounds of a foreign language and the contents of the soundtrack. According to this view, such exposure can be seen as threatening the target culture, though the subtitles do not necessarily provide an adequate rendering of the source, if only because of the time and space constraints to which they are subject.5 In dubbing, on the other hand, the source language is silenced,6 and it is only the target language that can be heard. Dubbing was therefore preferred in cultures that sought to cultivate the national language and retain its exclusivity. Moreover, dubbing is an efficient means of political control and censorship because it enables the manipulation of the original soundtrack’s contents without calling the audience’s attention to such interference. It was therefore preferred—despite the financial and technological investment required—by totalitarian regimes that promoted a nationalist ideology and restricted the public’s exposure to foreign languages and cultures. Countries in which dubbing developed under a totalitarian regime that strictly controlled the importation of films include Fascist Italy, National Socialist Germany, and Franco’s Spain.7

In the course of history, regimes change and a totalitarian government may be replaced by a more liberal one; nonetheless, once a certain translation mode has been established, its dominance tends to be self-perpetuating. For example, if dubbing becomes an indispensable means of guaranteeing more work for otherwise under-employed actors, it is likely to be retained even if the circumstances which originally promoted the choice of dubbing as a favoured mode of translation later change. Moreover, research has shown that the audience gets used to the customary mode, preferring it to others even when they have a choice.8 Viewers who are accustomed to dubbing tend (p.241) to dismiss its disadvantages, such as the incongruity between the picture and the voices they hear, which represent different linguistic and cultural realities. On the other hand, those accustomed to subtitling are inclined to belittle its drawbacks such as the distraction from the picture and the effort of reading, and reading quickly at that.

Despite the neatness of such generalisations, probing into specific case studies may shed more light on the issue. My purpose in the present chapter is to question these generalisations by using both traditional historical studies and what Jeremy Munday refers to as ‘microhistory’—a history of translators and their work as revealed through primary sources such as biographies, archival materials, and journalistic reports.9 From these two types of resources, I set out to identify the interplay between commercial, ideological, and political constraints in early film translation intended for the Hebrew-speaking public in Mandatory Palestine. The country was under British rule from 1917 to 1948. This period covers the 1920s and 1930s, when—following the production of Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer in 1927 in the USA—silent films were replaced by talkies and the need for translation greatly increased. This case study differs from those examined by Danan because, even though the country was under British control, the regime was not totalitarian. It is a particularly complex test case because in addition to the dictates of the British authorities, the local Jewish population posed its own demands, so that translators and distributors were subject to double pressures.

Historical background

If we view a ‘system’ as a set of organised activities and bodies,10 the cinematic system in Mandatory Palestine can be described as one that was in a process of formation. Local Hebrew-speaking cinema lacked institutions of its own and was consigned to the margins of Hebrew culture. It did not enjoy the prestige of Hebrew literature with its rich history and acknowledged achievements.11 Filmmakers had to cope with technological and economic problems and manoeuvre between the dictates of the Zionist establishment, on the one hand, and British censorship, on the other hand. Local Hebrew-speaking films were usually supported by the Zionist establishment (for example, the (p.242) Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish National Fund, and Histadrut—the General Federation of Labour) and served the Zionist agenda, which occasioned clashes with British censorship. The Mandatory administration objected to motion pictures that glorified the Zionist enterprise by contrasting it with Arab ‘backwardness’ because it feared that such films would lead to Arab protests and increase the tensions between Jews and Arabs. Ella Shohat mentions Aleksander Ford’s 1933 film Tzabar (Sabra) as an example of a film that was banned on those grounds.12

The massive importing of foreign films led to the formation of a subsystem of imported cinema. Mirroring the relationship between local Hebrew-speaking cinema and literature, imported cinema was marginal at first as compared to imported literature. One indication of the relative prestige of print literature and the cinema is that, in order to promote foreign films, their scripts were translated and sold as books before the films’ release.13 The imported films were Russian, German, French, Italian, and American, among others. Until the late 1920s, the American film industry was under-represented because contacts with American culture in general were meagre; however, after 1927, following the massive establishment of cinema theatres in Tel Aviv and other cities, and the opening of American film agencies, Hollywood became a predominant source of foreign films.14

Unlike the local Hebrew-speaking cinema, which had Zionist backing, foreign films were imported by individuals and small companies with no institutional support.15 Since these agents were not dependent on the Zionist establishment, and their main considerations were commercial, they could collaborate with Arab distributors and cinema owners, a collaboration unknown in the local Hebrew-speaking film industry. This collaboration took the form of shared ownership of movie theatres and bilingual advertising of films, and lasted until the bloody clashes between Jews and Arabs in the late 1920s. Ya’akov Davidon recounts that in 1928, after an eruption of the Jewish–Arab conflict in Haifa, he was required by the Hagana, a Jewish underground organisation, to close the theatre Ha-Gan ha-Mesame’akh (literally, the garden that makes people happy) which he operated with Arab (p.243) partners.16 Even in more peaceful times, the freedom to import and distribute films was not unlimited. One obstacle was British censorship. In 1921 and 1923, the British authorities issued two public notices aimed at regulating the screening of films. These were followed in 1927 by ‘The Cinematograph Films Ordinance’, which was in essence ‘An Ordinance to provide for the Censorship of Cinematograph Films’.17 The censoring committee that they established opposed representations of sex, violence, and anything that could disturb the public peace. On these criteria, it banned entire films, or demanded changes and omissions prior to screening. Another obstacle was the objection of certain sectors of Jewish society to imported sound films. The arrival of talkies threatened local musicians who used to accompany the screening of silent films.18 Moreover, it led to the exposure of local Jews to foreign languages, exposure that was regarded as a threat to the revival of Hebrew. The objection to foreign films was so great that, in an early screening of such a film, the theatre management invited one of the officials of Western Electric—a developer of sound systems for the cinema—to deliver a speech. In this speech, which was translated into Hebrew, he expressed his hope that it would not be long before there would be sound films in Hebrew.19 The struggle against the screening of foreign films was carried out to a large extent by Gdud Meginei ha-Safa (Language Defenders’ Brigade), a militant group whose members, mainly youngsters, tried to impose the use of Hebrew, especially in the public sphere. The following example is an excerpt from a manifesto it issued: ‘The shma-no’a [the short-lived Hebrew name given to talking pictures] is likely to encourage the dispersion of foreign languages in the country and thus to interfere with the domination of our own language … It is to be feared that foreign songs played at the cinema theatres will be afterwards sung in public and at home.’20 Objection to Yiddish-speaking films was particularly strong, because Yiddish was still considered a rival of Hebrew, as a daily newspaper reported: ‘The editorial staff supports the view that we have to object strongly (p.244) to Yiddish cinema because, as regards the reinforcement of Hebrew in the country, Yiddish—a language spoken by the masses—is more dangerous than all foreign languages.’21

The screening of Yiddish-speaking films led to protests and demonstrations. When Sidney M. Goldin’s Mayn Yiddishe Mame (My Jewish Mother, 1930) came to Tel Aviv, dozens of residents signed a petition asking that the showings be cancelled. On opening night (27 September 1930) at Mograbi theatre, members of the Language Defenders’ Brigade bought tickets and entered the theatre, and as the film began, they started making so much noise that the screening had to be stopped. However, as Liora Halperin notes, ‘public pressure in support of Hebrew and in opposition to Yiddish on-screen, real as it was, functioned more on the level of suggestion than enforcement’;22 ‘movie distributors, theatre owners, and the population itself, … were broadly committed to the promotion of a Zionist society but welcomed foreign options on the screen nonetheless’.23 Thus, despite the objection, and in compliance with audience demand, foreign films were purchased and screened, and this created the need for translation.

Film distribution and translation

The main sources of information about the distribution and translation of films are the autobiographies of two of the pioneers of film translation in Mandatory Palestine: Ya’akov Davidon (1898–1983) and Yerushalayim Segal (1898–1993), who specialised in dubbing and subtitling respectively.24 According to their accounts, copies of films were purchased or hired in neighbouring countries, especially Egypt, as well as Europe. New copies in good condition were more expensive than old ones, referred to as ‘second screen’ and ‘third screen’ films.25

At first, films were shown with no translation at all.26 Segal, who knew French—the language of a large share of the motion pictures imported from (p.245) Egypt—recounted that he would translate French-speaking films for his wife while they were being screened. Other viewers asked him to speak more loudly, so they could hear too, and that is how his career as a translator began.27

Screening films with translations gradually became commonplace. Translation, like distribution, was carried out by individuals and small companies. The profession was not yet institutionalised—a situation that remains essentially the same to this day.28 Translators had to engage in other activities in order to acquire economic, social, and symbolic capital.29 They worked as distributors, owned movie theatres, or took part in the local production of films. Segal, for instance, was involved during the 1920s and 1930s in the local film industry and collaborated with Nathan Axelrod, one of the pioneers of Israeli cinema, in producing He-Halutz (The Pioneer, 1927), a film that was never completed due to financial difficulties.30 From 1918 on he also held various positions in defence organisations such as Ha-Gdud ha-Ivri (the Jewish Legion of the British Army), Ha-Hagana (literally, defence; a pre-state underground organisation), and later in the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) and the police. Davidon owned two theatres, Beit ha-Am and Gan Rina, and in the 1950s, after the establishment of the State of Israel, he became the president of the Association of Theatre Owners in Israel. Thus sketching the history of film translation in Mandatory Palestine requires taking the entire context into consideration.

Translation itself was carried out alongside other activities such as the preparation of the films for screening, and the process of showing them in theatres. The production of subtitles started with purchasing used copies of old films, other than those to be translated. They were cleaned of their images so that the blank celluloid was used to print the subtitles for screening alongside the ‘main’ film. Segal reports that he used to employ workers with fancy penmanship, and once he even hired a yeshiva student who could write in (p.246) print rather than cursive letters.31 Translation was often prepared at the last moment. This, however, was an improvement compared with the time before Segal started working as a translator (that is, in the early 1920s), when translations were still made in Egypt and it was not unusual for a film to be shown for a day or two before the translation was ready to be added.32

As in other places in the Middle East, the translation was screened alongside the film.33 In 1933, the magazine Variety claimed that the technique of superimposing titles in Arabic and Greek on side panels accounted for the success of American productions in Egypt and nearby countries.34 Though there is evidence for the screening of films with embedded subtitles, especially in German and French, as early as the mid-1930s,35 the method of projecting the translation alongside the screen continued into the 1950s. In that decade, the embedding of the subtitles in the body of the film became the norm, and film advertisements mentioned it in order to attract the audience.36 Embedded translation was considered a merit, because the previous method entailed many technical problems. Though it was used at a time when film reviews were not yet standard features in the daily newspapers, some viewers’ complaints found their way into such articles. Others were published in the only local cinema magazine, Kolno’a (the modern Hebrew word for cinema), which first appeared in 1938 and was replaced by Olam ha-Kolno’a (The World of Cinema) in 1951. One criticism was about the inconvenience of reading translations broken into very short lines, sometimes comprised of a single word. It seems, however, that the most frequent complaint concerned the lack of synchronisation between the translation and the picture.37 As one viewer (p.247) remarked, ‘sometimes, in dramatic films, when you are completely focused on the picture and waiting for the next one, and you absolutely cannot imagine what the next dramatic moment will be, the translation arrives and tells you everything and you know that “he was killed”, “she will come back”, etc. etc.’38

To minimise the problem, Segal used to spend many evenings in the cinema theatre, projecting the films himself or guiding the projectionist (who was called ha-megalgel—the roller). One of the devices he developed was using a second projector for the translation rather than relying on a human projectionist.39

Dubbing, too, required the presence of the translator where the film was being shown. An early form of dubbing actually consisted of adding sound to originally silent films: having no recording equipment, Davidon used to play records and accompany them with his own voice at every screening of the film.40

The main target language was Hebrew which, in Mandatory Palestine, enjoyed the status of an official language along with English and Arabic.41 Moreover, Zionist ideology strove to turn it into the shared language of the entire Jewish population. The growing use of Hebrew from one wave of Aliya (immigration) to another is described by Benjamin Harshav.42 He asserts that some of the Jewish immigrants of the first Aliya (1881–1903) knew Hebrew, but did not use it regularly in any social setting. In the days of the second Aliya (1904–14), there were already some Hebrew-speaking social groups as well as public spheres where Hebrew was used routinely. By the time of the third Aliya (1919–23), a Hebrew cultural polysystem had emerged, which encompassed the entire country.43 Harshav explains that the next waves of immigration continued this process for several reasons: many immigrants had learned Hebrew before they came to Palestine; all immigrants were under heavy pressure to learn Hebrew and use it in their everyday lives; the young (p.248) generation introduced Hebrew into their parents’ homes; and, above all, the existence of a Hebrew cultural infrastructure made it relatively easy to acquire and get used to the new language.

Against this backdrop, one can detect the consolidation of translation norms whose very existence, along with the order they imposed, indicated the emergence of a cultural system.44 As Segal recounts, in subtitling, translating the dialogue ruled out an attempt to use subtitles to summarise the plot (for example, ‘he opened the window and jumped’).45 In Gideon Toury’s terminology, acceptability (making the translation linguistically and culturally acceptable) rather than adequacy (reconstructing the source) was the prevalent norm in both subtitling and dubbing.46 This dominance probably came about for several reasons. First, translators had to meet the requirements of British censorship. Segal explains that he used to cut out in advance anything that was likely to antagonise the censoring committee, and the segments he omitted could be quite long, up to 20 minutes.47 Second, translation was subject to commercial considerations and aimed at satisfying the expectations of the audience. Using the terminology of Andrew Chesterman, it obeyed the audience’s ‘expectancy norms’.48 Third, at this stage of the consolidation of the national identity, fidelity to Hebrew was considered more important than fidelity to the source.

Acceptability was manifest in the insistence on the proper use of Hebrew— at least in the translators’ declarations. As one can learn from the complaints of viewers and critics, it was difficult to achieve this ideal in practice due to technical issues, as well as the need to meet deadlines, not to mention the lack of Hebrew proficiency on the part of some translators. In an article from the early 1920s (which—judging by the time of publication—refers to intertitles rather than subtitles), the journalist mocked film translators by inventing a funny mistake: he wrote ‘Ivrit nekhmada’ (‘nice Hebrew’) with four mistakes, two in each word.49 Segal himself, who specialised in subtitling, was very proud of the quality of his Hebrew and used it to gain symbolic capital. This may have been the way he compensated himself for choosing a profession that entailed the undesirable exposure of the public to foreign languages.

(p.249) Acceptability was also manifest in the Hebrew titles provided for the films. The translations themselves are not to be found anywhere. They were possibly destroyed in the fires that broke out in Segal’s office, especially the one that erupted in 1965. The fires were caused by the storing of films made of nitrate, an extremely flammable material.50 However, the titles are available to us thanks to Segal’s card index, as well as newspaper advertisements from that time.51 Acceptability can be deduced from the following features. (1) The proper names of characters, places, etc. were often accompanied by explicatory generic names. Thus, one and the same title, Ha-Shamen ve-ha-Raze (The Fat Guy and the Thin Guy), was given to both Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy films, blurring the distinction between these two popular duos. (2) Films often received different Hebrew titles in different cities. The same film was screened in Tel Aviv with one title, in Jerusalem with another title, and in Haifa with yet another title. For example, William Dieterle’s Tennessee Johnson (1942) retained its name in Tel Aviv, but was titled Hayo Haya Ish ba-Aretz (Once There Was a Man in the Country) in Jerusalem, and Ha-Nasi Johnson (President Johnson) in Haifa. This indicates the predominance of local considerations on the part of the distributors, the translators, or the cinema owners. (3) Hebrew idioms and allusions were often inserted into the titles, distancing them from the original ones. Thus, in Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939), based on L. Frank Baum’s classic, the name of the imaginary country turned into Utz, the land mentioned in the Book of Job in the Bible. According to Gili Bar-Hillel Semo, who translated and annotated the 2006 version of the book, the first translator of the film into Hebrew was Segal, and he came up with the idea of giving the country a biblical name. The film was screened with Hebrew subtitles in 1940, before any literary translation of the novel had been produced. Later, the name Utz for Oz infiltrated the literary system, and it is used to this day by all Hebrew translators and adaptors of Baum’s novel.52

The primacy of acceptability was most conspicuous, however, in dubbing, a translation mode that silences the original dialogue and makes its manipulation more difficult to detect. The following are some examples given by Davidon, which also refer to the viewers’ reactions:

  1. 1 The Bible (the film referred to by Davidon is probably La Sacra Bibbia, an Italian film directed by Pier Antonio Gariazzo and Armando Vey) (p.250) was first released in Italy in 1920 as a silent film starting with Genesis and ending with the Song of Songs. In 1929, an English voice-over was added to it, explaining the biblical events.53 Davidon renamed the film Divrei Yemei Israel (The Chronicles of Israel). He cut out the last part which he considered ‘kitsch’ and replaced it with a short local film from Segal’s collection illustrating the Zionist enterprise. Thus he turned the entire Bible into an introduction to Zionism. The film was screened at the Gan Rina, a Tel Aviv theatre owned by Davidon, in the early 1930s.54 When he screened the short film, he played Tekhezakna (‘Let Them [their hands] Be Strong’), the Hebrew workers’ hymn by the national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. This caused great excitement. The whole crowd (Davidon reports that the Gan Rina had 2,350 seats) stood up and joined in the singing.55

  2. 2 Yizkor (the title refers to a Jewish memorial prayer for the departed) is a silent film from 1924.56 Made in Austria under the direction of Sidney M. Goldin, it was based on a play by the Yiddish writer Harry Sekler (or Sackler, depending on the source consulted), who turned it into a screenplay. The leading role was played by the Yiddish actor Maurice Schwartz. Set in Poland, the story is about Leybke, a modern version of the biblical Joseph, who refuses to be seduced by the local count’s daughter, a modern version of the biblical wife of Potiphar. She avenges her failure at seduction by falsely accusing Leybke of attacking her. Eventually, Leybke is sentenced to be buried alive. Davidon accompanied Leybke’s death with a recording of El Male Rakhamim (literally, ‘God is full of compassion’), a Jewish funeral prayer, which was chanted by Yossele Rosenblatt, considered the greatest Jewish cantor of his time. According to Davidon’s report, everyone in the audience cried.57

  3. 3 None Shall Escape, a 1944 American film directed by André de Toth, is about a Nazi war criminal whose crimes in occupied Poland are narrated through an imaginary trial that takes place after the war (of course, the war was not over yet in 1944). According to Davidon, though the production company, Columbia, was dominated by Jews, the film blurred the Jewish identity of the victims. He was especially (p.251) outraged by the figure of a rabbi who gave—as Davidon reports—a misleading, optimistic speech to people getting on the train that would take them to their deaths. Again, according to his own account Davidon used dubbing to manipulate the rabbi’s words. In his translation, the rabbi warns the Jews and encourages them to resist like their brothers in Warsaw—an allusion to the Warsaw ghetto uprising that took place in 1943, shortly before the release of the film. In this case, too, the audience responded by crying.58

Comparing Davidon’s description of None Shall Escape with the actual film leads to the conclusion that his memories are far from accurate. Indeed, at the beginning of his speech, the rabbi talks about peace and forbearing:

Let’s prepare ourselves to face the supreme moment in our lives. This is our last chance. It doesn’t matter if it’s long or short. For centuries we have sought only peace. We have submitted to many degradations believing that we will achieve justice, for a reason. We have tried to take our place honestly and decently alongside all mankind to help make a better world, a world in which all men would live as free neighbours. We had hoped, and prayed. But now we see that hope was not enough. What good has it done to submit? Submission brought us rare moments in history when we were tolerated.59

However, at the end of the speech, he encourages the people to fight: ‘And I say to you let us choose to fight! Here! Now!’60 Some of Davidon’s accounts should thus be regarded as anecdotes, narrated by the translator many years after the events. Nevertheless, they illustrate the gradual move from elementary to more professional dubbing and testify to the persistence of the acceptability norm. As the nostalgic lyric quoted at the beginning of this chapter suggests, cinema was a refuge from everyday routine and hardships. Using Chesterman’s concept of ‘expectancy norms’, it seems that viewers went to the cinema to experience drama and excitement, and the translator did his best to meet their expectations. This impression is supported by the Hebrew versions of film titles. For example, Richard Thorpe’s Tarzan Escapes (1936) was given the Hebrew name Tarzan Nimlat!, a literal translation of the original title with the addition of an exclamation mark. Similarly, Texas to Tokyo (John Rawlins, 1943) received a new title in Hebrew, Ve-Ata le-Tokyo! (literally, ‘Now to Tokyo!’), also punctuated with an exclamation mark. As mentioned, the translations themselves are not available and probably did not survive. However, in watching films from the 1950s, which were screened with (p.252) embedded translation, I noticed an abundant use of exclamation marks. It seems that the norm that dictated translators to create a dramatic atmosphere and excite the audience persisted.61

Even though translators strived to satisfy the audience, they took care not to reveal the manipulations they made to meet this end. In the terminology of Lawrence Venuti, their ideal was to retain their invisibility.62 Segal reports, rather proudly, that at one point there were only two translators in the country who could meddle with a film in a way that the audience could not detect: Davidon and himself.63 Davidon for his part confesses that in some cases he was worried that the viewers would notice the manipulation and raise a furore.64 As mentioned, the translation was probably meant to help excite the audience, and the translators’ satisfaction when they achieved this aim is quite obvious. Sharing their secrets with the viewers could destroy this success. The perspective of translation as manipulation is well established in translation studies.65 Transferring a text from the producer to consumers, who depend on the translator because they cannot communicate without his or her mediation, also evokes the image of the translator as a double agent, as suggested, for example, by Gentzler and Tymoczko: ‘[T]he translator acts as a kind of double agent in the process of cultural negotiation.’66 This metaphor implies that the producer or distributor trusts the translator with a screenplay without knowing for sure what text the viewer will receive, and the viewer receives a text without knowing for sure what the original was like, because each of them knows just one language. This applies to translation in general but seems to be particularly fitting in the case under consideration.

(p.253) From early translation practices to state policy

Based to a large degree on primary sources, first and foremost the translators’ autobiographies, this chapter manifests the major role of ideological and political considerations in film translation, which Danan highlights.67 However, in the case under consideration, the choice of a translation mode was not dictated by the authorities. Distributors and translators had relative freedom to experiment with both dubbing and subtitling, though they were subject to the decisions of the censoring committee.

As shown, possible threats to Hebrew—the language of the Jewish population—were a matter of concern. Following Ralph Fasold, Danan claims that language functions in a nationalistic manner when it combines six main characteristics:68

  • Symbol of national identity for a significant proportion of the population

  • Widely used for some everyday purposes

  • Widely and fluently spoken within the country

  • No major alternative nationalist languages in the country

  • Acceptable as symbol of authenticity

  • Link with the glorious past

Hebrew obviously encompassed some of these characteristics from the outset (for example, evoking the biblical past). Others, such as being widely and fluently spoken within the country, were acquired gradually and with effort. Arabic was not an option for the Jewish population. Taking all this into consideration, we would have expected dubbing, which confirms the supremacy of the national language, to be the preferred mode of translating for the cinema. Eventually, however, subtitling got the upper hand, probably because it was cheaper and easier to produce. In line with this, Davidon’s experimenting in dubbing did not continue, while Segal went on translating for the cinema until his last years. According to his own account, he watched 14,000 films during his lifetime, and translated 9,000.69

After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, some attempts were made to enforce dubbing by law, but without success. In fact, dubbing disappeared for a long time. To this day, and despite the early successes discussed here, dubbing is offered only in films for children and young adults. Its (p.254) disappearance for many years is probably due not just to its high cost and dependence on technology, but also to the fact that viewers became accustomed to subtitles. In response to a proposal to enforce dubbing by law made by Moshe Shamir, an author and a member of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) in the years 1977–81, Menachem Perry—a critic and editor—wrote:

The soundtrack of a film is part of its composition. It is also with their manner of speaking that the director and the actor said what they wanted to say. Actors play with their voice and not just with their hands. Such a situation of ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau’ is cutting off a piece of a work of art and throwing it in the garbage … it is like faking the weight of a product.70

Perry’s protest confirms the claim that a culture used to subtitles tends to dismiss their disadvantages and highlight their merits, such as the opportunity to enjoy a full-fledged artistic experience.71 Such an experience is made possible not just by the actor’s appearance and gestures, but also by his or her voice. Since the artistic preferences expressed, for example, by Menachem Perry are also in line with the country’s economic options, it seems that at this stage Israel is not going to adopt dubbing in feature films. In the interplay between ideological, political, and economic considerations discussed in this chapter, subtitling, backed by habit and justified by artistic considerations, gained the upper hand.


(1) ‘Yamim shel kolno’a’ (ימים של קולנוע‎ Cinema’s days), from the show Ha-tov ha-ra ve-ha-na’ara [הטוב הרע והנערה‎ The good the bad and the girl] (lyrics, Ehud Manor; music, Shmulik Kraus, first performed in 1972).

לפני שהקולנוע הפך לאומנות/הלכנו אליו לחלום/לפני שאנטוניוני נחשד בגאונות/ אהבנו ללכת כל יום‎ ’)

(‘ … ולראות:/שפתיים ורגליים/ ברילנטין ורין טין טין/גברת עם קמליות/בן השייח‘ ואלדין‎

Unless otherwise attributed, all translations from the Hebrew are my own.

(2) See, for example, Henrik Gottlieb, ‘Subtitles and International Anglification’, Nordic Journal of English Studies, 3.1 (2004), 219–30 at 220, at http://ojs.ub.gu.se/ojs/index.php/njes/article/view/244, accessed 7 February 2017.

(3) Martine Danan, ‘Dubbing as an Expression of Nationalism’, Meta, 36.4 (1991), 606–14.

(6) More precisely, in dubbing the source language is utterly silenced; in voice-over its traces can be heard, particularly at the beginnings and endings of utterances. See Ieva Grigaravičiūtė and Henrik Gottlieb, ‘Danish Voices, Lithuanian Voice-over: The Mechanics of Non-Synchronous Translation’, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 7.1 (1999), 41–80.

(8) Cees M. Koolstra, Allerd L. Peeters, and Herman Spinhof, ‘The Pros and Cons of Dubbing and Subtitling’, European Journal of Communication, 17.3 (2002), 325–54 at 347.

(9) Jeremy Munday, ‘Using Primary Sources to Produce a Microhistory of Translation and Translators: Theoretical and Methodological Concerns’, The Translator, 20.1 (2014), 64–80.

(10) For the concept of ‘system’, see Itamar Even-Zohar, ‘Factors and Dependencies in Culture: A Revised Outline for Polysystem Culture Research’, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, 24.1 (1997), 15–34.

(11) Nurith Gertz, Sipur me-ha-Sratim: Siporet Yisra’elit ve-Ibudeyha la-Kolno’a (Motion Picture Fiction: Israeli Fiction in Film) (Tel Aviv, Open University, 1993) (in Hebrew).

(12) Ella Shohat, Israeli Cinema: East/ West and the Politics of Representation (London and New York, I. B. Tauris, revised edn 2010 [1989]), pp. 18, 36.

(13) Ya’akov Davidon, Ahava me-O’nes (Compulsory Love) (Tel Aviv, Bitan, 1983) (in Hebrew; hereafter referred to by its English title).

(14) Moshe Zimmerman, Simanei Kolno’a: Toldot ha-Kolno’a ha-Yisra’eli bein ha-Shanim 1896– 1948 (Signs of Movies: History of Israeli Cinema in the Years 1896–1948) (Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv University Press, 2001), p. 58 (in Hebrew).

(15) The following information is based on Davidon, Compulsory Love and Yerushalayim Segal, Yerushalayim be-Tel-Aviv: Zikhronot (Jerusalem in Tel Aviv: Memories), ed. Ya’akov Gross (Tel Aviv, Moledet, 1993) (in Hebrew; hereafter referred to by its English title).

(17) Hillel Tryster, Israel before Israel: Silent Cinema in the Holy Land (Jerusalem, Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, 1995), pp. 187–8.

(18) Davidon, Compulsory Love, pp. 192–4. The conflict with the workers’ union following the arrival of talking films was reported in ‘Palestine Expects Trouble Over Sound’, Variety (19 March 1930), 6. I am indebted to C. O’Sullivan and J.-F. Cornu for calling my attention to this and other reportages from the non-Hebrew press mentioned in this chapter.

(19) ‘English Talkers Throw Jews of Palestine into Language Panic’, Variety (28 May 1930), 7, 29.

(20) Quoted in Yoseph Halachmi, ‘Ha-Kolno’a u-Milkhemet ha-Ivrit ba-Yiddish be-Eretz-Yisra’el (1930) ([.(‘ הקולנוע ומלחמת העברית ביידיש בארץ-ישראל‎ Cinema and the War of Hebrew against Yiddish in the Land of Israel (1930)’], Beit ha-Seret ha-Ivri (Hebrew Film Home) website, http://www.filmography.co.il, accessed 3 January 2017.

ו אנוו.דיבור השמענוע עלול לשמש מכשיר להפצת שפות זרות בארץ ועל ידי כך להפריע להשתלטותה של שפתנ ’)‎

. ושירה לועזיים שישמעו בקביעות מעל גבי הבד בבתי הראינוע, עלולים להשפיע על הקהל וביחוד על הנוער‎

( ’ . יש לחשוש ששירים לועזיים שישמעו בבתי הראינוע יושרו אחר כך ע“י הקהל גם בחוצות ובבתים‎

(21) Ha-Ma’arekhet [‘המערכת‎’ The Editorial], Do’ar ha-Yom (12 September 1930). Quoted in Halachmi, ‘Cinema and the War of Hebrew against Yiddish’.

קורה גם בסרטים דרמטיים, כשאתה מרוכז כולך ומחכה באי-ידיעה לתמונה הבאה ובשום אופן אינך יכול לתאר ’)‎

(‘.המונים רחבים יש יותר סכנה מאשר בכל השפות הזרות לגבי ביצורה של העברית בארץ‎

(22) Liora R. Halperin, Babel in Zion: Jews, Nationalism, and Language Diversity in Palestine, 1920– 1948 (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2014), p. 59. See also ‘Language Riot’, Film Daily (30 September 1930), 8.

(25) Segal, Jerusalem in Tel Aviv, p. 249 (‘ מסך שני‘ ו’מסך שלישי‎’).

(26) Ella Shohat mentions that even before Yerushalayim Segal opened his translation laboratory in Tel Aviv, movie-theatre owners ordered film translations from Cairo, the centre for the distribution of international films, as well as a major translation centre in the Middle East. See Shohat, Israeli Cinema, p. 14.

(28) Rakefet Sela-Sheffy, ‘How to Be a (Recognized) Translator: Rethinking Habitus, Norms, and the Field of Translation’, Target, 17.1 (2005), 1–26; Rakefet Sela-Sheffy and Miriam Shlesinger, ‘Strategies of Image-making and Status Advancement of Translators and Interpreters as a Marginal Occupational Group’, in Anthony Pym, Miriam Shlesinger, and Daniel Simeoni (eds), Beyond Descriptive Translation Studies: Investigations in Homage to Gideon Toury (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA, John Benjamins, 2008), pp. 79–90.

(29) For the sociological concept of ‘capital’, see Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1992). For its application in translation studies, see Jean-Marc Gouanvic, ‘A Bourdieusian Theory of Translation, or the Coincidence of Practical Instances Field, “Habitus”, Capital and “Illusio”’, The Translator, 11.2 (2005), 147–66.

(33) For the situation in Egypt, see Claude Aveline, ‘Cinémas d’ailleurs : films policiers’, La Revue hebdomadaire (4 June 1932); published in Claude Aveline, Chroniques d’un cinéphile (Paris, Nouvelles Éditions Séguier, 1994), p. 18; quoted in Martin Barnier, En route vers le parlant : histoire d’une évolution technologique, économique et esthétique du cinéma (1926–1934) (Liège, Céfal, 2002).

(34) ‘Panel Titles Help U.S. Pictures in Near East’, Variety (20 November 1933), 19.

(35) For example, an advertisement for Le Roi des Champs-Élysées, starring Buster Keaton, at the En-Dor cinema, Haifa. The advertisement, which appeared in The Palestine Post on 11 December 1936, announces that the film speaks French, but it has ‘English subtitles on the FILM ITSELF’ (capital letters in the original).

(36) According to the online database Itonut Yehudit Historit (Historical Jewish Press), there were 420 mentions of tirgum be-guf ha-seret (translation in the body of the film) in the years 1955–9, compared with 105 in the years 1950–4, and 188 in the years 1960–4. In other decades, the numbers are much lower. See http://www.jpress.nli.org.il/Olive/APA/NLI_heb/?action=search&text=%D7%AA%D7%A8%D7%92%D7%95%D7%9D%20%D7%91%D7%92%D7%95%D7%A3%20%D7%94%D7%A1%D7%A8%D7%98#panel=search&search=0 ,accessed 9 February 2017.

(37) Dissatisfaction with the lack of synchronisation was expressed, for example, in the following reportage: Menachem Gershon Glen, ‘Tzilumim Bin-Rega … ve-Khol ha-Am Ro’im et ha-Kolot’ (‘Instant Photos…And All the People Saw the Thunderings’), Do’ar ha-Yom (27 June 1935)

.(‘צלומים בן-רגע...וכל העם רואים את הקולות’)‎

(38) Segal, Jerusalem in Tel Aviv, p. 391.

קורה גם בסרטים דרמטיים, כשאתה מרוכז כולך ומחכה באי-ידיעה לתמונה הבאה ובשום אופן אינך יכול לתאר’)‎

לעצמך מה יהיה הרגע הדרמטי הבא, והנה בא התרגום ומספר לך הכל ואתה יודע ש”הוא נהרג“, ש”היא‎

(‘.‘‘תחזור“ וכו‘ וכו‎

(41) Bernard Spolsky and Elana Shohamy, The Languages of Israel: Policy, Ideology and Practice (Clevedon, Multilingual Matters, 1999), p. 16.

(42) Benjamin Harshav, Language in Time of Revolution (Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1999), pp. 151–2.

(43) For the conception of culture as a polysystem (a system of systems), see I. Even-Zohar, ‘Factors and Dependencies in Culture’.

(44) Itamar Even-Zohar, ‘The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem’, Poetics Today, 11.1 (1990), 45–51.

(45) Segal, Jerusalem in Tel Aviv, p. 241 (‘הוא פתח את החלון וקפץ’)‎; also reported in Tryster, Israel before Israel, p. 186.

(46) Gideon Toury, Descriptive Translation Studies—and beyond (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA, John Benjamins, revised edn 2012 [1995]).

(48) Andrew Chesterman, ‘From “Is” to “Ought”: Translation Laws, Norms and Strategies’, Target, 5.1 (1993), 1–20.

(49) Istra Balagina [a pseudonym], ‘Ha-Ta’anugim Shelanu’ [‘Our Delights’], Do’ar ha-Yom (13 December 1922) (‘ אבריט נכמדא‎’; it should be עברית נחמדה‎‘’).

(51) Segal’s card index is undergoing digitisation at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. I am grateful to Dr Dror Yizhar and the Cinematheque library team for access to Segal’s original cards, in his handwriting.

(52) L. Frank Baum, Ha-Kosem me-Eretz Utz (The Wizard of Oz), trans. Gili Bar-Hillel Semo (Tel Aviv, Arye Nir, 2006), pp. 7–9 (in Hebrew).

(53) Little is known about this film, but the listing at the following website provides brief details of its version history, https://www.amazon.com/Silent-Discoveries-Double-Feature-Yesterday/dp/B004R6EFB8, accessed 8 February 2017.

(56) The details are available on the National Center for Jewish Film website, at http://www.jewishfilm.org/Catalogue/films/yizkor.html, accessed 8 December 2016.

(59) Thomas Doherty, ‘“None Shall Escape”, Hollywood’s First Holocaust Film, Was All But Unknown for 70 Years. Now It’s Been Rediscovered’, Tablet (1 November 2016), at http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/216380/none-shall-escape, accessed 8 December 2016.

(60) Doherty, ‘None Shall Escape’.

(61) I am grateful to Mr Meir Russo, the manager of the Israel Film Archive at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, and the archive team, for access to the subtitled films.

(62) Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation (London and New York, Routledge, revised edn 2008 [1995]).

(65) Theo Hermans (ed.), The Manipulation of Literature: Studies in Literary Translation (London, Croom Helm, 1985).

(66) Edwin Gentzler and Maria Tymoczko, ‘Introduction’, in Maria Tymoczko and Edwin Gentzler (eds), Translation and Power (Amherst and Boston, University of Massachusetts Press, 2002), pp. xi–xxviii at xix. See also Michael Cronin, ‘History, Translation, Post-Colonialism’, in Sherry Simon and Paul St-Pierre (eds), Changing the Terms: Translating in the Postcolonial Era (Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press), pp. 33–52.

(68) Ralph W. Fasold, The Sociolinguistics of Society (Oxford, Blackwell, 1984).

(69) Nathan and Ya’akov Gross, Ha-Seret ha-Ivri: Prakim be-Toldot ha-Reinoa ve-ha-Kolnoa be-Israel (The Hebrew Film: Chapters in the History of Silent and Talking Movies in Israel) (Jerusalem, private edition, 1991), p. 95 (in Hebrew).

(70) Menachem Perry, ‘Oyev ha-Ot ha-Ivrit’ [‘ אויב האות העברית‎’ ‘Enemy of the Hebrew Letter’], Siman Kri’a, 11 (1980), 7

פס הקול של הסרט הוא חלק מן הקומפוזיציה שלו. גם באמצעות אופן הדיבור אמרו הבמאי והשחקן מה שרצו ’)‎

לומר. השחקנים משחקים גם בקולם ולא רק בידיהם. סיטואציה כזו, של הידיים ידי עשיו אך הקול קול יעקב, היא חיתוך‎

.(‘.חלק מיצירת אמנות והשלכתו לפח [...] כמוה כזיוף משקלו של מוצר‎