Subtitles Suck

The Bicycle Thieves - Subtitles SuckI’m a big fan of foreign films — especially French comedy and Japanese action. But I hate subtitles. Most film fanatics feel the opposite way. Actually, in my experience, most all Americans feel the opposite way. They think that dubbing somehow destroys the the integrity of the film. Leave it to Americans to be simultaneously ignorant and arrogant.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t always prefer a dubbed films. As I noted about Bloody Mallory, the English language voice acting was so weak that you are pretty much required to watch it in French.

And there are times when so little care is taken with the technical side of dubbing that it is distracting (but not nearly as big a problem as bad acting). But this is rarely the case. I think dubbing got a bad reputation when cheap Japanese monster movies from Toho and Daiei were quickly dubbed with both bad technique and bad acting were dumped onto the American market.

The Technical Side of Dubbing

Good technical dubbing, where the dubbed voices match the actors’ lips has been easily accomplished since at least the 1940s. And with the advent of digital sound, it’s been trivial. I was shocked just recently to see how well Dead Snow was dubbed into English. As I noted when writing about Dead Snow: Red vs Dead, I think very few American film-goers would even notice that the film had been dubbed.

There are two parts to the technical side of dubbing:

  1. The dialog has to be translate in such a way that it fits what was said in the original language. There is far more than making the dubbed language last as long as the original. Sounds like “B” and “P” need to be lined up as much as possible. Doing this is a great art, and it can take a translator a long time to do it. I remember hearing an interview with a translator of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly where he said it took him over a day to get one particularly important line translated.

  2. The dialog must be matched to the film. This is where digital audio really helps. Maybe you have a 4 second line, but the voice actor says it in 4.5 seconds. In the old days, it might take a long time to get that right. Now you can digitally compress the line and the actor can be home by 5:00.

Obviously, if you don’t care, you can just throw it all together. And really, if you’re watching a Gamera film, good dubbing probably doesn’t matter that much.

Voice Acting

To me, good voice acting is far more important. When I’m watching a film, I see the big picture. I don’t pay much attention to lip movements. And the best situation is where the original actor does the English dub. But that’s hardly necessary. There are a lot of great American voice actors. The problem with them is that they tend to cost more than actors in other nations.

One funny thing is that Italian films were, for decades, shot without sync sound. The recorded sound would then be used for reference in the studio to dub the film. A great example of this is from 1948’s The Bicycle Thieves, where the Italian voice actor was not even the actor on the screen. So if you see the film, it will be dubbed. If you want to watch it dubbed in Italian and read English scrolling on the bottom of the screen, do ahead. You’ll be an idiot, but it’s your right. I don’t know if the same actor dubbed the original English or not, but that was common in the Italian film industry.

Film Is a Visual Art Form

Everyone knows that film is a visual art. You go to see a film, not to read it. So subtitles really detract from the experience of watching a film. I often watch films with my father who is hard of hearing. As a result of this, I put on the English subtitles, even though the film is in English. And still, I find myself having my eyes move down to the words.

So if English words are blinking at the bottom of the screen when I do not know the language being spoken, it’s even worse. At best I get half the view of the film that I do when I don’t have subtitles to deal with.

Film lovers should hate subtitles. They degrade films. And since we can now create good subtitles easily, we should get rid of them.

The Multi-Disc-Type Rip-Off

Todd and the Book of Pure EvilI recently bought Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End. The story of buying it is interesting, and I will include it in the Afterword at the bottom of this article.

After two seasons of the television show Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, it was canceled. So the producers go money to make an animated final film to tie everything up. This was great, because more or less the same thing was promised for the series Deadwood, but it fell through and it really sucked.

It was advertised as a blu-ray set. I assumed it contained 3 blu-ray discs. The problem was that I didn’t own a blu-ray player. But I bought a blu-ray player for my computer, and shelled out $39.99 for the product — such was my desire to finish off Todd and the Book of Pure Evil.

What $39.99 Buys You

But for a product advertised as blu-ray, this was pretty short on blu-ray discs. It contained one blu-ray with extra features, a DVD that contained the audio commentary as the only interesting extra, and a CD of the soundtrack. I’ve never been much of a fan of the music on the show. It’s okay. I suffer from the problem of being a trained musician with wide taste. I can tell the difference between greatness and mediocrity in most forms of music. And Todd and the Book of Pure Evil has always featured professionally created mediocrity.

The idea that someone who wants the movie would want the soundtrack is preposterous. This is why soundtracks are sold separately from films. So the soundtrack was just added for padding. Basically, your $39.99 gets you one blu-ray disc and that it is. They threw the other two discs in to justify the price.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End

Price Gouging

Think about this. Throw away the CD, and you have one DVD and one blu-ray. And the DVD is simply a subset of the blu-ray. What is the point of this? You either want a DVD or you want a blu-ray. You don’t want both. So what the distributor is doing is simply forcing you to pay an exorbitant price for an extra disc that you do not want and probably can’t even use. (Blu-ray has never taken off. Most people are perfectly happy with their DVDs.)

This is madness. It’s not as though DVDs and blu-rays are not already expensive enough. And in the case of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil all of the extras are on the Blu-ray. So if you do not have a Blu-ray player you don’t even get the full complement of extras that at are available.

It would be a trivial matter for the producers of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil to have released a single disc DVD of the film selling for 10 or $15. Or they could have had a second DVD with the extras one it and sold it for $20. But instead they have been depending upon people like me who would be willing to pay more than double the value of the set just to watch the film.

This Film Didn’t Need to Make Money

And remember that this movie was primarily financed by an Indiegogo campaign. They did not have to pay back most of their backers with money but rather gifts. Mostly, they gave backers stupid things like a Crowley High diploma or six playing cards they made up. For $25, you could get a downloadable version of the film. This was by far the biggest donation level. If you wanted a DVD, you had to donate $99.

But some of those gifts weren’t even things. For example, for just $2,500, 7 people had their likenesses used in the cartoon to be killed. That’s better than free money because otherwise, they would have had to either make up a face, or pay someone to use their likeness.

Now I know they got money from other sources, but I suspect the Indiegogo campaign was the main financing since they were only asking for $75,000 and ended up getting $123,160.

Money Grab

What I most love about psychotronic films is that they are usually made for love. Yes, their naive makers often hope they will make money. (Trust me, I know about this. I’ve had published three books published, and only one of them has made more than the advance I was given. When the first one was published, I really thought it would do well. But I have to admit that the first one I wrote is the one that actually sold pretty well — and is no on its second edition.)

So why the money grab? I really do wonder. I think blu-ray is a scam anyway. Most people do not care about the higher definition. And at least on computers they run incredibly slow slowly. Most people would prefer to simply have DVDs (with some system that made NTSC and PAL or regions the same so no one ever had to worry about it).

It’s like cassettes and 8-track players. The sound quality of both were much worse than LPs. So are CDs! But why were cassettes and 8-track players really popular once and way are CDs popular today? Because they were easy to deal with. It’s the same thing with video.

The End of the End Isn’t That Good

To make matters worse, the final episode is not nearly as good as the series was simply because it is animated. There is something very funny about watching gallons of fake blood fly everywhere in live action. Animated it’s just stupid. When The Student Body (episode of the same name) rips apart and blood flies everywhere, I could hardly stop laughing. I didn’t laugh a single equivalent sight gag in the animated film.

So I ended up paying substantially more ($39.99) for an 80 minute animated film that was mostly funded by donations than I did for 9 hours of the television show (series one and series two — less than $20 for both — as I write this, $17.68 plus tax) which was much better.

Is Todd and the Book of Pure Evil Psychotronic?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that they got to make the final film and to pull it all together. And listening to the commentary it is clear that they had thought out the entire series completely before they started it. So it all works well. But this just leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth. And it makes me seriously consider redefining the meaning of psychotronics.

But what do I expect when psychotronic film goes mainstream? I will stick to the older psychotronic films. They never break my heart.

Afterword

I see how Amazon stays in business: good customer service. Because they are a vile and manipulative, and I would even say criminal organization. I have been waiting six years for the constantly promised final end to “Todd and the Book of Pure Evil.” And finally, late last year it came out: Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End. So I went to Amazon. It had it in blu-ray, which I didn’t want (because I didn’t have a player at that time), with three discs and all kinds of extras. But there was a little link, “DVD.” It was cheaper and came on only one DVD. But I just wanted to watch it. I didn’t need the extras. So I clicked and bought it with one click.

But I made a mistake. The DVD button didn’t take me to a one-disc DVD version of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End. (And note, nothing said anything like “You might also like!”) It took me to the page for the first season of the show, which I’ve owned for years.

My Mistake

Okay, my bad. I should have been more careful. But this page is clearly designed to make people do exactly what I did. So I was going to send it back. But I couldn’t just send the item back, I had to use one of their services, all of which cost $4.99 to ship. Fun Fact: it is cheaper to mail a DVD first class than media mail. Obvious conclusion of fun fact: Amazon screws its customers at every opportunity.

So okay: I blew $10. No big deal. But I wanted Amazon to know that I was unhappy. Unfortunately, there was no way to do it except if you ship it back. I wasn’t going to do that. I was just going to give it to the library. But eventually, I found their phone number and called on the off chance that I could talk to an actual person. Remember: all I want to do is say, “I think this page, and many more like it, are deceptive and I think you should stop doing it.” That’s it. I didn’t want money. I knew that Amazon would continue to screw over their customers. But I wanted to have my say.

Customer Service

I called and got to a live person almost immediately. The representative talked in a way that made me think he wasn’t listening to me. But he did. He followed me better than anyone ever has before. Apparently if you go to the trouble (the first time anyway) of calling them, they’ll do more. The representative told me keep the DVD and they would refund my money. I had them refund it to my Amazon account because I thought there was a streaming version that I could purchase. There isn’t. There’s only the $39.99, three disc set of which I only want one.

So through great customer service, they saved a customer. But I still think they are evil. I know they will continue this practice and that 99% of the people will not take the time to find their phone number and call. When most of them see the shipping rates, they will drop the whole thing. They are still an incredibly evil country that will destroy capitalism and democracy in this country.

But I got to see the movie. See my page on Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. There isn’t much there yet, but it will slowly get finished.

Do I Have a VCR?! Of Course I Do!

Do You Have a VCR?! Of Course I Have a VCR!

I was at the library the other day picking up a VHS copy of 1955 British comedy The Ladykillers. I had seen the 2004 Coen Brothers film, which I thought was just fine. It was savaged by the critics, however. And I noticed something about it: most of the complaints were more about it not being as “Whatever!” (each critic had their own thing) that the original had. So I thought it would be interesting to write something about the two films. But when I picked it up, the librarian asked, “Do you have a VCR?!”

I’m sure this is a common occurrence. The library catalog is not that clear. It’s happened to me too: coming into the library thinking I’m going to pick up a DVD and finding that it’s a VHS. But it’s never been that big a deal because I do have a VCR. And for very good reason: a lot of great movies have never been released on DVD. In some cases, it’s shocking. As I write this, The Amazing Colossal Man is not available on DVD in the United States. (There is a Portuguese double feature DVD O Incrível Homem Colossal and A Volta do Homem Colossal. But I assume it is a DVD-R, as it comes only from one seller and is $42.99.) If you want it, you can get it on VHS for $56.99 new (or $19.99 and up, used).

If You Love Film, You Need a VCR

Even when little known films are released on DVD, they are often no better than they were on VHS. They rarely have any extras, and often aren’t letterboxed.

This is hardly the only film in this category. I’ve been waiting for decades for Medicine River to be released on DVD. It’s a very funny film starring Graham Greene and Tom Jackson. It’s the kind of film that you love and then feel that you absolutely must share it with your parents. There are few films that fall into that category! And that makes its absence on DVD all the more remarkable. It is available on VHS right now for $69.99 new and $47.96 used.

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed a number of films finally make it to DVD. One Trick Pony took until 2009 to find its way to DVD. And there are many more, but I don’t know them off the top of my head. But the truth is that some films will never make it to DVD. And it seems strange, because it is very cheap to release a film on DVD-R. It’s just a question whoever has the rights doing it.

Not Even VHS

There are, of course, lots of films that your VCR will never help you with because the films were never seen as worthy of release on VHS. Now, just because something isn’t on VHS doesn’t mean it won’t be on DVD. As I noted, it’s cheaper to put something out on DVD than VHS. Indeed, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats was never released on VHS. This may have something to do with its mastermind, George Barry. (For more on the film, see our page Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.)

To give you an example of how crazy this all this, consider the great sculptor Fredric Hobbs. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he made four feature films. His first two, Troika (1969) and Roseland (1970), have never been released in any form that I know of. So your VCR won’t help you there.

His next film, Alabama’s Ghost (1972), has been released on VHS. Although strangely, there is currently only one copy for sale at Amazon, and the description states, “**DVDR DISC WITH NO ART** super rare movie. I bought this at a convention quality is a 7ish out of 10 looks like a vhs tape.” I assume that someone somewhere made an illegal DVD-R copy. So even though this film is on VHS, it seems incredibly rare in that form.

His last film, Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973), is available on DVD. It looks like it was once available on VHS, but I can’t find it for sale anywhere.

Conclusion

The takeaway from all of this is that you really have to hang on to your VCR. A lot of films will never be released on DVD. And even when little known films are released on DVD, they are often no better than they were on VHS. In many cases, they simply transferred from VHS. They rarely have any extras, and often aren’t letterboxed. So hang on to your VCR. You won’t need it a lot. And as time goes on, you should need it less. But you will need it.