Sunday, September 2, 2007

Close-ups and subtitles, or Liv Ullmann's mouth

I’ve been rewatching Bergman’s films for an upcoming tribute on the Funhouse. I had forgotten how visual intrusive subtitles are on his films. Of course you need ’em if you don’t speak Swedish but — with the possible exception of Cassavetes and Dreyer — few filmmakers depended so consistently on close-ups to tell his story.

When I used to see the Bergmans, they were being shown in horrible-looking, white-on-white subtitles, barely readable in the prints that were sent around to rep houses by Janus films and other distributors during the 1980s. The films still had the power to blow one’s mind (Persona is of the ’60s and yet it is timeless, as are The Silence, Hour of the Wolf and Shame). What’s odd is that now that we possess absolutely pristine prints of these films on DVDs with imminently readable subtitles, the subs are still extremely intrusive because they haven’t been MOVED DOWN on the image. Granted, Bergman did work for the most part in the 1:33 ratio (read: square, box-like, the TV ratio), but I just watched The Passion of Anna tonight, which appears to be 1:66 with small letterboxing, and the DVD company (in this case, MGM-UA, who did a phenomenal job otherwise on these ’60s classics) has kept the subs where they always where — namely, on Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow’s mouths.

I attended the “Tutto Fellini” traveling festival in NYC about a decade and a half ago, where perfect prints in Italian were screened, with English subtitles present on LED lettering. The effect was slightly odd, like the operas that do the same: you feel like you’re watching the absolutely most sublime print of the film in the world, and yet you’re reading the dialogue off of a robotic “crawl.” Nonetheless, it is a good deal more preferable than the placing of subtitles on the bottom portion of the screen, when the filmmaker in question is, like Bergman, obsessed with the landscape of the face. I’ve noticed that this method has never been used since in the NYC area for film; I in fact was even told by one major museum curator that “our viewers have complained about it, they hated it,” leading to the institution in question to show un-subtitled prints rather than copies with LED subs. (I would bet that these same complainers were the people who wander into the auditorium, not knowing what film they’re attending….)

I know my tiny voice carries no weight whatsoever, but as a film fan, I think it’s time to reconsider LED technology for these films. At least for the theaters that can afford it — and, I have to ask, how come the wonderful Anthology Film Archives could afford to do it some years back for a great print of Bunuel’s Cela S’Appelle L’Aurore (Sunrise), and the two main institutions in town that show absolutely brilliant rep and have major arts funding behind them have never done it?

And for the DVDs, when letterboxing is involved, could you guys PLEASE move the fucking English subs just a few centimeters/inches down so we can see the actor’s mouth when they’re speaking and not have words sittin’ right over their faces?

And the fact that white subs are still being used in digital-land when there are several other methods available (yellow subs, greying the letters, providing a dark band behind the words) is a subject for another rant sometime in the future. If you want to know how ridiculous it can get see the end of Assays's Les Destinees, where a character imparts the "secret" of his life and it is seen in the print available over here on white subs that can't be read over his bed clothing. C’mon it’s 2007, people!


Agnostic Monk said...

I have been trying to identify a film I saw in the late 80s that may have been
from the early part of the decade or the 70s. It is maybe a European film based
on my memory but it could be South American/Mexican or even American. I do not
remember exactly but it may have been dubbed.
It is about this woman who gets married to this guy that she loves and has
already had a long courtship with him but she is unable to enjoy sex with him.
She finds about this frigidity her wedding night. The reason is psychological,
she thinks her father murdered her mother and got away with it. She last saw
her mother about to make love to a masked man at a party that was not her
husband. she was a little girl then and this is shown in a flashback. The dad
sees this and catches his wife in the act and the girl thinks he killed her for
In order to set herself in order and get to the root of her frigidity, she goes
to a psychiatrist who arranges sexual liaisons with a man in a mask just like
the man she saw her mother with. He feels this will get to the root of her
problem.She hides this from her husband. And enjoys sex with the man in the
mask. It appears her frigidity goes away when she is with him.
at the end of the movie, She tells her husband about this secret affair. He
forgives her but asks her to accept him. She shudders and he walks away.
Later,she reconciles with her husband. apparently, the psychiatrist had
arranged her husband to be the masked man to get over her trauma. she also
finds out that her father did not kill her mother. Does this ring a bell to
you? This movie may be from the 70s or early 80s. I do not remember the name of
The movie has a voice over of the actress narrating parts of the story
especially when she first has sex with her husband.
I saw a bootlegged copy of this on video in India probably 88 or 89. It may have
been dubbed.
It is not a JEss Franco feature as I am very familiar with his work. And its
probably not available on DVD and may be out of print.
Here are some more memories. The movie has a voice-over which is of the main
actress. The film initially shows a courtship between the lead actor and
actress. They get married and on the wedding night, when her on screen husband
makes love to her, she screams. There is a voice over here where she is saying
that her husband thinks she is screaming in pleasure but that is not the case.
The film shows a flashback of the actress as a little girl. There is some kind
of Halloween or fancy dress party where everyone is wearing masks. The girl
sees her mother having sex with a strange man and her father walking in on it.
Another memory I have is the lead actress meeting with a psychiatrist who
suggests she makes love to a masked man to bring her repressed feelings to the
surface. They show some love-making sessions between her and the masked man. By
the end of the film, we find out that the psychiatrist had arranged her husband
to be the masked man. Near the end of the film, before she finds out, she is
talking to her husband and they separate. the next scene, she is at the masked
guy's place to have another session. At the end of the film she finds out that
her mother was mentally imbalanced and committed suicide. She mentions how
sorry she feels about blaming her dad for it.
After browsing the internet, it appears that this film has a storyline similar
to 'The Frigid Wife' and 'Please dont touch me'. I am wondering if it was a
rip-off of these films. I am sure its from the 70s or 80s because of full
female nudity. It should be european perhaps italian but it could also be a
dubbed South American film. I saw it in India on vhs in the late 80s.

Do you know which film this is?

Media Funhouse said...

You have very vivid memories of that picture. I have to say it doesn't ring any bells for me. Rest assured it has nothing to do with "Please Don't Touch Me." I showed that on the show, and it involves frigidity, but that's all it has in common with your description of the film you're looking for.