A few weeks ago, this year’s Oscar winners were announced in Los Angeles. The big winner was “Everything Everywhere All at Once”. For comparison: In Spain, the eccentric parallel world fiction came under the adapted title “Todo a la vez en todas partes” in the cinemas. In France it was called “Tout, partout, tout à la fois”.
Both in the Spanish and in the French version of the film title, mentally active marketing experts from these countries took the opportunity to transfer the original wordplay into the respective mother tongue: as a rhetorically wonderfully dazzling variety of the figura etymologica. In French, this worked best with the three forms of “tout”. But in German, too, “Everywhere, everything at once” would have resulted in a seductively sparkling title. Had.
When another Oscar winner, “The Whale” (Spanish: “La ballena”), hits German cinemas at the end of April, you will once again be inclined to ask, in the words of a well-known German singer-songwriter: “What’s that supposed to mean?” Specifically: How much contempt for its own identity must a country feel when its cultural elite unleashes such language zombies on its citizens?
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And what do we do with our young people? Let’s imagine a fifteen-year-old that some readers of these lines might have sitting at home. So there’s this girl he likes a lot. But will he invite it to a tongue twister like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” to melt the ice?
He might only get four in English, is as usual a little excited at the suggestion of a first date, and is guaranteed to get muddled, blush and die when he says, “Would you like to see ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ with me?” In the end, the loved ones had to let the Hallodri evaporate from the last row into a low-level spectacle with an easier-to-pronounce title – let’s say “Manta Manta”.
And the young lady will never understand the great double meaning of an invitation to a film in which “everything can happen everywhere at once”, although at the very beginning of a friendship the prospect of everything that can happen shines in particularly bright colors . Unsurprisingly, Everything Everywhere All at Once shared the fate of many critics’ favourites. It’s an old law of the film industry: if you fail with the younger generation, you fail at the box office. The “hip” title didn’t help.
Above all, what are we doing to ourselves as a cultural nation with this Anglocentric permanent kowtow? What overexploitation of one’s own cultural identity are the extremely short-sighted marketing bees of the film distributors doing? And why hasn’t there been a distribution subsidy linked to the title’s aesthetics for a long time now? Does promoting culture have nothing to do with aesthetics and creativity?
How many brilliant movie titles could there have been!?
Those were heavenly times when films came to the cinemas with titles such as “Those who are not forgiven”, “… who desire everything” or “They go through hell”, German titles by the way, which self-confidently shrugged off the original titles. John Huston’s western classic with Audrey Hepburn should be released today as “The Unforgiven”, Vincente Minnelli’s love drama with the dream couple Richard Burton/Liz Taylor as “The Sandpiper” and Michael Cimino’s epic Vietnam War epic under the lame title “The Deer Hunter”.
A title like “Flammen über Fernost”, where the creative industry knew how to congenially translate the alliteration, which gives the original title “The Purple Plain” shine, into German for the purpose of a pleasing translation that would appeal to the public, where does that still exist today? And how many viewers may have missed one of the most outstanding films of the 21st century because of the unwieldy “German” title “There Will Be Blood”, because no ingenious marketing strategist came up with the idea of simply calling the existential drama “Oil!”, the title of Upton Sinclair’s literary original, to bring to the cinemas? Less is sometimes more.
How much the creative minds of every free society thirst for steep templates that they can (and do) transform phenomenally shows the remarkable career that some German titles have achieved. “And the woman always lures”, the successful attempt to adequately translate the name of the Brigitte Bardot classic “Et Dieu créa la femme” into German, became a figure of speech that is still known in the vernacular today. Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves” seduced myriads of media professionals to play with language, just a few weeks ago and more than thirty years after the start of the film, the JF as well, as the text heading “Dances with the Tanks” (JF 10/23) shows.
Transport the joke on the strip
“The Marathon Man” is also not to be killed, although Dustin Hoffman was hard hit in this role in 1976. The film title became – in the truest sense of the word – a long-running hit, as was recently the case in the Mirror to read. The “fatal affair” that Michael Douglas got involved with Glenn Close in 1987 and which would probably only be released in cinemas today as “Fatal Attraction” also became a dictum, and “The Usual Suspects” from the Hollywood crime thriller of the same name from 1995 .
This short excerpt alone shows how many translations have become second nature to us and have enriched our mother tongue, something that original titles are only exceptionally able to do because of their linguistic incompatibility. What treasures are being given away here out of counterproductive self-denial and an absurd lack of respect for the German language, how many rivers in which linguistic creativity could travel prematurely drained?
At the end of March, on the occasion of Quentin Tarantino’s 60th birthday, German television broadcast some of his best films, thus showing how much is lost by not having congenial German titles. Especially with a director whose trademark is ambiguity.
The allusion of The Hateful Eight Western to the genre classic The Magnificent Seven has been eliminated, as has Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s connection to Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon a Time in America. The provocation, which consists in bringing a “pulp story” to the screen, did not open up to the German viewer when “Pulp Fiction” was released in 1994 by a then rather unknown director and many (like the author of these lines ) could not do anything with the title.
Denglish language monsters haunt cinemas
Silver linings on the horizon are occasionally due to book templates, of which a German translation was already available at the start of the film. From a marketing point of view, it makes little sense to prevent readers of a novel who only know the German title from going to the cinema by preventing the recognition effect. In 2005, for example, the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel “Never Let Me Go” was released in cinemas under the wonderful German title “Everything we had to give”. A ray of light in the thicket, in which Germanophobe Sprachverdunkler like to let their audience wander around. However, the industry prefers to kill two birds with one stone.
In other words, the original and the translation are sewn together to form linguistic Siamese twins, which then leads to grotesquely long titles such as “The Hunger Games – The Hunger Games” or “Twilight – Biss zur Morgenstunden”, which gobble up two to three lines in TV guides. Much to the delight of the reader, who wants to find out quickly what is known to be particularly important in the digital age. The fact that jokes and satire only flourish when German gets a chance is shown by the film parody “The Pute von Panem”, with which the “Tribute von Panem” based on Suzanne Collins’ books were made fun of.
The name established as a template does not always protect against usurpation. Marvel hero “Spider-Man” hit kiosks as “The Spider” in the 1960s and 1970s. But that was of little use to Peter Parker, the man in the spider costume. “The Spider” lost its German name. Hard to believe that the league of gender extremists, which feels that the female gender is notoriously underrepresented in language, missed the opportunity for mass protests against the patriarchal renaming.
It’s not just about German anymore
It becomes completely absurd when non-English language films such as Japanese cartoons, popular among young people as “animes”, are given English titles instead of German: “Ride Your Wave” instead of “Die Wellenreiterin”. Again: What is this? Admittedly, the blockbusters “Basic Instinct” and “Top Gun” would probably have scored less with the audience under the titles “Basic Instinct” or “Elite Pilot School”. No one can therefore want a dogmatic German-only doctrine. On the contrary, it is more about the repeal of the German avoidance doctrine, which was established in film marketing against all common sense.
However – and this makes the whole misery visible – not only there. A look at the neighboring industry of professional sports proves this. In times when even European Championship qualifiers are being relabeled as “European Qualifiers” and an European Championship in Athletics as “European Championships”, the language criticism made here is like shouts of Cassandra that will go unheeded.
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