Quoting Characters: Subtitled Film Stills and Identification

Curator's Note

Attached are two subtitled stills and one gif from Clueless found through a basic search on tumblr. The website is currently home to 186.3m blogs, many with an emphasis on sharing items of visual interest. Subtitled images and gifs circulate with such frequency online that it is easy to miss the complicated dynamics they involve. The person who posts one may simply be taking advantage of the extractability of film speech to quote a favourite line of dialogue. More often than not, however, the blogger lets a character speak for them and, in the process, reveals that the character speaks to them.

As the three attachments suggest, the exact moment in which Cher (Alicia Silverstone) says these words (in voice-over) is not important. Instead, the bloggers appear to use Cher's words to capture their own feelings. In the case of 'Everything I think and everything I do is wrong' the hyperbolic speech captures a sense of failure or melodramatic inferiority. A similar emphasis on approximation over accuracy can be identified in the subtitled text itself; just as there are mismatches between the image shown and the precise moment the words are spoken, bloggers often misquote dialogue or, in some instances, completely fabricate a subtitle to a familiar film still.

Subtitled stills therefore constitute an update of the practice of talking in the cinema, as discussed by Janet Staiger in Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception (2000: 43-61); while audiences have long engaged with cult films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show by talking back to the screen, sometimes with counterpoint dialogue, technology now allows them to respond to characters' speech by quoting (or misquoting) them outside the theatre. If we need evidence of the enduring nature of character identification then shared subtitled images are it.


Such a massive tumblr footprint, and thousands of ridiculous gifs. Tying back to your full In Focus piece, Heckerling's influence on our memory of 90s slang and linguistic trends can't be overstated. Hilariously, a lot of gifs and tumblr posts of the 1996 version of EMMA starring Gwyneth Paltrow are cross-tagged as "Clueless." http://gph.is/XJl5Qb

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