Revoicing the Screen and Live Redubbing

Curator's Note

Our IN FOCUS: Revoicing the Screen dossier, sought to prioritize concepts and practices of vocal return and refashioning, of voice doubling and dissemination. Contributing essays examine instances of live festival translation and subtitling, vocal remix and dubbing, and accent manoeuvring and manipulation. One notable impression that emerged is how these practices have endured, in modified form, from the 20th century to present day. Indeed, as part of the digital era’s emphasis on media convergence, we increasingly observe screen-based revoicing in other arts practices and venues. Take, for example, Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes’ benshi-style narration of 1919 Mexican silent film El automovil gris, or the live redubbing of Pasolini's controversial 1976 film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 2019. Both recall the simultaneous, live revoicing techniques of the Soviet Union’s Tashkent film festival (1968-1988), explored by Elena Razlogova in our dossier. 

Pasolini's Salò Redubbed was adapted by Dylan Tighe, with the Salò film script updated and relocated to contemporary Ireland. According to programme notes, the often depraved content in the film and redubbed production aim to provide an allegory on structural violence and injustice. These aims were complicated, however, by the processes of live revoicing, leading to a distanciation effect that made it feel absurd and, perhaps unintentionally, comedic. This effect signals the uncanny experience of seeing and hearing two sets of performers simultaneously; of reconciling the dual embodiment of a character or script. The experience was sensorially and semiotically dense, involving careful attention: switching between watching the original performers on the large screen, and listening to and watching the live performers, as they watched the original performers on their own small screen. The live performers mostly focused not on their fellow actors, but on watching the film. In order to redub live, their behaviour generally mimicked that of a poorly behaved audience member looking at their smart device. Density was also a feature of Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes’ performance, which mixed cultures, time periods and art forms to present a complex decentring. Revisiting the Japanese silent film tradition of ‘benshi’ narration, it leveraged mismatch between absence and presence, screen and stage, and between multiple languages spoken live, mouthed on screen and translated into subtitles. The vocal layering of both productions laid bare processes of production and made cinema strange again, drawing attention to inherent instabilities. 

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