The importance of image; or why I don’t watch English-speaking videos with subtitles

Why I think dialogues in films are not as important as people may want to believe. Cinema is mainly a visual media, let’s focus more on the image and what it can tell.

When I was living in Vancouver, my flatmate was watching about everything with subtitles, even though everything he was watching was in English, which is his mother tongue. He mainly did that because of a combination of problems: the annoyingly poorly balanced sound tracks in movies (speech too low vs sound effects too loud) and the fact that our house was next to a very busy road. In the end, it was pretty much impossible to understand a film without subtitles, and I had to do it too, although I really don’t like it.

See, a few years ago, I had this talk with a friend who couldn’t watch an English-speaking film without subtitle, not because he couldn’t understand English well (he was pretty good at it actually), but because he couldn’t accept to watch a film and not understand 100% of dialogues. I understand his point, but I sadly think it’s a way too common belief that speech is more important than image in movie.

For my part, I started watching English-speaking films without subtitles in the early 2000’s. Back then, it was about improving my English listening skills. If I wasn’t reading, I was more focused on the speech, and therefore more akin to understand what actors were saying and get used to the language. Long story short, it really helped a lot (1). But as I got better at understanding English, well, there was no point in putting back subtitles anymore.

And I remembered what my Mom was saying about her never watching movies with subtitles. She doesn’t watch film in English, she watches the French-dubbed versions. But she made a very good point at not reading subtitle: “I can’t focus on both the image and the subtitles”. And I think that’s the whole point.

Now, my Mom is not a cinephile. She just enjoys a movie every now and then. But it’s true for everyone. Cinema is mainly a visual media. For years, films could even tell a story without a single line of dialogue, because there wasn’t sound on it yet. So filmmakers used a lot of visual cues to convey various plots and emotions, because it wasn’t possible to break the film pace every five seconds with dialogue screens.

dialogue

So now, we have countless ways to tell a story visually but still, a lot of people don’t realise it. If it’s not in dialogue, it’s like it’s not explained at all. That’s pretty much why fool-proofed movies tend to over-explain the plot in dialogues even though everything is quite always obvious in context. Just look at how hardly-audible dialogues in Interstellar were perceived by a large part of the audience. Another great example is when Mel Gibson wanted to screen The Passion without subtitles, which would have been a great idea, since the audience most likely to go watch the film already knew the story and how it ends (spoiler: Jesus dies on a cross). But of course, this didn’t happen, because the film would have completely flopped at the box office.

People take for granted that every single bit of dialogue must be understandable, when image and sound design are equally or more important to understand the film. When I see movies that try to be visually clever, instead of using trendy shots, get trashed because they are too contemplative/hardly understandable/pretentious/boring (check the appropriate answer for your case), it really explains why there are much less films like that anymore, and also why I don’t watch that many films anymore. (2)

When you focus too much on dialogues, and therefore on subtitles, it’s the same amount of attention you don’t give to image and sound (4), and so you lose way more information than you think you get by being overly attentive to dialogues. I always feel that when I tell people I don’t watch films with subtitles, they think I’m being pretentious. I’m not. I maybe understand give or take 90% of dialogues in any given film (even in French-speaking films, there are always mumbled or covered lines that are hardly understandable), but I just enjoy and understand the movies better if I’m not distracted by subtitles. Once I even watched a movie in a language I didn’t know at all and I understood the plot.

Of course I wouldn’t recommend to watch an entire movie without subtitle if you don’t understand the language, especially the ones that have really well-crafted dialogues (Tarantino’s films, for example, are enjoyable because of dialogues). But if you understand at least 60% (rule of thumb here), I feel like it’s worth giving it a shot.

So, I hate to admit, but turns out my Mom was right all along.

 

(1) In the same way, watching Japanese animation with English subtitles has helped my English-reading skills a lot. If you want to learn some language, these are actually very good exercises to consolidate your knowledge. But you need some level of proficiency first.

(2) And still, in the end, they are the films that get to be remembered and studied in schools.

(3) And don’t get me started on multitasking. There is no such thing. It’s actually task switching. And in case of subtitles, you have to move your gaze to the text, so you can’t in any way watch the image and the subtitles at the same time, especially in theatre (we can talk about the 2° field of view for accurate vision later).

(4) Obviously I don’t recommend it. I was just curious about a particular film and couldn’t find the subtitles. I lost a lot of information in the process, but I still enjoyed watching the film.

“Do you believe I see a woman when I look at you?” – How self-perception is stronger than the view of others

Sometimes, you want to talk about a film that hasn’t been released yet, because you put a lot of faith in it. So in this post, I will be talking about Girl, by Lukas Dhont, and why it is important to me that it doesn’t disappoint.

It’s that time in the year when people rush to the South of France to watch tons of films that won’t be released before 6 months. Well, tons of privileged people, since the Cannes Film Festival is the only festival in the world that doesn’t accept self-paying visitors. Nevermind that, there are still very interesting films being shown there, and even though I can’t attend (never been even once), I still follow what’s happening, thanks to Alicia Malone‘s tweetline (1).

And one of her tweets particularly caught my eye:

Obviously (if you know enough about me), I was instantly interested about this film, Girl, directed by Lukas Dhont, and apparently, the French newspaper LeMonde also saw the film and gave their few cents on it. And now I am totally hooked. I know I have to wait until October to watch it in theatre, and I don’t usually review a prospect of a film, but there is a good reason I am hopeful: this is not a movie about transphobia (2). Most movie about transgender people deal with the hardship of being transgender because of other people being total assholes. This film is different. There is no debate about transgender people. We exist, it’s a fact, and in this story, every one is accepting of the trans girl. The family is loving, everybody is willing to help or at least they behave around her like she’s a totally normal girl.

The hardship is elsewhere. It’s internal. Even though people offer their help and support, we can’t move onward if we don’t acknowledge that this help is honest. It is best shown in this snippet of the movie:

At some point, the psychiatrist asks “Do you believe I see a woman when I look at you?” And he has to pull the answer out of her mouth. “No”. She says it so timidly. And for a good reason. It’s hard to tell someone you don’t believe them when they show the much needed support. And if we don’t believe it, it’s because we don’t see it ourselves. Therefore it seems impossible that other people see something about us that we only dreamt of for so long.

To me, it touches so close to home. I moved to Canada in January 2017, introducing to everyone as Élise, but people I was meeting randomly would obviously not see me as a woman. It took months of hormone therapy (I started in May 2017) and laser beard removal (since September 2016) before I could see any significant change. Since I never really enjoyed doing make-up that much or dressing overly feminine or girly, it didn’t help to be gendered correctly on a regular basis. That took time, and I saw it happen, first occasionally, then more frequently, until this month. Now It happens every single time. It downed on me last week in a bar where a group of guys on a bachelor party didn’t think twice about my gender. One even did a really corny move in my back, thinking I didn’t see. I can’t tell if they knew I was transgender, but if they did, they surely hid it very well.

But the switch really happened this weekend. I went with a friend to look at swimsuits. I haven’t done any scuba diving for 3 years and I miss it so much it drives me crazy. I had to go to the store, to build up the courage (wearing a push-up bra helped too). When I arrived at the swimwear corner, the saleswoman instantly greeted me with a “Madam” and asked me what I was looking for, and offered me to try some on. I switched. I stopped being afraid.

It was like learning a new language. You struggle for a long time with the idea that you’ll ever be able to speak fluently. And one day, it just happens. You feel it inside of you. You’re thinking in your new language and people understand when you speak. It’s what happened to me that day. I knew I was passing. Maybe not 100%. Maybe not if I stay in a conversation for such a long time that people get from the way I speak and behave that I’m trans, but it doesn’t matter. People gender me correctly at the introduction, and that’s 99% of the work.

For a long time, I felt like this young dancer in Girl. I couldn’t see what people were seeing. But now I can, and it’s such a wonderful feeling. I may be scared again, occasionally, but I know that most of the time, I can do it confidently.

On a side note, I love the interaction between the father and the daughter in this clip, it sounds so realistic:

So, Girl, please be as wonderful as people say. We need it.

 

(1) You can also read my review of her book Backward and in Heels.

(2) And I don’t mean film about transphobia are not interesting. They are, and they need to exist, at least as long as transphobia is a thing. But I wish we could have transgender characters in movies where they’re not here just to talk about transphobia. There are trans people out there living − almost − normal lives. Please talk about them or include them in your stories like it’s normal. That’s what we need. On this note, if you haven’t yet, you should definitely watch A Fantastic Woman (La Mujer Fantastica, by Sebastian Lelio).

Quick note: The Hate U Give/Seven Seconds

Crime against African-American people in America is a hot topic, so hot that many works of fictions are made on the subject. I am no expert, far from it, but I’m always interested in filling some of the blank in my own knowledge, to complement the limited information that we get in the press.

Crime against African-American people in America is a hot topic, so hot that many works of fictions are made on the subject. I am no expert, far from it, but I’m always interested in filling some of the blank in my own knowledge, to complement the limited information that we get in the press. So recently, I have read and watched back to back two works on the subject, that are very different, both in terms of media and treatment.

Williamson Starr

The first one was The Hate U Give, first novel from Angie Thomas. It follows Starr, a high school girl who witnesses the murder of her friend by a policeman. She tries to avoid having to talk about it publicly or even give a witness account of the event until she can’t take it anymore and comes to realise that her silence is making it worse for her friend’s memory.

Then I followed with Seven Seconds, a Netflix show created by Veena Sud (The Killing US) about a cop who accidentally kills a young boy on his bike, but leaves him for dead until he is found by a passerby hours later. In this one, the story follows all the protagonists. It focuses on the prosecutor, KJ Harper, but also shows the perspective of the cops, the family and the witness.

seven-seconds-netflix

First, let’s focus on what make them stand apart. The first obvious thing is the type of crime: while The Hate U Give depicts a cop who shoots a kid because he thought he was armed (which becomes his line of defence), in Seven Seconds, it starts with an accident (texting and driving), but becomes a conspiracy of four officers (the first cop is helped by his colleagues) to cover the crime.

Then, Angie Thomas is so focused on her main character (who narrates the story) that every one else serves her narrative. In that regard, it takes a lot from coming-of-age stories, but on top of teenage feelings, family troubles and the discovery of adulthood, her friend is shot dead in front of her eyes. Nevertheless, the other characters are not accessory, they have deep personalities and reasonably lead Starr in her path. Veena Sud’s story is at the complete opposite. It wants to show everyone’s side. Not so you can empathise with the killer, but to understand everyone’s motivation.

Now, in the end, both stories have huge similarities. They both showcase the death of a young black boy who has links in the drug rings, which is used by the media to steer the public opinion, and the family tries to disprove it, both stories keeping the suspense on the matter until the end. They also show that cops can get out of killing black people pretty easily, even when evidence of wrongdoing is staggering, and the novel and the show keep realistic about it. The verdicts are neither over-dramatic or optimistic, they only reflect the current situation.

But that’s not where they draw the biggest interest. Their main feature is that they both show a tormented character who feels helpless and with the help of a few people, will rise to the challenge and help the cause. Starr is still a teenager, and the choices she makes will echo all her life and define her. Her story ends with the discovery of who she want to be, and it could only have happened because of the choices she made with or against the good will of her friends and family. In Seven Seconds, KJ has hit the glass ceiling, is haunted by a past investigation, and she gets to investigate this death that has no hope of leading to a conviction. As she gets discouraged and then supported by the only policeman who actually gives a crap (and serves as a comic relief), she has to face barriers and obstacles to uncover the truth. In the end, even if she doesn’t really win (nobody does, seeing their faces), she gains the respect of her peers, and most importantly, her own.

So, are they worth reading/watching? Definitely. The Hate U Give brought me several times to tears. It’s very powerful, and I was staying late at night to finish it. It is also refreshing to see that it is full of humour despite the serious subject. Seven Seconds is also good. Being 10 episodes, it trails sometimes, mainly because of the mother-uncle’s ark, which tends to be sloppy, and some moments at the end when it goes over the top. But the series is so well played by Clare-Hope Ashitey, and even though it didn’t create the same effect than Angie Thomas’ novel, I still recommend it because it’s a really important story and it makes a lot of efforts to remain honest, especially by keeping the human side of all characters.

Empathy, empathy, why do you make me cry!

It looks like a movie review at first, but the real subject actually starts at the second paragraph.

If anyone had told me that I would have like The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I probably would have thrown a sarcastic comment and laughed. But I did like it. It’s not an awesome movie, and it is boring at times (especially the action scenes), but it is far better than the Vol. 1 in my opinion. Well, not every one thinks the same way of course, and every one looks for something different when watching a film, but while the first film was desperately trying to convince me that those pathetic losers could eventually get along and save the galaxy, the second one had a real topic and a real reason to make them fight together (and save the galaxy again). I liked that they tell us that the real family is the people who raised you and put up with your bullshit all along, not the stupid genetic relationship that doesn’t mean crap when you get abandoned. It’s a good conclusion and that convinced me that it was trying to tell something.

Aaaanyway, that was a small review, but now I wanna go into the real topic of the day: empathy. And you ask me, “what does it have to do with the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”? Well, because of this character:

mantis

Empathy is the capacity to recognise and feel emotions in other people. And that’s what Mantis does. When she touches someone, she instantly feels what the subject is feeling, whether she wants it or not. It’s important to note, because in my opinion, that’s the detail that made this character so great. She is the empathy that exists between the crew members, but that they don’t want to accept.

I felt it was so well thought and put onto images in such a beautiful way, that I could relate so much to that feeling. Empathy is something that is crippling if you lack it or have too much of it. If you lack empathy, you end up having a behaviour that is not adapted to living in a society, because, either you don’t recognise what people feel, or it doesn’t affect you. If you have too much empathy, you just end up living on a roller coaster of emotion. Usually, people don’t have the same level of empathy with every one. Some will feel strongly for their family or friend, and not care at all for strangers. But some just don’t have any boundary: everything comes in, whether you want it or not, and most often, you’d rather not.

You would think that you can never have too much empathy, but it becomes a problem when you feel bad even when people are wrong. For example, if someone is sad, even if you don’t have anything to do with it, you get sad too. I want to point out this fact because I feel it’s freaking important: you don’t just recognise the sadness, you actually feel sad. It’s depressive, really. Worse, if they’re angry at you, and you didn’t do anything wrong, you feel bad about it. And if someone is happy about something you did, but you didn’t do it (and you know it), you feel guilty. You feel like lying. There is no way to win. I never lie because of that. I can be a very convincing liar if I want to, but it’s just not emotionally worth it.

So what does one do to protect themselves against this phenomenon? Simply, they shield themselves. They try to avoid other people’s emotion by convincing themselves that they don’t feel them. I won’t go into it because I already explained it in this post.

I hate it when someone is angry at me even thought I haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes, they’ve done me wrong, and I still feel bad about them being angry at me. Sometimes, I just want to apologise for nothing just to let steam go and get back to an almost normal state of living. But it’s not fair. Why would someone who’s being a dick and angry at me get away with me actually apologising for it? I used to respond by being aggressive, but we all know it doesn’t work. It’s just making things worse. To be honest, so far, I haven’t found a better solution to the problem than avoiding the distressing people/stimuli altogether. If someone is pissing me off for no reason, I’ll just ignore them and try to focus on something else, because I don’t see why I should get all the trouble when I didn’t do anything wrong.

Now the movie doesn’t give any answer to that question, because it’s not the point of the film. It’s just trying to tell that they should stick together, and Mantis’ role in all this is to make them recognise that they have feelings for each other and that they’re not just a bunch of low-life criminals randomly put together anymore. But what it does is really well done, and I felt like it was worth mentioning because when I see reviews of this film, I only see people praising the entertainment and the action (seriously, action scenes in this film are pointless and boring, come on), and completely ignore the topic of the film and that kind of details. And that makes me somehow sad.

 

Good entertainment has something to say

I went to see Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle last week, and I might say, it was a very good surprise. I didn’t expect much, so it went beyond my expectations. First, it’s a good entertainment. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillian are two of my current favourite comedians and I don’t think a movie can really fail on the humour side if they’re attached to it. […]

I went to see Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle last week, and I might say, it was a very good surprise. I didn’t expect much, so it went beyond my expectations. First, it’s a good entertainment. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan are two of my current favourite comedians and I don’t think a movie can really fail on the humour side if they’re attached to it. The story is basic, but I think it’s a good thing in this case. Not overdoing it in the plot makes room for all the great thing they wanted to put in, and it’s packed of awesome ideas, that I will break down in this order:

Respect for the original material

I saw Jumanji, with Robin Williams, back when it was released in theatre in 1996. I was 13 and I had a blast. I then watched the VHS at home many times because it was so much fun. The story is simple and follows the rules of a board game, a hobby that was trending in the 60s, when Alan Parrish finds it. Above all the adventure and fun of the movie, it tells you that in the 90s, board games are quite a deprecated activity, and are seen more as a curiosity, even though they are so much fun to play together.

And that’s how Welcome To The Jungle starts. Now that board games are back in people’s home, the movie tells the story of another kind of game: video games and role-playing games. From video games, it makes fun of the clichés, and it denounces some tropes. From role-playing, it brings the whole concept of identity. We’ll come to that later. The thing is, in the 90s, role-playing was getting a lot of attention, especially since it was absurdly considered deviant by many people who saw role-players as cultists and mass murderers. Now tabletop role-playing has lost most of its appeal to actual RPG video games (1). And again, it’s about remembering how fun it was to get together and play a game that would take us to a different place, using the rules of RPG and video games.

Depiction of video games

And the movie is honest in that regard. Even if it drops a various genres (RPG, adventure, action) into the mix, it’s still trying to make it right: quests, NPCs, levels, bosses, abilities and even dice roles are used correctly and consistently throughout the movie. It’s also nice to see the clichés made fun of and the tropes being denounced. The writers obviously knew what they were talking about and it’s refreshing not to have to deal with stupid preconceptions.

Apparently there was an outcry when the first teasers were released, because Karen Gillan was only slightly covered when every other characters had jungle equipment. But it was actually the point to make people discuss it. It’s an obvious reference to the first Tomb Raider games (released in the 90s), in which Lara Croft is not ideally equipped for her combat archaeology, which was already criticised back then, but has been repeated so many times since then. It’s literally one of the first things Karen Gillian’s character complains about in the beginning. And you know what else is refreshing? Nobody makes dirty or borderline joke about it. And the only pee pee joke of the film is actually funny and not gross. So, it’s possible.

Strong case for self-identification

In my tweet, I talk about a woman trapped in a man’s body, but it’s not only that. Every character’s choice of in-game character has something to say about what they want (or don’t want) to be.

They all follow the same pattern. They are good at something, but lack the confidence in something else that they wish they had. For Spencer and Martha, they’re both very intelligent, but they want to be strong and social, so they choose bad-ass characters (Spencer’s character has literally no flaw). For Bethany and Fridge, they’re popular, but they want to succeed because of their skills, so they choose scientists. Bethany gets to be a man by mistake (2), but every other character calls her “she” despite what she looks like, even the 5th player who never met her in real life (3).

In the end, they realise that the image that we project to other people is only a shadow of who we really are, and that we can be whatever we want. It’s not telling a tale of over-achievement. All the goals set by the characters are in reach, whether it’s being satisfied of who she is for Bethany, or being able to live in his passion without feeling ridiculous for Spencer. I like how simple these goals are, and yet we have such a hard time to reach them, because we’re stuck in a very rigid society.

This is a family movie, but I feel that it would strongly appeal to a young audience who struggle to find themselves, and tell them that it’s alright to be who they are. We don’t have to follow a path set by obsolete societal rules.

(1) I feel like I need to point out that there are not many video games that allow several players to come play a story together. Most game are either solo or mass-multiplayer. The movie uses core role-playing concepts in a video game setting, so it’s a good mix of both.

(2) The game uses a confusion in the first name to make her a man, but when you play a RPG, since you don’t have to be physically the person you’re going to play, people often swap genders. The movie just wants to make it simple. We could say that she was assigned the wrong gender.

(3) Although he is confused at first, but that’s actually a good depiction of how people react when you tell them you’re transgender, and they didn’t make it as a joke. I appreciated it.

Note: I don’t why the tweet shows the previous tweet in conversation. I specify in the code that I only want one tweet and not the conversation. If someone knows the reason it happens and how to change it, I’d love to be made aware.

Case Study on stereotypes and how to deal with them: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Yesterday was Halloween, and since I had nothing planned, I decided to go watch a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

[…]

Yesterday was Halloween, and since I had nothing planned, I decided to go watch a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

So I asked a friend if she wanted to join, and she told me she didn’t like it and that it perpetuated harmful stereotypes about transgender and gender variant people. I had never seen the film before (yes, totally saw the film with a V stamped on my forehead), but looking at trailers and various images, I could see what she meant.

Why I decided to go anyway

First, I had already bought a ticket. Second, I like to get my own opinion of something before judging. And after some research online, it was pretty clear that nobody was taking this film seriously, so I was really curious, and went anyway.

So, how are the stereotypes?

Bad. They’re very, very bad. And it’s not just transgender, it’s everything. Every character is a bad stereotype who acts in a very stupid way. (1)

But?

But I don’t think it’s harmful.

See, there are a lot of movies throughout history where you can actually debate whether it’s alright to watch them. There are great films that show very harmful stereotypes, and you can definitely wonder if you could put them in context to decide if it’s still worth seeing, or if you consider that art and historical context doesn’t justify going through such things. I really think this matter needs to be taken into consideration case by case, and depends on your own feelings and the reasons why you want to watch these films. If you need an example, let’s say that in Blade Runner, Deckard sexually assaults another character. How do you think about that?

But RHPS is not such film. It’s a stupid 1975′ horror-SF-comedy musical that tried to capitalize on stereotypes, bad acting and terrible art choices (again, see note 1). 40 years later, it’s a curiosity that people love to make fun of. They even came up along the years with a very codified way to enjoy it, mixed with live performance and improvised audience participation. In the end, it’s not a screening, it’s a humiliation/execution for the enjoyment of the crowd (if you think about it, that’s even more disturbing). As I told my friend, in my opinion, it’s like the school bully who ends up being mocked by everyone. All its power has vanished by being ridiculed by the crowd. And in the end, that makes for a very enjoyable show. And it correlates with what I saw online before watching the film.

But you’re saying people who thinks it’s offensive are wrong.

Of course not. I just want to point out that the audience coming to see the show are not stupid enough to fall for these stereotypes. They don’t mention them? Well, it’s probably because they’ve seen it 20 times over, and they don’t feel like the need to go over this every single time. Quite frankly, I’m talking about that because it’s my first time watching it, but after a few time, I’ll be like “what, are we still on that?”

For me, it’s like Cards Against Humanity. If you know what kind of content may come out and if you feel like you may be offended, it’s probably safe not to watch it. But if you want to have some fun at the expense of a terrible film with a cheerful crowd, then don’t hesitate to give it a try. Just don’t watch it alone in your living room. That would totally suck.

And on a final note…

LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN!

 

(1) There are people who honestly think there is a real plot with social themes and that the movie is made stupid on purpose to be critical of other musicals. To me, it looks like people are trying too hard to justify why they enjoy it, but I guess it’s debatable. I’m just not really interested in that debate.