Samuel Dore: The Frustrations of being a Deaf Cinephile, Part 2 – Home Entertainment

Posted on February 27, 2015

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Samuel Dore

In my last article of The Frustrations of being a Deaf Cinephile series I wrote;

I want to watch any film I want to wherever I want to and whenever I want to.

For this article I’m writing about home entertainment, which includes VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray.

So the quote should resonate nicely, especially when I’m watching films in the comfort of my living room on our 40” Samsung Smart TV with an induction loop around the room so I hear only the TV via my hearing aids.

However, just like at the cinema, I have the same sort of problems – mainly to do with subtitles.

Nowadays, the standard and amount of subtitles for home entertainment formats have improved greatly, but there are still times when I am not able to enjoy films on the same level as my fellow Cinephiles, even at home.

As said before, I grew up in the 1980’s where we saw the VHS (Video Home System) explosion starting with the Betamax – which soon got phased out by the superior VHS.

My family had a Betamax player for so long even when everyone else had a VHS player. This meant I couldn’t get the better titles at my local video shop (in Westbury-On-Trym in suburban Bristol) and had to settle for inferior titles because of that blasted Betamax format that no one had.

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Just like at the cinema, VHS didn’t have subtitles but soon more and more videos would start to include Closed Captioning (CC), where you got a box to go on top of your VHS player and pressed a button to show the subtitles.

It was a milestone in my life as a Deaf film buff, but they weren’t always reliable and not every VHS had them.

So my collection would always have 50% CC and 50% with nothing (a smaller percentage of them were foreign films with burnt-in subtitles). That said, I was already happily content with watching films without subtitles thanks to years of watching films at the cinema without subtitles.

Then came the DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) revolution which meant the films were presented in better quality and in widescreen on 16:9 TVs.

As well as far more films being subtitled, DVDs meant we were getting to see films as they were meant to be seen (without the dreaded Pan and Scan or 4:3 cropping), as well as the wealth of extras that came with the film itself, which was a joy for film buffs and film makers like myself.

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We now have the wonderful Blu-Ray format showing films in pristine HD quality, this is where the quality of subtitles has increased more than DVD and I rarely find faults with subtitles when it comes to Blu-Ray.

Whenever a new film is coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray I go online to Amazon, Play.com and others to find out if they have subtitles but there is an alarming lack of information about whether they have subtitles or not.

I have to look at various retail websites until I find one that confirms it does, it may be a small task but it’s a bit of a hassle having to trawl through the internet.

I also find I don’t trust anything the websites say, so I either drop by the nearest HMV which is three tube stops away or ask friends to pop in FOPP during their lunch break to check for me. I used to have local HMVs and Blockbusters I could walk down the road to, and loved trawling through their slightly overpriced stock.

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Going back to the DVD format, it gave me a much wider range of films to watch but I would see blips in the subtitles that frustrated me, starting with how subtitles would not display spoken dialogue word-for-word which was quite common when DVDs first came out.

I can hear and lipread characters’ dialogue when the subtitles are shown but it was so easy to tell when the subtitles would sort of summarise what people were saying, or took words out to make it easy to read long lines of dialogue. This is standard practice, even with broadcasters.

But deaf viewers were only getting part of what characters were saying whilst everyone else could hear exactly what they were saying. I want to know exactly what they are saying, I love dialogue, dialogue is a huge part of cinema.

When they go as far as taking swear words out, that’s when it gets ridiculous, I can lipread the characters saying ‘f***’ and ‘s***’ yet the subtitles don’t show those words even when they clearly are swearing. Did the distributors not want to offend Deaf people yet leaving scenes of blood, gore, violence and sex untouched? Netflix notoriously did this a lot in it’s early days but thankfully don’t anymore.

There’s also how single words are taken out, completely putting the lines out of context. The one occasion I remember so well is the poor Region 2 DVD release of the masterful Boogie Nights that changed Reed Rothchild’s (John C. Reilly) hilarious line “Let’s get some of that Saturday night beaver.” to this;

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I’ve been a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan ever since I saw Boogie Nights at the cinema and religiously read Faber & Faber’s publication of the script so I was mortified the subtitles had dropped ‘night’ from the line – rendering the joke obsolete.

Thankfully this line was reinstated with the far superior Region 1 DVD followed soon by the excellent Blu-Ray release but it shows people who rely on subtitles wouldn’t get the joke whilst everyone else would laugh.

Another notorious example of poor subtitling is when DVDs and Blu-Rays don’t display subtitles whenever characters are singing, the recent example being Pitch Perfect where most of the film had singing and this came up in the very first few minutes of the film;

When I first saw this happen years ago I thought this was because distributors thought deaf people wouldn’t ‘get’ music.

There has been times when the subtitles didn’t even say what songs the characters were singing but this is actually because of copyright issues regarding showing song lyrics.

You have to get permission if you want to show lyrics on different platforms like print, this amazingly happens with film subtitles, where you are not allowed to show lyrics yet the characters in films are singing them.

Singing is part of the dialogue and people who rely on subtitles have their viewing experiences ruined by greedy and selfish people from the music industry.

Surely they should realise having subtitles means a few more people would buy the films their music appears in, even hearing people who use subtitles for karaoke sessions?

This is very common in films that use popular commercial songs whereas films like musicals that contain original music and lyrics created for the film are usually subtitled.

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As said before, the DVD and Blu-Ray format offers film fans the opportunity to find out how their favourite films were made with extras such as making-of documentaries, director, cast and crew commentaries, deleted scenes and so forth but, despite the main film being subtitled, not all extras are subtitled.

I do remember years ago whenever I watched a Sony Pictures / Columbia / TriStar DVD release, the extras’ subtitles would come in a range of languages other than English which was very thoughtful of them.

We do get the odd fully subtitled extras but this depending on what the film is, how popular it is and who the distributors are. It’s usually the major ones who subtitle a lot of their content whilst the small and independent distributors don’t.

The Selfish Giant a critically acclaimed British drama part-funded by Film4, who is part of Channel 4 who pride themselves on appealing to the diversity sector, didn’t provide subtitles for this film.

But to be fair this is down to Artificial Eye who released the film on DVD and Blu-Ray, they probably didn’t think a gritty, Newcastle-based drama wouldn’t be popular with Deaf and Hard of Hearing people as well as a lot of the many independent, off-beat and cult English-speaking films they distribute.

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Artificial Eye also released Lars Von Trier’s eagerly anticipated and excellent Nymphomaniac films on both DVD and Blu-Ray but with  no subtitles and around the time the brilliant indie gem Short Term 12 was released, by Verve Pictures who are a small distribution company, with no subtitles either.

There was Lowell Dean’s hilarious low budget indie Wolf Cop that came out with no subtitles and I tweeted Lowell who actually took the time to find out, with his colleagues, whether there’d be any other versions with subtitles and acknowledged there should have been subtitles available.

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This was a rarity; getting a response from a film maker let alone a production company or distributor about the lack of subtitles.

The major distributors I’ve tweeted have ignored me, they do not see subtitles as a priority even though they want as many people to watch their films as possible.

This lack of subtitles in films encourages people to illegally download films simply because they want to watch it like everyone else.

All the distributors need to realise is that by taking a little extra time and money to create subtitles for the DVD / Blu-Ray releases, the distributors would get to sell more of their stock.

It’s not only Deaf and Hard of Hearing people who rely on subtitles, there’s hearing people who use different languages or like to read or quote dialogue.

Film makers and distributors have moaned about the time and cost of creating subtitles, yet the public happily create subtitles in their own time and share online for free for people to watch with torrent files of films.

All the distributors or film makers need is the script they used during filming and just copy, paste and tweak lines of dialogue then create subtitle files that can be used in whatever format they like and for the extras they can simply hire transcribers or even do the subtitles themselves. I’ve subtitled my films, it’s easy and I know this means more people will get to watch my films.

Quite simply, a film is meant to entertain and engage a wide audience as possible but this is futile if people can’t watch it.

 

Samuel Dore is a London-based freelance film maker who directed Chasing Cotton Clouds (2009) and Supersonic (2014) amongst many short films and working in all areas of the media as well as being a graphic designer and a self-confessed geek with a love for film, comics, toys and trainers. His work can be seen here: www.bursteardrum.net 

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