Could the greatest invention in the history of film be the subtitle?
I’m only kind of kidding. Where would we be without this wondrous tool, which has allowed those of us (including me) lacking fluency in various languages to enjoy works by Bergman, Kurosawa, Eisenstein, et al., without the burden of dubbing?
But that’s not its only benefit. Remember the time—not so long ago—when it seemed like all of the characters in movies set in countries outside the U.S. spoke accented English? Sometimes it appeared as if the accents didn’t need to be authentic … just unplaceably exotic.
We’ve evolved greatly since then, with subtitles informing a host of popular films—including those taking place in galaxies far, far away. That’s a positive step, though it doesn’t negate the continued bizarreness of time passing long enough in just a few scenes for any given protagonist to learn a native tongue quicker than a linguist devours alphabets.
I guess we’ll still have to take some things for granted. The language of the cinema almost makes me expect time to pass with a wipe in real life … or maybe with an iris. That it doesn’t isn’t disappointing; I just chalk it up to movie magic. Like I do the great subtitle—the silver screen’s own Babel fish—which has translated innumerable tongues for us, and in doing so, has improved the world. The folks behind this sadly unheralded art should be thanked.
We’d all be listening to forced, ambiguous accents without them.