Polish Speaking Part?
June 23, 2009 8:28 PM   Subscribe

I was told that foreign films that entered Poland during Communist times were dubbed into Polish but all of the voice work for both genders was acted out by one man. Is this true?
posted by parmanparman to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting. I heard the same thing about China.

(and weird, considering most Chinese people don't speak Polish...)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:58 PM on June 23, 2009

My girlfriend is Bulgarian and has vivid memories of American films dubbed into Bulgarian by having one man (occasionally two) speaking over the audio track. There were three men in total doing this, so their voices were quite recognizable. One was apparently very emphatic and would do different voices, and hence much liked (she remembers his rendition of Beverly Hills Cop particularly well). Another was famously monotonous, even in climactic scenes.
posted by limon at 9:15 PM on June 23, 2009

I heard the exact same story as well from both Polish and Czech people so I am curious.
posted by Horatius at 9:20 PM on June 23, 2009

When I watched foreign (American) movies in Romania they were often dubbed. On TV there were multiple people (fewer than the actual number of characters) doing the voices, but I definitely went to movie theaters where there was bascally one or two people (guys) who were in the theater just reading the script in Romanian over the American language version of the film which had the sound turned down a bit. Not exactly what you asked, but maybe relevant.
posted by jessamyn at 9:24 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's still done to this day. The voice actors are called lektors. For example.
posted by transient at 9:24 PM on June 23, 2009

Yes, it's true. The Polish dubbed versions of the Muppet Show were especially weak - the guy tended to make all of the characters sound like Statler and Waldorf.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:25 PM on June 23, 2009

Very true! I saw a movie with Kevin Costner and Renee Russo with one male reading all of the lines in a voice-over, completely monotone. It was absolutely hilarious. If you put on the tv, you had the same voice on multiple channels -- there was one particular voice actor who was VERY prolific.

Interestingly, the one area where you get good voice-overs is children's shows (at least some). Tiny Toon Adventures had completely appropriate voice-overs, male and female, and they even did the theme song in Polish.
posted by davidnc at 10:00 PM on June 23, 2009

When I was in Azerbaijan, many of the Mexican soap operas they watched were voiced by a handful of very monotonous people speaking over the Spanish-language track. It happened to some American films as well.
posted by wandering steve at 10:27 PM on June 23, 2009

Interesting. I heard the same thing about China.
Watching older foreign films here they use a number of actors for the dubbing and this (Chinese) blog post seems to confirm that's how it was done at the time in a potted history (though apparently the earliest films were done up in the northeast using kit liberated from the Japanese army so the accents were earthy and regional). The post also has an unedited clip from a Cultural Revolution era dub of a Soviet film - there's two actors in the clip itself and the cast list lists around thirty actors in all voicing the film, counting minor roles.
posted by Abiezer at 10:45 PM on June 23, 2009

Not Poland, but I saw Alien done this way in Leningrad. It really took something away from the experience.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:59 PM on June 23, 2009

Yup, echoing others who say it's still true today. When I was in Krakow 3 years ago, I watched a perplexing Polish dub of Heavenly Creatures on the hotel TV with a monotone middle-aged male voice reading the part of everyone, including the teenaged Kate Winslet.

And it works the other way round too. At the Krakow Film Festival (which is why I was there in the first place), the Polish films with no English subtitles were simultaneously translated for all of us English-only attendees--we received headphones and a woman sat off to the side of the theatre and did live English translation for us. It was impressive! (I still prefer subtitles though.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:22 AM on June 24, 2009

In Latvia it appears there are three levels of investment in the movie or program: Lone male actor doing all the voices; lona male actor doing male voices and lone female actor doing female voices; and a full cast with an actor for each role. This last scenario is often encountered in animation movies, for some reason.
posted by Harald74 at 1:59 AM on June 24, 2009

It's not dubbed, it's voice-overed. A small yet important distinction. Dubbing replaces the original soundtrack with a new one, including voices and sound effects. Characters from well known roles often get the same actor for all their dubbing, and some actors in Germany (where dubbing is god) have achieved fame for their roles. On the other hand, a lektor doing a VO will read all roles in a monotone voice along with any text that's shown on screen. It's dubbing's cheap cousin - you don't have to replace sound effects.

So... Yes, it's quite true, and it's quite popular. Poles, in general, dislike dubbing, and the only place you'll find it is in children's movies and shows. VOs are restricted mostly to TV and VHS, and as an audiotrack option on some DVDs - the exception being cheap DVDs that are supplied with magazines, they'll often be restricted to only the VO audio track. Most movies in the cinema will have subtitles.
posted by jedrek at 2:12 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jedrek, unsurprisingly, is right.

The key fact is that voice-over is preferred to dubbing by many, even most Poles. You may find lektors 'weak', 'monotonous', 'perplexing' or 'hilarious', but Poles (who know a bit about cinema) prefer to be able to hear the original soundtrack with all its nuances to a bolted-on dub, usually recorded without any reference to the original filmakers. Dubbing is considered only suitable for children's films and television. Subtitles are popular in the cinema for the same reason.

See also Gavrilov.

Quick story - a Polish friend of mine was once at a theatre festival in, I think, Toruń. She was sitting chatting in a pub with some friends when one of them suddenly blurted out "I can't hear you - where is that stupid television?" They looked around, but couldn't see the offending box and finally realised that at the next table one of the best-known lektors was sitting talking with his friends.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:27 AM on June 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

The GF actually did live voice translations for Spanish language films in Russia back in the days. She recalled funny moments when she did a transliteration of an unknown phrase which created a bizarre change of meaning.
posted by JJ86 at 5:37 AM on June 24, 2009

Yes, I experienced this in Krackow in 2005. Most memorable was True Lies and a slight detail, as jedrek notes it's voiced-over and usually you hear just a bit of the original actor clearly which fades out slightly when the lektor (love that jargon!) comes on, but you can usually hear the original under him.
posted by Rash at 9:30 AM on June 24, 2009

> It's not dubbed, it's voice-overed.

Sorry, yes, jedrek is right. I used the wrong term to describe the movie I saw on Polish TV; it was not dubbed, but rather voiced over--there was no attempt to match the mouth movements and the English-speaking actor was very faintly audible still (though not understandable).

[Actually I preferred the voicing-over to true dubbing, which annoys the hell out of me. The reason I favour subtitles is because I like to hear the inflections in the original actors' voices, but that's just a personal preference.]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:38 AM on June 24, 2009

Why would they do something like this? Was the machine that produced subtitles really expensive or something?

Does anyone actually prefer dubbing to subtitles?

Also -- and this is totally an aside -- a couple years back I saw a movie where the subtitle text was white with black outlining. I thought this was a great idea, because sometimes subtitles can be hard to read when placed against a whitish background. Why doesn't everybody do this?
posted by Afroblanco at 9:59 PM on June 24, 2009

Does anyone actually prefer dubbing to subtitles?

My understanding is there's no sub-titles but always dubbing in Germany because the words would be too big for the screen. And there's a well-known prejudice by Hollywood about releasing films with subtitles, no box office because "Americans won't go to sub-titled movies."

Was the machine that produced subtitles really expensive or something?

Well of course there's two machines, and the more difficult one isn't very good yet (just watch the news with those titles on). One "machine" actually inscribes the words onto the film (and I've always been a little curious about that technology, which has improved greatly over my lifetime) and the other "machine" would be the person(s) who translate the original dialog.
posted by Rash at 5:45 PM on June 25, 2009

Why would they do something like this? Was the machine that produced subtitles really expensive or something?

Does anyone actually prefer dubbing to subtitles?

As noted above, this isn't dubbing, it's voice-overs.

People prefer voice-overs to subtitles in the environment Jedrek describes above - TV. In the cinema you're concentrating on the film and so reading subtitles is natural and indeed that's what you get in Polish cinemas. However, many people watch TV in a distracted manner, in between cooking and cleaning and chatting, so the ability to follow roughly what's going on without having to be watching the screen all the time is more useful. In that environment, voice-overs make more sense than subtitles.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:43 AM on June 27, 2009

With voice-overs you also reach a group of people that was quite large in post-war Poland, especially in rural areas: the illiterate.
posted by jedrek at 2:14 AM on June 29, 2009

Good point, and it's not just about people who are illiterate, but also those who are slow readers or don't want to wear their reading glasses while the TV is on etc.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:18 PM on June 29, 2009

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