Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Lost in Non-Translation?

Analysing Film Voices From a Position of Linguistic Incompetence

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2016), 10, (2), 189–206.

Abstract

This article identifies a widespread ‘deaf spot’ in English-language criticism of the foreign-language film, namely the lack of attention given to the foreign-language voice. It points to the key driver behind this omission: an anxiety about the ability of the critic to capture sound through writing that is exacerbated when that sound carries language beyond the critic’s comprehension. The article proposes a style of criticism that acknowledges the limitations caused by linguistic incompetence, but that also finds a ‘way in’ to the vocal soundtrack through attention to certain non-semantic qualities of voice. This interpretative practice is tested through an analysis of the vocal soundtrack of Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997), which is followed by a critical reflection on the relevance of this reading strategy to wider debates about foreign spectatorship, world cinema, and the role of subjectivity within film criticism.

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Author details

Garwood, Ian