Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lost in Translation: Subtitles VS. Dubbing

Being a reader, someone who is enthusiastic about reading and who prefers reading books over watching movies but still enjoys watching movies from time to time, I've found that of all the films I watch, I especially enjoy watching foreign language films with English subtitles, probably because it's a blend of watching and reading.

Of course, you can always look at subtitles while listening to a language that you understand. For instance, watching an English language film while reading English subtitles. But to me it is not the same, and I usually see no point in doing so. I enjoy the mystery of not understanding what is said while listening, but being able to understand while reading and watching and feeling. Reading subtitles to a film that you otherwise would not understand, makes you much more engaged with it than perhaps you'd be while reading something that you already understand verbally, where you are reading more carefully, seeing how it integrates with the unfamiliar speech, sounds, and movement on the screen, of which you'd perhaps otherwise be lost. This makes it interesting, where my senses are on high alert, where on the one hand I'm reading and understanding what is said, but at the same time it is very different from what I am used to. That is what I like about foreign language films.

I'm an American who unfortunately, despite taking classes years ago in both Spanish and French, am only fluent in one language, English, and even that is somewhat debatable, as I must have been sleepwalking through my English grammar lessons, as I'm still pretty much lost about how to properly punctuate a sentence.

Well anyway, despite my language handicap, as I said before, I prefer books to movies, but I do watch my fair share of films on DVD, which are all from the public library. This is just something I started doing over the past year, when I discovered that the public library had a really great selection of films. I never spend a single penny on them, neither own nor rent DVDs, other than the cost of electricity and operating equipment, which being a supreme tightwad, just doesn't seem worth it. If I couldn't watch the DVDs for free, I probably wouldn't watch any at all, or only very rarely. And other than that, I hardly watch any television at all. I've found most of it to be crap anyway, even the premium channels don't seem worth it anymore, and any decent Showtime or HBO series can be found on DVD, so no reason at all to subscribe to the channels, it's just a waste of time and money, in my opinion.

I just started watching a film tonight called The Girl Who Played With Fire, which is based on the follow-up novel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after seeing the Swedish language film first, instead of reading the book before seeing the movie, as I usually prefer to do, and I liked the movie better. Can't say whether my opinion of it would have differed had I read the book first, but it does seem to be the case that seeing a movie adaptation of a book does have some influence on the way you view the story, sometimes forever altering your perception of it, and often, but not always, in a negative way. Personally I prefer to keep the two formats separate. Meaning, that a great movie or book stands alone in its greatness, that if I love the movie, there is no reason to read the book; and if I love the book, there is no reason to watch the movie. That you basically need to take your pick, choose one, if you love it, stick with it, otherwise, if not, you got nothing to lose. Of course, not that I will always stick to that rule, but just that I have found that in hindsight, in most cases, it is preferable; as combining the two, watching a movie version of a book I loved, more often than not leads to disappointment, and forever alters my relationship to the book, where as I'm reading it, I can't get the goddamn movie out of my mind.

Anyway, the whole point of this post (yes there is a point beyond my rambling) was to comment on an observation I made tonight while watching, for the first time, the Swedish film The Girl Who Played With Fire. Like I said, I haven't finished watching it yet, and in fact the DVD is paused right now as I write this, but one thing I noticed in this particular DVD version, is that there are two viewing options: you can watch the original Swedish language movie with English subtitles, or you can watch it dubbed in English. Just for curiosity I decided to view the dubbed version, and although I only watched about twenty minutes of it, it was crap, felt like some low budget movie with bad actors, and on top of that, whose dubbed spoken English dialogue did not match the English subtitles. I quickly went back to the Swedish language version, and it is much more enjoyable, not only to watch, but also to hear. Seemed much better quality, and much more natural, where the voices more closely matched the emotional expression of its characters.

Something very important is lost when a film is dubbed into a different language; it is much better to translate it into written subtitles, while preserving the original spoken language. Even if something is still lost in translation, from, for instance, spoken Swedish to written English, it at least preserves the emotional authenticity of the film, matching feelings and physical mannerisms with words. Where what you see, still matches what you hear and feel and understand.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vegetarianism and Self-Discipline

I think one of the worst lifestyle modifications I've made over the past year was to start eating meat again, especially red meat, mostly in the form of hamburgers, tacos, and submarine sandwiches, after abstaining and being primarily vegetarian for over five years. Though during my vegetarian days, despite being vegetarian most days of the week, I've never been vegan, or even completely vegetarian, because I still had fish at least once a month, at most twice a week, usually salmon or cod, always wild caught, never farmed; which is an important distinction.

Farmed fish is generally of a lower grade, more likely contaminated, pumped up with antibiotics, artificial chemicals, and is best avoided. Which is not to say that fish couldn't be farmed in a much healthier manner, but just that it generally isn't. Fish farms are like factory farms for fishes, and you know how that is right, it's all about maximizing production at all costs, quantity over quality. Wild caught fish is much better. However, much of the sea life has been contaminated, not to mention over-fished, and some wild caught fish are healthier than others, and some, due to the heavy concentration of toxic chemicals in the fish, are actually quite dangerous to your health. I've heard that these particular types of fish, wild caught Alaskan salmon and cod, as well as sardines, have low levels of mercury contamination, something that is a major threat to many other varieties of fish, especially tuna, which I think is probably the worst; which is a shame, because I've always loved tuna, and now I cannot have it very often because of it.

Well anyway, while there are differing opinions of what constitutes a healthy diet, where some say that eating meat, depending on the quality of the source -- type of meat, cooking method, portion size, as well as what other foods are consumed with the meat, such as the amount of vegetables, type of bread, etc. -- is not at all at odds with healthy living, which may be just as healthy as a vegetarian diet. In other words, just as some fish are healthier to eat than others, certain types and cuts of meat are healthier to eat than others.

But I'm not disputing the fact that being a meat eater may be a perfectly healthy choice for some people, what I'm saying is that I have found that for myself personally, being a vegetarian (but one who sometimes eats fish) is good for me, not just nutritionally, but even more importantly it's good for me psychologically. I see a correlation between being a vegetarian, living simply, and being more mentally disciplined. This may not be true for everyone, but it appears to be true for myself. When I eat meat, my entire worldview is altered, I feel differently, lazier, more arrogant, less patient. Again, this may not necessarily be anything endemic to the meat itself, but is my own personal response to it. When I'm vegetarian, and making a conscious effort to stick to a simple, healthy and well balanced vegetarian diet, which means not just cutting out meat, but also staying away from refined flours and sweets, it's like I'm aspiring to nobility, am refining myself, both my body and mind, but when I eat meat, it's like a drunk falling off the wagon, or like somebody on a diet trying to lose weight, while eating a whole cake...it affects everything. You start slipping, lowering your standards, until you have no standards left to lose.

So, much of it is psychological, in that it's not necessarily that eating meat is always unhealthy, but that for me vegetarianism carries a strong association in my mind with clean, self-disciplined, healthy living. Being a vegetarian also requires that you become better educated about your food choices, to assure that you are getting a well balanced diet. Because it's not just a matter of not eating meat, but about making healthy food choices that do not include meat, that still supply adequate amounts of protein. Meat has a very heavy, rich flavor, very filling, satiating, almost intoxicating, it's like a drug, where the more you eat it, the more you need to eat it. Vegetarian dishes tend to be lighter, more about nutrition than indulgence, and feel less like a pig fest, you know, less gluttonous. Which is not to say that vegetarian dishes cannot be delicious, because they can be very good, but like I said, it is lighter, mainly I guess because they are usually much lower in fat, it is less satiating. Your taste buds become more sensitive, you learn to appreciate the simple flavors and natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables, requiring less sugar and fat to enjoy the meal. In fact, I think you could call meat a gateway drug for refined sweets. The more meat you eat, the more fat, salt, and sugar you crave in your diet.

The point of this post is just to say that I had been vegetarian for a few years, went back to eating meat for awhile, am not happy with the results, have noticed a change in my level of discipline and overall outlook on life, and think that I would be better off completely cutting out the meat again, and going back to a mostly vegetarian diet, with the exception of occasionally having fish.

Questions to think about:

How does the absence or presence of meat in one's diet affect consciousness?

Do meat eaters and vegetarians think differently from one another?

How do the different foods we eat influence the shaping of personality and character, intelligence and beliefs?

What is the connection between food and mood, diet and cognition?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pilgrimage as Purification

"The more difficult the journey, the greater the depth of purification."

This is an old Tibetan saying recorded by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer in his WWII era travel memoir Seven Years in Tibet. I read the book a few years ago, and it stands out in my mind as being one of my all time favorite adventure travel books.

I bring it up because a couple nights ago I watched the movie adaptation, starring Brad Pitt, which is not nearly as good as the book, but being a fan of mountaineering movies in general and anything to do with Tibet, it was worth watching again for that reason alone. Well, this was the second time I saw the film, the first time was shortly after its theatrical debut back in the late '90s. So it had been awhile, was almost like seeing it for the first time. And like I said, while I enjoyed the book version very much, the movie version, though it has some merit, is not really anything special, but on this second viewing one line stood out to me that I found thought provoking enough to write it down in my journal and share it with you here.

"The more difficult the journey, the greater the depth of purification."

I thought that was an interesting line. It was in reference to the fact that the Tibetan people as a whole, both peasant and priest, were culturally orientated toward going on regular pilgrimages. It was believed that the act of pilgrimage, walking long distances over difficult terrain to visit sacred sites, while enduring numerous obstacles along the way, would help cleanse one's sins. That the more difficult the journey, the more rewarding that journey would be. So it was like an act of atonement, a way of finding forgiveness and consolation and strength in moving forward, helping one to discard, however large or small, the bonds of guilt and grief and discontent accumulated from past misdeeds and mistakes.

Though I suppose that's true of all pilgrimages, not just Tibetan, about it being an act of purification; that regardless of which spiritual or religious point of view one is aligned with, a pilgrimage is fundamentally about seeking clarity through the purification of negative thoughts.

Kind of reminded me of the Catholic concept of purgatory, that intermediary stage between death and resurrection, except that the pilgrimage is a sort of a purgatory one experiences while still alive. You could say that it's a way of dying, without dying, to be reborn again in this life; where pilgrimage provides a means of purification along the journey to enlightenment.

As a hiker, who also considers myself to be a spiritually minded person, what I find exceptionally interesting about pilgrimage, is that not only does it involve travel and adversity as a means of purification, but that walking in particular is considered an essential component of it. And I think that is not simply because of the fact that walking is more challenging, particularly because it is slower, and a greater hardship if you must carry your own gear, but that it is also because of the very specific state of mind that walking tends to inspire.

For instance, walking is more humbling, because you are more vulnerable, being momentarily homeless, living out of a bag, perhaps sleeping outside, and at the mercy of the hospitality of strangers. But another reason is that walking is essentially a moving meditation, which helps to ground you to the immediacy of the ever changing landscape of the moment; where there is struggle, but also exceptional clarity and mindfulness which makes it all the more conducive to the task of mental and spiritual purification.