TALES FROM THE TOWER OF BABEL
MULTI-LINGUAL FILM-MAKING IN EUROPE IN THE EARLY 1930s
With the arrival of talking pictures in the late 1920s, film industries in Europe and America faced a new dilemma. Silent films had spread easily round the world, needing only the simple exchange of one title card for another in a different language to be fitted for foreign export. But how could companies hold onto their foreign markets once characters in their films started talking? Primitive soundtrack dubbing was tried, also subtitling, but the method that took hold, if briefly, was multi-lingual production, with the same film issued in different language versions. Britain set the ball rolling in the summer of 1929 with Atlantic, made in English and German. Greta Garbo in Hollywood made her talkie debut in English and German versions of Anna Christie. Marlene Dietrich, in The Blue Angel, did the same at Ufa’s Neubabelsberg studio outside Berlin. Neubabelsberg was the world’s bastion of multi-lingual production in the early 1930s, with troops of actors, German, English and French, following each other onto the same sets in numerous musical comedies and dramas, including the popular Congress Dances and the futuristic spectacle F.P.1.
Film historian and music critic Geoff Brown will examine the joys and headaches of multi-lingual filming and cross-cultural exchange, with the emphasis on Britain’s participation in Ufa’s output during the turbulent last months of the Weimar Republic, just before Hitler came to power in 1933. The technical problems, the culture clashes, the political ramifications, the drama of an elderly British character actor found on the pavement bleeding from his head: all will be revealed in a presentation combining film clips, images, and documentary evidence.
Please, feel free to join us!
Europe House, 32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU