Funkytown is the long-awaited cinematic voyage through the recent history of Montreal disco. You can easily determine the density of heterosexualism of male critics by the degree to which they either hated it or picked nits, especially about the dramatic elements that are actually necessary to make the story work.

I attended a superexclusive public “screening” with a mere six others and enjoyed it rather a lot. Douglás “Coco” Léopold’s unique admixture of English and French was not well evoked, but that’s because nobody has talked like him before or since. His dialect died with him.

In a post–Mad Men mediascape, everyone is attuned to this bilingual picture’s period accuracy.

  • Chargex card? ✔

  • Contempra phones? ✔

  • Smoked-glass tumblers? ✔

But the tail end of Volkswagen Vanagon was visible in one shot, as was a 21st-century water fountain. And many of the film’s disco hits were cover versions, though usually very convincing ones.

How ’bout the type?

Poorly done, as it turns out. Memo to Daniel Roby and Steve Galluccio: Vulgar Helvetica knockoff Arial did not exist in 1978, and under no circumstances would it have appeared on the side of the marquee of (Le) Starlight. (I’d send the same memo to the production designer if I could figure out who that was – Jean Bécotte?)

Next, shall we discuss failed subtitling? First of all, it too is in Arial, with neutral quotation marks, not enough lead, invariant bottom-centre positioning, and random italicizations. As we know already, grotesk typefaces do not work for subtitling, Arial least of all.

Arial subtitle on film, with italics

Much worse was the affliction that has beset Montreal for decades: The delusion that francophones can speak English just smashingly, but no anglophone can really speak French. (Try speaking English-accented French to any store clerk and see how far you get.) Francophones believe that mastery of their gloriously complex tongue – as Richler put it, “the language of Molière (also of Allô Police)” – makes the debased gobbledygook that is English a piece of cake.

Not so fast. As ever, Francophones cannot hear inflected word endings and have no idea at all how to write nonverbal utterances.

  • Huh… okay.

    It’s actually uh.

  • He told you that, hum?

    Nobody is humming a tune. It’s hmm.

  • Your club, uh?

    It’s huh.

Plus various straight-up typos (“I love to Love,” “One hour' wait in line” – hour', not hour’).

Roxanne Deslongchamps is listed as subtitle supervisor for the English version. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and speculate she isn’t a native speaker of English. That would make her unqualified for the job if true.

DVD and television versions of Funkytown will face a vexing problem, one that was completely muffed on Bon Cop, Bad Cop.

  • No fucking Arial anywhere.

  • We need a version that subtitles English into French, another version that subtitles French into English, and a captioned version that simply renders all utterances. (No all-bottom-centre fake captions.) Unless you’re willing to fiddle with CC1 vs. CC3, none of this can be done using Line 21 on DVD; it all has to happen with subpictures. (Again: No fucking Arial anywhere.)

  • For TV, it gets even trickier, because you need versions with open English and French subtitles and closed Line 21 French and English captions, respectively. Then we need French-dominant and English-dominant audio-described versions.

This is much too complicated for the Quebec “subtitling” industry to handle; it cannot even distinguish subtitling from captioning because their very language makes it impossible. Technicolor, Deschamps’ listed employer, will certainly be in over its head in this regard. Captions, Inc. in L.A. can do it, but Remstar and Maple won’t want to put up the money – a few measly thousand. Besides, captioning and subtitling the glorious Québécois tongue in the United States would be an even graver insult than sending it out of the country to Canada.

Galluccio is somewhat tired of Quebec separatists’ complaints about the language mixture in his picture. Even if one accepts the language mix as a problem (I don’t), it’s too late to be fixed. It isn’t too late to fix these problems. I want Funkytown’s languages written down, translated, and typeset correctly. All it takes is willingness, a slightly larger budget, and a tamping down of one’s anger that I dared to point any of this out.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2011.03.15 15:09. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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