What’s in a Title?–How American Movies are Renamed (or Not) Abroad

April 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

"Flight" in Tokyo/Hope Anderson Productions

“Flight” in Tokyo/Hope Anderson Productions

I first noticed American movies released with drastically changed titles when I was in Paris in 1994. [Apologies in advance for the missing accent marks in this post.] The film in question was a 1993 Bruce Willis vehicle called “Striking Distance”–admittedly not the easiest title to translate–whose French title was “Piege en Eaux Troubles.” Why “Plight on Troubled Waters” was presumed a better title, I have no idea. But over the years I’ve noticed that the French almost always retitle American films, even when the original is perfectly translatable. Last year, “The Life of Pi” became “L’Odysee de Pi” in France, while Canada chose “L’histoire de Pi.” (The Canadian version of “Striking Distance,” by the way, was “Sur le Traces de l’Enemies,” proving Quebec a worthy rival to France, translation-wise.)

Surpassing the French and Quebequois for title changes are Spanish-speaking countries. The ever-morphing “Striking Distance” became “Persecucion Mortal” in Spain and “Zona de Impacto” in Argentina. As for “The Life of Pi,” while Spain, unusually, translated it literally, as “La Vida de Pi,” Argentina went with “Una Aventura Extraordinaria,” thus becoming the only country in the world to drop the Pi.

Lately Argentina seems to have emerged as the worldwide champion of creative renaming, according to this list that a friend sent me last Christmas:


While I don’t have a problem with “The Girl of the Savage South,” translating “Zero Dark Thirty” as “The Darkest Night” seems a bit much. After all, the title doesn’t mean anything in English to those who haven’t served in the military, so why not “Zero Oscuro Treinta”? As for “Parental Guidance” and “Quartet,” “apuros”–trouble–is so reductive that seeing the films seems beside the point. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in whatever Buenos Aires office handles this work; no doubt the translators think their titles are an improvement on the originals, though they’re not.

Happily, there’s one country that almost never changes a title: Japan. On my recent trip there, I was amused to see “Flight” rendered in katakana as “Furaito,” even though there is a perfectly good Japanese word for it (hishou). But the Japanese use “furaito” more than hishou; not for nothing do they publish an annual dictionary of “new words,” many of which are foreign-derived. Unlike the French, the Japanese have no fear of language corruption, welcoming foreign words into their language full tilt. Thus “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Life of Pi” were released with their original titles, like almost every American movie in Japan. But even the Japanese have their limits: for “Striking Distance” they used the U.S. working title, “Three Rivers.”

Peter the Hermit in Studio City, 1950s

April 23, 2013 § 5 Comments

Peter the Hermit with Thareen and Mimi/Courtesy Stewart Edward Allen

Peter the Hermit with Thareen and Mimi/Courtesy Stewart Edward Allen

From Stewart Edward Allen comes this photo of his two grandmothers with their friend Peter the Hermit. It’s the first color photo I’ve seen of Peter, and comes with this description:

I had two very eccentric grandmothers by the names of Thareen Auroraa and Mimi Reed.
They were terrific women who worked in Burlesque and “Showbiz” for many years.
They lived on Reklaw Drive from 1946 until their deaths in 2005.
They knew Peter the Hermit.
They loved him. They told stories of how we would come and visit them and sit in their home and say “This place has good vibrations.”
They said he would hang out. They would have something to eat with him. Knowing my grandmothers I am sure they had
a little drink or two too.

Peter certainly got around. Readers of this blog will know that he was widely photographed throughout his life in Los Angeles, and that his image turns up in all kinds of unexpected places. Coincidentally, just today I was shown another photo of Peter–an unusual cyanotype portrait done in the 20s by a well-known Hollywood photographer. I hope I’ll be permitted to show it in the future.

The Millennium Hollywood Project’s Historical Precedent: M. H. Sherman, the Water Board and the Development of the San Fernando Valley

April 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

M. H. Sherman (center) and the Board of DWP/Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

M. H. Sherman (center) and the Board of DWP/Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

The most striking thing about the Millennium Hollywood Project is not the height of the towers or its sprawling size, but a tidbit that was revealed during a hearing on March 28th, almost as an aside. It seems the head of the Los Angeles Planning Commission, architect William Roschen (of the firm Roschen Van Cleef Architects), is also the project architect for Millennium Hollywood. He recused himself from the meeting–but not, oddly, from his dual role in the creation of Millennium Hollywood.

As it happens, there is a precedent for this circumstance in Los Angeles’ civic history. While doing research for my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign, I learned that one of Hollywoodland’s key developers, Gen. M. H. Sherman, was buying up huge tracts of agricultural land for development in the San Fernando Valley during the same period–the late teens and early 20s. At that point, Sherman–for whom Sherman Way and Sherman Oaks are named–was also serving as Water Commissioner on the board of DWP, thereby controlling the commodity that was essential to the Valley’s transformation. Conflict of interest? Of course! But no one suggested he recuse himself from civic office, and we all know what happened to the farms and orchards that once filled the Valley. By wearing two hats, Sherman enriched both himself and his legacy as a City Father.

Until now, I thought such shenanigans were a thing of the past, yet here we see William Roschen about to benefit from the very project he is in the process of approving. Conflict of interest? You might think so, but at City Hall it’s only business as usual–just as it was a century ago.

Related article: https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/the-millennium-hollywood-project-a-highrise-future-for-a-gridlocked-little-town/

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