Found in Translation

My friend Ole Jorgensen has recently released a video “My Life as Inventor, Designer and Explorer”, the latest in the series of videos about his life. Ten years ago, Ole and I did a project together, the Russian Film Music DVD. My part of the job was the English subtitles. Dreaming of literary research in my young years, I ended up working on more down-to-earth things like financial services. I am a good reader, though, and I love talking about literature. Today, I lead groups for the learners of English, including one on translations of classical literature. The project with Ole, as I see it today, helped me to connect the two professional domains, international business development and language studies.

 What a wonderful, wonderful film

Ole has finally made a series of videos about his life. For many years his friends would say: “Write a book!” – and he would wave us off. “Using the film language,” he says, “I am saying exactly what I want, leaving no room for interpretation.”

Here come the films: in black-and-white and in colour, plenty of music, and Ole’s voice.

All the recordings had been made by Ole in the 1990s. The latest film was released on June 9th, 2023.

Beautiful places

Ole has always lived in exceptionally beautiful places. He also creates beauty inside and outside his home.

Èze-sur-Mer, France:

Porto Ottiolu, Sardinia:

Heaver Castle, Kent, the UK, 80th birthday celebration:

The beauty of creative work

In 2014, Ole decided to supplement his Russian Film Music recordings from the 1990s with clips from the films for which the pieces had been written – by D.Shostakovich, S.Prokofiev, A.Petrov, I.Schwartz, V.Gavrilin, Y.Doga…

I found, and brought from Moscow, those films unavailable on the internet.

The English subtitles had to match the articulation of the actors speaking in Russian.

For Sherlock Holmes or Prince Hamlet, we looked for the corresponding lines in Conan Doyle and Shakespeare. It was difficult as the film scripts did not always follow the original texts.

In The Gadfly, Gemma, having received the news of Arthur’s death, looks at his photograph and recites something familiar. William Blake’s poem “The Fly”, of course!

Lost and Found in translation

In translation, some things inevitably get lost. What is challenging to translate gets stuck at an invisible border. Sometimes translation from Russian into Russian is required when different generations are in the group. It is like travelling in time. Where was Vorovskogo Street? Is Sverdlovsk and Yekaterinburg the same? Why do participants born in the 1970s laugh at mentioning “4 roubles 12 kopeks”? Price of a bottle of cognac? You mean, the price was always the same, in every store?.. Socialist economy, planned economy?

I walk along the imaginary border between languages and generations, looking at things that got stuck at the borderline, thinking about shades of meaning slipping away. Are they worth talking about? What should I share with non-Russian speakers? What will not land?

More gaps to bridge

Reading, in English, Sergei Dovlatov’s short stories, we (our reading group) note that the translators chose to leave out, for example, the mention of Lefty (from “The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea”, by Nikolai Leskov, 1881), or they decide not to mention Pushkin’s poem “Poltava.”

The Lefty (“Levsha”) and Poltava do not ring a bell for English-speaking readers, do they?

To someone like me, on the contrary – “Levsha” reminds me of the bitter fate of talent in Russia, and “Poltava” – is about another war in Ukraine. “But time went on, and Moscow waited//Hour after hour, in vain, for guests, //Preparing funeral feasts for them// Amid old adversaries’ graves.// But Charles suddenly turned south,//To redirect the war to Ukraine.”

In the translation of the story “Winter Hat”, a reference to Bella Akhmadullina is omitted. It is a pity. Some poetic lines by Akhmadullina are familiar to several generations of Russian-speaking audiences – a song based on her poem is sung in ‘The Irony of Fate’, a Soviet film of enduring popularity.

Ole put together an excellent video, editing a few moments of “The Irony of Fate” so that a viewer unfamiliar with Russia could get an idea of the charming film. Unfortunately, some anonymous (robotic?) copyright watchdogs tend to block Ole’s recordings of Mikael Tariverdiev’s music and, in general, all footage related to Tariverdiev.

Therefore, the video is unavailable, but the following photos show how meticulously Ole matched the singing and the English subtitles.  The text of the translation was found on the Internet. A big Thank You to an anonymous translator!



About our Reading groups, I sometimes write on Facebook and Instagram

In the Telegram channel, I place articles we read and discuss in Business English groups

Ole’s YouTube channels – on film music, 50+ clips, Bel Air Film Music,  plus this one, with his other videos:  Bel Air Music OJ.