Arrivederci, Signor De Niro

Italians hate subtitles. So in Italy, the dubber is king. Anne Hanley reports

Italians, as a rule, are not big readers. Especially when the pesky text interferes with less demanding visual and aural pleasures. So, when the nation's 1,000-odd dubbers, responsible for translating 95 per cent of foreign films and almost all imported TV shows, went on strike for two months this summer, audiences feared that those pleasures were under threat.

As the strike dragged on, cans containing original-language copies of the autumn's blockbusters gathered dust on distributors' shelves. Stocks of dubbed versions of the nation's favourite soaps were dwindling fast. During the couple of days in September when dubbed instalments of TV favourites ran out, there was a curiosity-fuelled surge in viewing figures for undubbed soap operas. But no one was under any illusion that the fad would last.

In the event, viewer loyalty wasn't put to the test. No sooner had the stockpile been exhausted than the dubber army called off its strike and began recording crucial voice-overs at double-quick time. The Bold and the Beautiful resumed in bold and beautiful middle-Italian diction; Baywatch lifeguards took to the surf in the same. Meanwhile, in cinemas, the problem was solved by simply postponing opening dates to allow time to work through the backlog.

It would be an exaggeration to say that no Italian can stand subtitles. But not much. In France, sophisticated urban audiences would never dream of opting for the dubbed copies showing in the sticks. In Italy, versione originale is shunned by intellectual and bumpkin alike. The explanation is partly sociological (Italians favour the spoken over the written) and partly historical, with a dose of market forces.

Before the Second World War, the Fascist regime ensured that the few foreign films which made it across the border were dubbed, in order to exclude subversive sentiments. When US productions began to trickle into the country after 1945, it was by means of an alliance between captains of Italian merchant ships and out-of-work actors. US distributors tried to counter the semi-illicit spread of their products; but the results, hastily dubbed by Italian-Americans, were laughed out of cinemas by audiences.

Over the last 50 years, the visceral hatred of subtitles has created a $50m-a-year dubbing industry, staffed by professionals who view their trade as a mission: a re-interpretation of the Holy Word, maintaining - if not surpassing - the standard of the original. Luca Ward dubs Samuel L Jackson's film personae into Italian, and proudly recalled his first meeting with the American actor: "He said to me, 'I've seen my movies in Italian, and it certainly wasn't you who dubbed them. No way was that a white voice I heard.' "

"Our aim," explained Ward, "is to produce something that the directors and the actors whose voices we replace would be proud of. We are very specialised actors in our own right." It was to defend their unique expertise, he claimed, that Italy's voices fell silent over the summer, striking to obtain guarantees that the dubbing industry and distributors would not respond to an influx of foreign productions by demanding quicker, cheaper dubbing.

That, at least, is the dubber's side of the story. "Excellence?" said one exasperated spokesperson from an Italian distributor. "All they wanted was more money on top of the ridiculous fees they charge already." But, according to the voices, the cost of dubbing is nothing when you take into account the viewer loyalty which hinges on their work.

Luca Ward's grandfather was the voice of Jerry Lewis for a generation of Italians who would shudder at the real actor's squeaky tones. Robert De Niro is synonymous with dubber Ferruccio Amendola, as is Woody Allen with actor Oreste Lionello. Ward is also recognisable as both Pierce Brosnan and Hugh Grant. He is worried that, with tougher competition in the dubbing world, his roles may slip from his grasp, with dire consequences for audiences.

"The distributors simply don't pay enough to allow dubbing companies to worry overmuch about their choice of voice any more," he complained. "And this inevitably damages the relationship not only between audiences and us, but also between audiences and the actor whose voice we are dubbing."

The summer's strike brought a promise from dubbing companies and distributors to hammer out the first ever category-wide contract. The strike may also, however, have had the undesired side-effect of making audiences feel that a haphazardly dubbed copy, no matter whose voices it features, is a small price to pay to avoid the dreaded subtitle.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower