Fighting talk on the soundtrack: Spain's dubbing actors are on strike, writes Phil Davison in Madrid

'HASTA la vista, baby,' was probably the easiest line the Spanish actor Ernesto Aura ever got to dub into his own language. There wasn't a whole lot to wrestle with. By the time he uttered the famous line from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator, Mr Aura's voice had long become the one Spaniards expected to hear from Schwarzenegger's screen lips.

Spaniards are among the world's leading filmgoers. They love foreign films but detest subtitles. Subtitled foreign films have often flopped. The fact that Spaniards prefer them dubbed is largely due to the quality of the dubbing actors' profession here, going back almost as far as 'talkies' themselves.

Tonight, when Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero has its Spanish premiere in Madrid, the audience will be quick to note that the man they knew as the Terminator has undergone a considerable vocal transition. The star of the Last Action Hero will not have Aura's rugged tone but a Galician accent, from Spain's north-west. It's a bit like giving, say, a Glaswegian Rab C Nesbitt accent to Alec Guiness in Star Wars.

The heart of the matter is a three-month-old strike by most of Spain's dubbing actors from the two traditional unions based in Madrid and Barcelona. The 1,200 film and television dubbers from the two unions, including the voices of Schwarzenegger, Lt Colombo, Benny Hill and the Monty Python team, stopped work on 24 May to protest increasing moves by Spanish film impresarios and television stations to dub their products 'on the cheap' in the provinces, sometimes even abroad.

They complain that inexperienced actors, mostly from Galicia, the Basque Country, Valencia and Andalucia, are dubbing films and television shows for 40 per cent less than nationally agreed union rates, and producing poor quality voiceovers. The impresarios and television stations blame the economic crisis, saying they have to seek the cheapest labour.

The striking dubbers will distribute leaflets explaining their protest outside the Callao cinema before tonight's Schwarzenegger premiere. They say it took them decades of negotiations to reach current rates and that provincial dubbers should not undercut them.

As for moviegoers and television buffs, they are confused. They are faced with a barrage of new voices and accents from old lips. The provincial dubbers, though with perfectly good Spanish, are often lacking in the art of matching words to lips.

Actors' unions from around the world recognise the art of the dubbers and have sent messages of support to the strikers. A letter from Equity's general-secretary, Ian McGarry, promised to try to 'prevent the sale of British television programmes to broadcasters in Spain for the duration of your dispute'.

Sir Richard Attenborough, perhaps concerned that he might come out in Spain sounding like an Andalucian flamenco singer with a Maurice Chevalier accent, sent a message of support to the strikers after hearing of efforts to dub Jurassic Park on the cheap in Paris, using non-professional Spanish residents.

The French actors' union has said it is trying to block the move. Spanish filmgoers are unlikely to see a dubbed version of the film by its originally scheduled Spanish premiere date in early October.

The Spanish voice of Lt Colombo, Jesus Nieto, 66, demonstrated how he imitates Peter Falk's gestures while reading his part. 'You have a Spanish translation, but it's usually twice as long as the English. The art is in condensing it to fit the time Colombo opens his mouth. You've got to breathe when he breathes,' Mr Nieto, said, adopting the gruff twangy Spanish he uses to match Falk's voice. 'The only thing I don't bother with is the dirty raincoat. And I don't have a glass eye.'

With 40 years' experience, Mr Nieto recalls the Franco years, when the dubbers were strongly censored. 'There was a film, I think called Mogambo, where Grace Kelly fell in love with Clark Gable. That was too racy for the censors, who insisted they be brother and sister in the Spanish version. In the end, the Spanish script didn't make the slightest bit of sense.'

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