Censorship and resistance in the audiovisual translation of the European movies in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union
Conference name
Media for All 8
The AVT of the Western movies from capitalist countries underwent a strict censoring and translation process in the Soviet Union, being granted a permission to be shown in cinemas after a thorough selection procedure. Censorship usually included visual and verbal cuts and rearrangements of ideologically questionable scenes and expressions. On the basis of the Russian dubbed versions foreign films were subtitled into respective languages of different the Soviet Republics. As the subtitles were always entirely based on Russian dubbed versions and as subtitlers were not granted access to the original audiovisual material, it can be claimed that all Western film production was entirely censored in the Soviet Union and its republics.

Nevertheless, it was not only the vertical power enforcement from the state apparatus that contributed to censorship. Firstly, the nature of the AVT is, due to time and space restrictions, prone to all kinds of shifts in meaning - including compression, modification and deletion. Secondly, in the Foucauldian sense, censorship is a semiotic process acted through the relationships between various censorial agents, among them also translators, who internalized the prevailing ideologically influenced translation norms by developing a co-called self-censoring habitus.

The translators were supposed to practice “free translation”, a style that was prevalent during the Cold War and which embodied the socialist realism values, i.e. the translated text had to “mediate the reality depicted by the text” and help and clarify where the reality was not so clear by using textual manipulations to enhance socio-realistic “truthfulness”. This could entail minor omissions of unnecessary details of the source text that were not sufficiently progressive or useful (Kashkin 1968: 451).

But there were also several instances of resistance to censorship by the translators. Firstly, the translators were often puritans and fought against russification by keeping their native language intact from Russian influence. But that was not all: In the Soviet Union, movies were shown on three screens, being official cinemas (always dubbed into Russian or subtitled into local language in the Soviet Republics, like the case of Estonia), film festivals and cinema weeks with Russian subtitles or dubbing, and last but not least cinema clubs, the latter showing in Estonia to the local intelligentsia uncensored foreign movies in original language in closed sessions, where the translations were performed live and simultaneously with the movie by a translator who maybe even saw the film for the first time. Those cinema clubs soon gained a wide popularity as means of seeing uncensored Western cinema of high quality.

One good example of the AVT censorship and resistance in post-Stalinist Estonia is the film of Bernardo Bertolucci The Conformist(1970), distributed in the Soviet Union cinemas and cinema clubs six years after its production between 1976–1983. While this coloured movie was initially 111 minutes long, it was shown first time in 1976 in St Petersburg’s cinema “Gorkii” in a black and white version which was cut down to a more than 30 minutes shorter version.

Submitted by Irene Tor on Fri, 05/07/2019 - 09:21