Alan Ball, Laurence Andries, Scott Buck, Rick Cleveland, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Nancy Oliver, Kate Robin, Jill Soloway, Christian Taylor, Christian Williams, Elroy Willis, Craig Wright
The Greenblatt, Janollari Studios, Actual Size, Inc., Hbo Original Programming
Luca Intoppa, Antonella Damigelli
Sound technician mixer:
transmitted in Italy by:
Italia 1 e Fox
Michael C. Hall
The American television series Six Feet Under, which, through alternating luck, has only recently reached the Italian screen and deals with the events of a family of funeral directors, Fisher and Sons, is an original mix of comedy and drama, suspended in black humor to which the Italian public is perhaps unaccustomed. Apart from death, other themes dealt with in the series and for the most part alien to Italian television are homosexuality, explicit sexuality of the characters, the use of drugs and also the less than hidden references to incest. Given the themes and the chronic false modesty of our television broadcasting system, it’s not surprising that the series has been relegated to the Italian national broadcasting late-night viewing channels which euphemistically could be defined as irregular.
What astonishes more than anything else are the choices made during the adaptation phase of the product for the Italian public. If, from an interpretive point of view - as far as the dubbing is concerned - there aren’t any big inadequacies and the Italian version is rather similar to the original, the linguistic dialogue transposition from English to Italian hits you due to an insufficient adhesion to a few key characteristics of the series. Principally, one notes how, perhaps for reasons imposed by censorship, the use of coarse language is noticeably reduced in the Italian version, as well as the emotional impact of some scenes which contain elements of potential upset. Together, these contribute to a sweetening of elements, such as the particular sense of humor of the series and the disrespect of the dialogues and the situations which risk, at the very best, to be unnoticed by the Italian public. At the worst, the Italian spectator assists a rather different version to that available to the English speaking spectator.
To better illustrate such observations, some examples taken from the pilot episode of the series (“Pilot - Fisher and Sons”, 2001), will be commented upon, with particular attention to the Italian rendering of the humoristic element present in the initial audiovisual text.
As far as the translation aspects are concerned, as mentioned before, one of the most obvious elements of the Italian adaptation is the omission for the most part of the coarse language used by the characters. This tendency is obvious throughout the pilot episode and although in many cases this choice does not have direct consequences, in others this compromises the (re)creation of that contrast between dialogue and situation which is the source of humor in the original English text. Two examples will perhaps better clarify this point. In the first, David Fisher presides over the course of events of a funeral vigil at the family firm. As usual, the body of the deceased lies in the open coffin so that family, relatives and friends can give their final farewell to the deceased. An elderly man, perhaps the lady’s husband, compliments David for the excellent job done in making the deceased lady’s face look so serene to go on to comment “if there’s any justice in the universe, she’s shoveling shit in hell” (“se c’è giustizia nell’universo, starà spalando merda giù all’inferno”). The Italian dialogue substitutes the coarse language with the word “sterco” (excrement), definitely creating less of an impact.
In another scene of the pilot episode, Federico, the embalmer who works with the Fishers, boasts about his job, enthusiastically showing, to a perplexed Nate, photos of disfigured bodies and their successive restructuring. Commenting on the decision to cremate such well reconstructed bodies, Federico exclaims “what a fucking waste!” (“che cazzo di spreco! ”), whose Italian version equivalent, “tanto lavoro buttato al vento” (a lot of work for nothing) reveals an objective insufficiency. This, apart from being a clear omission on the translation point of view, on the characterization point of view doesn’t convey Federico’s disrespectful behavior with regards to his job, a behavior which will cause him, in another occasion, diligent David’s reproach.
Another aspect in which there is a distinct net difference between the English version and the Italian dubbed one is in a certain sweetening (dressing down) of the strong themes of the series, first of all, that of death. In particular, the pilot episode contains four advertisement slots for funereal products, a luxurious hearse, a liquid for the embalming, a cream to fill in wounds and an earth dispenser to use during funerals. The adverts, obviously invented, reassume a typical characteristic of the series, which often looks at death with disrespectful, if not downright macabre, scenes and dialogues,. Such an attitude is not always wholly mirrored in the Italian version. For example, in the advert for “Living Splendor embalming fluid”, the direct reference to liquid for embalming is omitted, leaving the spectator asking himself exactly what sort of funeral product it is. In another scene still with a humoristic undertone, in which Ruth expresses a negative comment on homosexuals, the reference is totally omitted in Italian. The choice, in appearance irrelevant, is in fact significant, if you consider that Ruth is talking with her son David, an undeclared homosexual for whom it will be particularly difficult to open up with his mother.
In general, therefore, it seems plausible to affirm that the translation choices of the linguistic adaptation of Six Feet Under are not particularly effective in rendering some of the characteristics which distinguish the series in its original language, with particular reference to maintaining that unusual balance between comedy and drama which is the fortune of the film. Nevertheless, it would be unjust not to mention some examples in which the Italian adaptation goes close in giving an effective rendering of the humoristic contents of the pilot episode. Paradoxically, it’s a game of words, notoriously one of the most difficult elements for translators. The slogan in the last advert which publicizes a dispenser of earth announces “Franklin Funeral Supplies: we put the fun back in funeral”, which more or less means “riportiamo il divertimento (fun) nei funerali (funeral)”. In the obvious impossibility to repropose the exact paronomasia, the dubbed version resolves it with “non avrai più quella faccia da funerale”, (you won’t have that funeral face/expression any more) which has the merit, on the one side, of having proposed a translation attempt which adheres to the original text and on the other to have maintained the word game in the same semantic area of the English version. As is obvious from literature on dubbing and on multimedia translation in general, the attempt to recreate examples of paronomasia of the initial language is not an element to be underestimated. To support this observation, it’s useful to point out that the subtitled version of the episode taken into consideration, also available on DVD, renounces totally to the reproduction of the word game (“we put the fun back in funeral” / “per un funerale in allegria!”).
Finally, as already mentioned above, the interpretative part of the Italian adaptation does not present any particular false notes. The tones of voices, both principal and surrounding, seem to be respected, just as the characters to whom the voices belong. In particular, well reproduced are the tones, sometimes moaning, of Ruth (Renata Biserni), and the ironic lilts of the deceased Nathaniel Fisher (Emilio Cappuccio). The only flaw is perhaps the slightly too light tone of voice used for David, who, in Italian, has a noticeably softer voice than the actor Michael C. Hall. Perhaps motivated by the attempt to lighten a too deep tone of voice for the homosexual stereotype, this last choice does not however negatively influence the enjoyment of dubbing otherwise well done.
[original review in Italian by Chiara Bucaria]