Alexander Sedov (alek_morse) wrote,
Alexander Sedov

Translating Problems of Eng subs to Russian Sherlock Holmes series/ Как переводить нашего "Холмса"

На днях с ldhenson завязалась у нас интересная беседа о казусах, парадоксах и особенностях перевода английских субтитров к отечественному сериалу о Шерлоке Холмсе. Я подумал, что неплохо бы мои реплики слегка причесать, сделать из них выжимку и разместить в блоге - а потом всегда можно будет дать на них ссылку :) Текст на английском... Изначально разговор происходил тут - 
(кстати, рекомендую всем любопытствующим взглянуть на то, какие замечательные сувенирные кулоны ldhenson  сделала в эстетике нашего фильма о Холмсе).

Recently I have a very interesting discussionwith ldhenson regarding the translating of English subtitles (and titles) in Russian Sherlock Holmes series produced by LenFilm studio (1979-1986). I thought that it would be apropos catching my replies to have always a summary at hand.

Vitaly Solomin is coming in a role of Dr. Watson 

Some Translating Problems of English subtitles to Russian Sherlock Holmes series
review: Alexander Sedov (c) June of 2010

As for English subtitles to LenFilm studio Sherlock Holmes series (1979-1986), I suppose there are two extreme ways to translating:

- to translate as closer to Canon (Doyle's replies). And I have to say that the series go very close to ACD texts, anyway, to Russian classic literary translations. So, a subtitles' translator just copies many lines from English editions.

- to translate as more closer to Russian lines (script), because everyone knows Conan Doyle's texts, but a foreign viewer is curious to know some differences using in the Russian film (may say, "Russian exotica"). Plus there are some literary-linguistic nuances that differ from English Canon.

For example, in one of the first translation version, a viewer could read the "motley ribbon" instead "speckled band". The matter is that in the stories, Conan Doyle plays on linguistic peculiarity of a word "band" - it has two meanings. Russian language has not such equivalent, so first film translator does radically - absolutely deletes even a hint on second meaning ("band" as a group, command), because of neither Russian literary translations, nor the Russian film doesn't use this meaning. Just "band" as a ribbon. Helen Stoner says that her sister, perhaps, saw a ribbon on some Gypsy person.

Indeed, in these series, there are lines added by scenario writers, but not Conan Doyle. Instance, when the gentlemen (Holmes and Watson) "swear". I have to say that here both Russian and English language have some different norms.

In the first film, Sherlock Holmes says "чепуха" - English subtitles give a word "crap" that, as I meaning by Western audience's reaction, is not totally the same. On Russian hearing, Russian "чепуха" is quite appropriate expression for a scientist of 19th century.

Why would not it be translated as "nonsense"? Indeed, word "nonsense" is formally closer to an image of Sherlock Holmes that we see. Nevertheless, a Russian word "чепуха" has a flavour of something common people that, indeed, gives an interesting contrast with intellectual Sherlock Holmes.

As for the lines that come straight from classic Russian literary translations of the ACD's stories. Here are not (maybe, almost, on my taste) any stylistic changes - only arisen transformation because of "there-and-back" linguistic translations.

As for added lines by the script writers, here is usually little noticed example:

Sherlock Holmes says that the stairs to Baker-Street sitting-room has 10 (ten) steps, but not 17 (seventeenth) ones as Conan Doyle wrote. I think, because of the set construction in the film.


Btw, just now I have noticed a little inaccuracy in the same version of English subtitles. I read (scene is from "Знакомство"/The Acquaintance too) :

What is it you're eating there,
Omelette! I hate omelette.
Put it aside and get dressed!

However, Holmes says word-to-word not "Omelette! I hate omelette". Actually he says: "Омлет! Какая мерзость" that it is translated as - "Omelette! How disgusting".

 Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes: "Omlette? How disgusting"


As for some intentional textual changes or errors, I can say about a couple, at least:

The first is post-production censor correction in episode "Знакомство"(The Acquaintance): initially, as Conan Doyle wrote, Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson:

"I see that you have been in Afghanistan recently".

Because, the film had own TV premiere in March of 1980 - i.e. a three months after first Soviet Army units have arrived in Afghan, - the Soviet TV bosses "recommended" to change a country name with an euphemism "Восточные колонии" (the Eastern Colonies) and/or «Восток» (the East).

From this time, an official TV/DVD release has "the Eastern Colonies" instead of "Afghanistan". Several viewers' generations are watching with such lines.

However, there was one curios exception - the film was showed with initial / original lines on local Leningrad TV network even during Soviet times. Perhaps, because of a "local patriotism" - the LenFilm studio that produced Sherlock Holmes series is located in Leningrad (now St-Petersburg). Or, maybe, because of that Soviet Central Television was located in Moscow, but the original copy was just kept in Leningrad.

By the way, here you can see the clip that a word "Afghanistan" is kept in.

The another case is a changing of name of "Aurora" boat in episode "Agra Treasures" based on The Sign of Four.

In this case, the filmmakers themselves changed a word on script-writing stage yet. The matter is the film shooting was on Neva River (in Leningrad / Petersburg). But here still in October of 1917, the cruiser named "Aurora" (!) shot several times towards The Winter Palace, where the government located. Such The October Revolution has begun... Anyway, it was official Revolution mythology.

Just imagine what anecdote could have been!

Thus, a boat name "Aurora" was changed with "Diana".

I would compare this case with re-naming of Jules Verne's novel "The Children of Captain Grant" with "In Search of the Castaways" in US translation version, because of a coincidence with name of US President Grant, as I know.


Yet there is example of change of titles.

As is known, the Russian Sherlock Holmes series (as a rule) have differed titles than original stories. Indeed, these cases are obvious, so I'd like to notice on the specific "there-and-back" translate changes.

For example, episode "Король шантажа" based on "Charles Augustus Milverton" story. "Король шантажа" is literally translated as "King of Blackmail". However, Conan Doyle named a villain Milverton as "Master Blackmailer". So, it is just change that arrived during translation from English into Russian. I don't know why literal translator did "Король шантажа" as Milverton's nickname. In Russian, Milverton could be also "мастер-шантажист" that it's absolute calque from English without any language or stylistic problems. Perhaps, because of personal taste, preference by a translator.

Because, this TV episode could be named as "King of Blackmail", as "Master Blackmailer" (btw, this title was used by British Granada's Sherlock Holmes series later).


By the way, I recommend reading the article written by film director Igor Maslennikov in 1985 - here is said about ideas and concepts that each episode based on (translated by me).

By the way, here is an interesting case of pronouncing of name Dr. Watson in LenFilm Holmes series. In modern classic Russian translations of ACD stories, "Watson" is translated (and pronounced) as "Уотсон" (Uotson). In the series, his name is sounded as "Ватсон" (Vhatson) in old fashion manner.

These series became so highly popular in USSR and Russia, that all viewers (and the readers), as a rule, now say just "Ватсон" (Vhatson). In fact, old literary-stylistic standard came back in life speech. Indeed, the classic translations kept "Уотсон" (Uotson) until, but, for example, John Dickson Carr & Adrian Conan Doyle's stories are translated with "Ватсон" (Vhatson).




Taking an opportunity, I'd like to visit you read still a few posts in my LJ. Film "The Adventures of Prince Florizel" (based on Robert L. Stevenson's stories) was produced by LenFilm studio in that 1979 like the first episodes of Sherlock Holmes series. Very close stylistics (not identical, but very family in Victorian spirit and play).

here is the tag of Florizel theme in my Live Journal:

Oleg Dal as Prince Florizel, LenFilm studio, 1979
here is YouTube's segments:

1. -- beginning

-- the only segment with English subtitles (close to a final)

Unfortunately, until now I cannot find this film with English subtitles wholly (and available in Internet).

If you come across "Adventures of Prince Florizel" with Eng.subs, I highly recommend taking it, as Russian Sherlock Holmes series :)



NB! -- it's fan site of Russian Sherlock Holmes series. I highly recommend it; though, it is on Russian language mostly.


This site has several pages in English:


cпасибо сайту  за "вне-фильмовую" фотографию

Tags: movie, review, russian sherlock holmes, scenario, sherlock holmes

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