Lost In Translation, or, Why 'The Hangover' Can't Just Be 'The Hangover'

Thanks to translation, the cult '60s British show The Avengers is known to French viewers as Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir, literally "bowler hat and leather boots", a title which could be misconstrued for a show about bondage tips and foot fetish.

I love using IMDb. Whenever I'm done watching a movie, or sometimes even during the movie itself, I like to check out information on the actors, especially the trivia section. However, IMDb has recently become much more difficult for me to use due to the introduction of an automatic geolocation feature, which translates the titles of the shows and films directly into the language of the country where the user is based.

For example, if I'm looking through Ed Helms's filmography, as I live in France I will find titles which were understandably translated into French to make more sense for French speakers. La Nuit au Musée 2 is thus substituted for Night At the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and Evan Almighty becomes Evan Tout-Puissant. However, don't think that in France all titles are automatically translated into French. French people may not be famous for their ability to speak English well, but distributors sometimes rightly assume that Frenchies will be able to understand an English title. Hence, going back to Ed Helms's filmography, I will also find The Office or American Dad, but I will not find Family Guy, a show whose title was changed to Les Griffin ("The Griffins"), even though one could reasonably expect even the least fluent Frenchie to understand the meaning of the words "family" and "guy".

What's more surprising is that some titles seem to be inexplicably changed to a completely different English-language title. Ed Helms's IMDb page does not, therefore, feature The Hangover, but another film rather surprisingly entitled Very Bad Trip! I understand that most people here in France would not know what the English word, "hangover", exactly refers to (even though they have already experienced lots of them), but then I don't think that many French people would definitely know what a "trip" is, either.

So why do movie distributors decide to translate a movie title or to leave it in English, or change it to another English title altogether? Perhaps a more interesting question would be, Who gets to choose between those options? I have not been able to find the answer to that one, although it's probably safe to assume that no linguist is involved. The only explanation I could find was a rationale behind the choices prompting movie studios to change a title or not. There are, it appears, six options when an English-language film or TV show is to be released on the French market:

1. Leaving the title in English and hoping that French people will understand. This can be quite an efficient choice, and seems to be a no-brainer in the case of big franchises. Thus, The Matrix did not become La Matrice (Thankfully!) but was slightly altered to Matrix, which prevents the mass phonetic crime that would have been millions of French nerds, unable to master the pronunciation of "the", talking about "Ze Matrix". A quick look at recent releases seems to show that this may be the most common approach, as the French box-office currently features The Hunger Games, and not Les Jeux de la Faim. However, this is not necessarily the way that distributors chose to go in the past decades, as there was a tendency to translate titles, even literally.

2. Using a literal translation was quite common in the past, and is still used today, in many cases. A very famous example is Star Wars, which was notably altered to La Guerre des Etoiles, even though the latter literally means "the stars' war". Call me a nit-picker, but I think that does make a significant difference, actually. Likewise, Pirates of the Caribbean became Pirates des Caraïbes, even though the original title seems transparent enough. It makes more sense to resort to a literal translation when the title contains a more obscure word, such as La Colère des Titans (Wrath of the Titans), or even Harry Potter et les Reliques de la Mort – the Deathly Hallows being quite a cryptic phrase, even for some native English speakers.

3. Adapting a cultural reference. This was notably done for several TV shows, including the number 1 program on French TV, and subject of a future column, CSI. This acronym would mean nothing to many French speakers and expanding it to its full form to translate it would probably make the show a lot less appealing (Crime Scene Investigation = Enquête sur le Lieu du Crime?) . Distributors thus decided to translate the title to Les Experts, which is as vague as anything else. Interestingly enough, NCIS, another very successful show here in France, was not translated and remains NCIS, even though no-one here has the faintest idea what that acronym might mean.

4. Clarifying a title with a geographical reference is an option which seems to have been heavily favored for soap operas and TV shows in the '80s and '90s. Knots Landing thus became Côte Ouest, which explains why for many French people, the phrase "West Coast" is more likely to evoke memories of a glittery soap opera rather than hip-hop music. Once again, the lack of transparent words in the title is what may have inspired the adaptation.

Some titles may have been even more enigmatic to French viewers and required more explanation. An obscure reference to a postcode, like, say, 90210, was clarified for French viewers as a simple yet efficient Beverly Hills, and, more recently, The O.C. was adapted to Newport Beach, which most viewers would still fail to identify as a Californian location and interpret it as a show about surfing and yachting, which is only very marginally true.

Even more unfathomable is the choice to translate Law and Order as New York: Police Judiciaire, which sounds extremely cold and administrative, but then again, French people love administration. Here, the reference to New York is probably meant to add a little glamour and a picturesque aspect. I can't help thinking that literally translating the title to La Loi et l'Ordre would have made for a far more compelling statement.

5. Severing a cultural reference through translation is another approach that has been used for several TV shows since the '60s, possibly leading to very different meanings and possible misunderstandings or even letdowns for the viewers as to the content of the show. Hence, cult '60s British show The Avengers is known to French viewers as Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir, literally "bowler hat and leather boots", a title which could be misconstrued for a show about bondage tips and foot fetish, which, again, the show hardly deals with.

Likewise, but perhaps less dramatically, '70s British series The Persuaders! was unaccountably adapted as Amicalement Vôtre – literally "sincerely yours". More recently, Two and a Half Men was not left as such or even translated literally, perhaps for fear that some viewers may expect to watch a show about vertically-challenged people, and is therefore known around these parts as Mon Oncle Charlie (My Uncle Charlie), which is a lot less mysterious but also a lot less appealing.

6. Creating a different English title (but why?) is the final option, and the reason that prompted me to write this article. It seems to me that this can only be a possibility when the original title is too difficult to translate literally, and when the distributors insist on leaving the title in English to make it more colorful. In general, the newly-crafted English title relies on extremely simple words to make sure that most French people would not be lost in translation (or lack thereof). Hence, in recent years, Analyze This was released in France as Mafia Blues, which may successfully encapsulate the premise of a movie about a gangster's psychological issues.

More recently, Youth in Revolt, featuring Michael Cera and his evil, seductive doppelgänger, simply became Be Bad (which sounds atrocious, if you ask me). And Reese Witherspoon's latest release, This Means War, was released under the name Target. The latter remains quite an intriguing choice because the word "target" is both far from common for French speakers and quite remote from the movie's tagline. In fact, the creation of a wholly new English title may just as well be a marketing trick, not necessarily to offer a more readily understandable title, but mostly to entice viewers into watching the movie by alluding to sexual content.

Since the late '90s, there has indeed been a streak of such titles, as Wild Things became Sex Crimes, Cruel Intentions was known as Sex Intentions and Not Another Teen Movie was turned into Sex Academy. Unsurprisingly, all of these films ended up being quite successful among French teenagers (present company included) back then. Such an approach can therefore lead to pretty peculiar reinventions of a film's content or meaning.

All this goes to show that there is no logic in titling foreign films or TV shows: some distributors will not bother translating and others dumb down a title to make it 'more accessible' to a French audience. This classification still leaves several questions unanswered. Why was Hunger Games not translated, unlike Pirates des Caraïbes? Why wasn't The Hangover released here as La Gueule de Bois (yes, that's "the wooden face", in case you were wondering)?

When it comes to translating titles, I think there are more questions than answers. It seems to me that occasionally, in trying to remove a cultural reference related to American or British cultures in a title, the translator (or whoever decided to alter the title) is in a way trying to eradicate the reference to an American cultural icon altogether, in a way resembling what some Americans did with so-called "freedom fries": the point was to get rid of all references to France. Sometimes, the translation of the title completely changes the meaning, or at the very least, changes the expectations that a viewer may have before seeing the movie.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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