Dubtitling, is a term that was originally popularized by anime fans and refers to the intentional replacement or dubbing of the audio track of an existing video with new and decidedly different commentary with the goal of creating a completely new meaning or narrative to the original content. It can also be found in written subtitles that change the meaning and message of the intact audio portion of a film or television program through misleading text translations.
The badlipreader (BLR) with over 2 million YouTube subscribers and 220 million viewers has redefined lip reading into a serious art form and most certainly has advanced this playful genre in completely amazing ways. With so many BLR videos to choose, its hard to single out just one or two, but you need to experience LA FWAY the full BLR version of Beyoncé's live performance at the 2013 Obama Inauguration which is simply EPIC! And if you're a fan, The Walking (And Talking) Dead" — A Bad Lip Reading of The Walking Dead will make you feel alive again.
Another perfect example is Martin Scorsese’s 1980 movie Raging Bull, pillaged for such dialogue as Robert De Niro’s line, “Did you fuck my wife?” which was married to video footage from The Flintstones, SpongeBob SquarePants, and other unexpected performers acting out the scene.
The 1966 comedy What’s Up, Tiger Lily? was Woody Allen's debut as a film director. Allen’s work plundered the Japanese spy film Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi (English translation: International Secret Police: Key of Keys) and dubbed it with new substituted dialogue that had nothing to do whatsoever with the original plot. By creating new narratives reordering the existing footage, and adding new dialogue, Allen completely transformed the narrative of the film from a James Bond–style spy drama into a slapstick comedy about the search for the world’s best egg-salad recipe.
Replacing a foreign movie’s audio track to produce new (and typically comedic) meaning has been used in such television shows as Kung Faux and MXC and such movies as Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D, which was a film also famous for having the longest title in movie history. I’d love to see how Netflix crams that title into its handy pop-up synopsis box.
Another dubtitle pioneer was Jay Ward who created the 1961 Fractured Flickers, a popular TV show syndicated by the Desilu production company. The twenty-six episodes of Fractured Flickers were hosted by character actor Hans Conried most famous as the voice of Snidely Whiplash in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series. Conried introduced short “flickers” stitched together from old silent films, shorts and various obscure or aging films, painstakingly dubbed with newly written comic dialogue that was fussily synchronized with the original actors’ lip movements.
Many of the flickers’ dubbed voices were quite familiar to viewers, since Jay Ward used many of the same voiceover artists from his other franchise, the perhaps more famous cartoon series Rocky and His Friends, featuring Rocky the squirrel and Bullwinkle the moose. Regular flicker segments included the Minute Mysteries, starring silent film–era Stan Laurel as the master detective Sherman Oaks dubbed by a Rocky-esque comedic voiceover. One notable segment was Lon Chaney Sr.’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame remixed as “Dinky Dunstan, Boy Cheerleader." Soon after its airing, Lon Chaney Jr. attempted to sue Jay Ward but lost. Also notable is a terrific re-editing of Fritz Lang's "M" (Twisted into a skit where Peter Lorre tries to give up smoking).
Many believe that Fractured Flickers was the original inspiration for Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or more commonly referred to as MST3K), which presented old (and most notably, bad) “B” movies with a fresh new twist. MST3K fans enjoyed eleven years and 198 episodes of nonstop potty humor while seated in the back row of the movie theater on the Satellite of Love (a spaceship) behind the silhouettes of Commander Joel Robinson and his robots Tom Servo, Crow, Gypsy, and Cambot. With little or no reverence for the movie playing, the five-man (or, more specifically, one-man-and-four-robot) crew could be heard chattering over of some of the worst movies ever made with a running commentary of esoteric cultural trivia and their signature subversive riffs, which typify culture jamming at its finest.
One of the most exciting things for me is experiencing all the variations on a theme—or variations on a meme if you will. Famous dubtitling collections on YouTube include some wonderful iterations such as one very specific sequence of footage featuring Hitler from the 2004 movie Der Untergang (English translation: Downfall).
One of the many variations is called Hitler Plans Burningman, in which added subtitles reveal how a pissed-off Adolf (speaking German) is planning a party and finds out that only a few people can make it. “Five people are never enough for a party . . . but at least all the cool people are going.” Other variations using the exact same clip include Hitler Plans to Upgrade to Windows 7, Somebody Stole Hitler’s Car, Hitler's angry reaction to the iPad, and the very funny No Twitter for Hitler.
Recently, many of the over 100 versions of this dubtitling gem have disappeared from YouTube, thanks to the original movie’s producer and distributor Constantin Film and YouTube’s automated filtering system called Content ID. The Content ID. filter allows a copyright owner to halt any video that contains copyrighted content—whether or not that video meets the test of noninfringing fair use. Content owners can take down an expansive ecosystem of bonafied rights violations as well as more innocent editorial, de minimis and/or fair-use memes with the simple flick of a switch.
Electronic Frontier Foundation board member, entrepreneur, and technologist Brad Templeton got in the action, creating a hilarious version with Hitler ranting about digital rights and the failure of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedowns to illustrate the fair use clause. Although Templeton went to great lengths to meet the strict requirements for fair use by limiting the content to critique about Constantin Films and the issues surrounding the clip, his version was also taken down. More about the DMCA and copyright issues can be found in my Miximalism Blog.
As per Templeton's technical definition of fair use, another popular meme on YouTube is the phenomenon known as literal video. The goal is to locate the worst possible music video (typically from the 1980s, for some reason) that includes as many odd visual moments as possible. Using a karaoke music track (no vocals) of the same song, the miximalist writes and performs new song lyrics that (and this is important) specifically refer to the visuals found in the original music video. The original video and the new audio are combined to create an updated literal video.
An October 16, 2008 Rolling Stone article titled Rocking Literally: The Story Behind Take on Me," "Head Over Heels" Video Parodies by Caryn Ganz was one of the earliest references to this trend that literally populated YouTube.
There is a wide variety to see such as Billy Idol’s White Wedding and Take on Me, a song by Norwegian pop band a-ha await your critique. By far, the best literal video is the 1980s Bonnie Tyler hit Total Eclipse of the Heart as literalized by David A. Scott. After only five million views, the literal video was pulled down by YouTube when EMI Music Publishing Limited complained. YouTube fans were outraged, and stories about the censorship abounded on national media, including Fox TV’s Good Day LA, ABC’s Nightline, CNN’s iReport, and others. EMI and YouTube quickly relented; the clip was reinstated, and literal videos are now well ensconced as another elemental resource within the YouTubian experience.
While perhaps not a specific form of dubtitling, thanks to the technology of multitrack interactivity, we can now rediscover the old movie classics, such as Casablanca, with the reissued DVD director’s commentary audio-overlay track blabbering away over our favorite cinematic jewels. Interviews and narration babble atop Bogie and Bergman with a new dimension of interest, trivia, and insight—pausing only here and there to allow the classic one-liners to shine through.