i can't read lips. far from it, in fact. sitting in last period, high school band class, across the u-shaped chair arrangement from the clarinet section, my eyebrows would lean in toward each other, mouth puckering up at an angle, as i tried to decipher shelly's silent messages. never giving voice to a single syllable, she was a master at not talking in class, yet planning out an entire afternoon with friends across the room. i somehow managed to get the gist of her acrobatic lip messages, even if it was a slightly exasperated "i'll tell you the rest after class." but i sometimes felt like i'd failed as a friend, unequipped with that mysterious element of complicity: to read a person's lips.
even still, when talking with someone, i like having the privilege of seeing her face. i want to hang on to everything said, spoken or unspoken, and it's hard for me to do that, if all i hear is a voice. i think that's why i don't much talk on the phone. and it turns out, i've found, to be a reason why when watching dubbed movies, my face remembers its old lip-reading position, slightly squinched, in an attempt to better understand.
aside from the fact that an actor with someone else's voice makes suspension of disbelief just a little bit harder--turning their characters into something akin to puppets, a constant reminder that i'm watching the film instead of feeling as if i'm a part of it--watching the actor's lips move one way, but hearing sounds that don't correspond to those movements at all, still throws me for a comprehension loop. it's the other side of lip reading; watching a person's face, trying to ignore the movement of his mouth while a voice not his own says those translated lines in his stead. speaking spanish as a second language, i can say one thing in dubbing's favor: it's fantastic practice in the sphere of auditory comprehension, like an audio-visual obstacle course, usually two hours long.
it's taken some time to find that bright side perspective. with the exception of "shrek," "the simpsons," and kung fu, i disparaged everything dub (and there's a lot of it here) for a long, long time. i was, i admit, a subtitle snob.
and in spite of my new-found educational argument, or the benefits of dubbing for those with failing eyesight or with an age under, say, ten, i still mostly am.
and i also have a new reason why.
the majority of movies in mexican theaters are from that country just north of the border, or from that country's linguistic mother of an island. and these last nine months, the ones we've been to see are rife with regional--or national--accents. i never realized how useful subtitles could be until i saw "brokeback mountain," "hustle & flow," "breakfast on pluto," "match point," "mrs. henderson presents," and even "the da vinci code." though the subtitles were in spanish translation, they sure did pick up the slack where my synapses fell short on the accents of cowboys, southerners, the irish, the british, and the french.
there's something to be said for words on a screen diminishing the aesthetics of the cinematography. but there's also something beautiful in hanging on to every word, spoken or translated at the bottom of the screen. and it means i can let my lip-reading inadequacy continue to slide. my apologies to shelly.