Text as a Source of Deafness

Crooklyn (1994) was the only film throughout the semester where we watched the movie with subtitles. I thought that it was distinct because of the unassuming powers of text, especially when its presence was not something that was intended for the audience to consume.


During this viewing, I found myself less attentive to sound and found myself hearing things that I would otherwise find inaudible. The text was consistent, regardless of tone, volume, and accent.

In The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics edited by John Richardson et al., French composer Michel Chion occupies a chapter entitled “The Audio-Logo-Visual and the Sound of Languages in Recent Film”. In this article Chion talks about how subtitling kills language because it demobilizes listening. Dialects, accents, and indistinct recordings are translated and filtered into the written word.

1822_071273With this article in mind, I wondered if subtitles create a barrier into the viewing experience. Rather than looking at the framed shot, we are never allowed to enter the screen and immerse ourself without realizing that this is something that we are consuming. The written word blocks us and makes us aware of our position as the audience. It is used for utility since it enhances our ability to understand the script and in turn the plot.

I definitely think that when subtitles appear, we are less attune to listening for slight pauses and audible gestures. We can preempt jokes, and we can see into the future in ways that the film is not meant to be watched.

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