The singing films of tenor Joseph Schmidt. Finding a way to determine the different versions of his films. - Elisa Mutsaers 2006
It might have become clear from the former part of this article that there doesn’t exist a singular definition of what a MLV is. I don’t think such a definition will ever be found, simply because there are too many variations. But, in order to study MLV’s, to analyze ‘originals’ and their ‘adaptations’ and to be able to compare the results of such studies, done by different film historians and other researchers in different countries, deriving from different backgrounds, it is important to find a way that enables people to make sure that they are discussing the same concept of MLV’s.
Most difficulties arise in distinguishing a MLV from a remake. Some say that, simply because for example the British adaptation was made two years after the German original, you can’t speak of a MLV anylonger, it has to be called a remake. Or they would say that because the producer of for example a British adaptation is a different one than the producer of the German adaptation, one would automatically speak about a remake and not a MLV. I would like to state that it can never be just one element, for example production year or producer, to determine what an ‘adaptation’ should be called, in the most common case a MLV or a remake. I think it is always a combination of those elements that determines what label to put on an ‘adaptation’ and it is necessary to actually weigh those elements, on an imaginary pair of scales, to come to a conclusion in a particular case, and each case has to be weighed again. The elements or weights and their mutual proportion are too delicate to make generalizations.
Since the MLV is only one variation amongst other multiple language adaptations that are all derived from an ‘original’, I would suggest that a possible solution might be to put all these adaptations under one term that covers all types of multiple language adaptations. In that way a sort of archetype Multiple Language Adaptation (MLA) originates. The definition of that archetype can be very basic as long as you recognize the existence of variations, and even variations within the variations, on that archetype. The definition of the archetype MLA I would like to use is:
‘Adaptation’ of a film in another language than the ‘original’ but based on the same script.
The next step would be to specify the elements, the weights, which are determining both the ‘original’ and MLA’s. Those weights are for example title, director, nationality of the actors, producer, production country and year, elements on the level of mis-en-scène and filmic level and the length of the film. The next step is to look at those elements in both ‘original’ and MLA’s and then balance, on an imaginary pair of scales, the outcome of presence or absence of those elements in order to give the MLA a name.
Of course I understand it is not always easy to name one version as an ‘original’ and the other as an ‘adaptation’. But in order to make a theoretical comparism and analysis I think one is allowed to make this kind of distinction. Of course in the practice of a film archive, for instance when doing a restoration of a film, one should never automatically copy these labels, but in a pure theoretical environment of analysis one is allowed to make such generalizations in order to bring the process and discussion on a higher level and therewith provide insight in MLV’s and other MLA’s.
Actually the only, right way to do research at the different versions of films seems to be watching them simultaneously in a parallel session. It sounds simple, but especially this method often is very difficult to realize. In the case of MLA’s the different versions are hardly ever kept in the same archive. More often you would find for instance the British MLV in an archive in the UK and the German ‘original’ in German archive. A Dutch subtitled MLA you would probably find in a Dutch archive and a French dubbed version in France. It is not always possible to get VHS or DVD copies of the films, so in most cases you end up watching, if at all because not every budget is sufficient to travel half the world, the different versions separately from each other. And even in case you are able to get the copies you want to compare on VHS, it is fysically impossible to compare more than two versions at the same time. Besides that, the viewing spaces in film archives most of the time are not fit up to view simultaneously for instance one version on a Steenbeck table, and the other version on VHS. In those cases it helps to have one version on DVD that you can watch aside of the Steenbeck table in your laptop.
But fortunately there are many complementary sources that are of use in these cases of comparative research: production details, film reviews, scripts, publicity materials, descriptions in film catalogues and other manuals, details from censorship organs, etc. Of course secundairy literature and publications on the web can be useful as well. It actually appears to be very well possible to give a name to a MLA using only these sources, without having seen the film itself. It would be more difficult in case one would only have the films themselves to ones disposal and not the complementary sources as mentioned earlier. This can be explained as follows: MLV’s and remakes were successful in the thirties to audiences in the export countries when the films were understandable ánd cultural acceptable. When for instance a remake or MLV of a German film was shown in British cinemas, the production details concerning the German origin were not published to the British audiences and therefore not mentioned on the credits of the film itself. That kind of details (for example the names of foreign co-producers, the name of the foreign language play the film was based on) were absent on the credits, but are to be retrieved in written sources. And these details are most of the time the elements that defining in putting the label MLV or remake on a MLA. Of course every researcher hopes to create an ideal research situation by having both the films ánd the written sources to ones disposal, but since time and means are always limited, choices have to be made and in that situation I would like to recommend to spend time and means first to retrieve written sources and only then go after the copies of the films that are to be studied.