The Golden Age of Middle Eastern Westerns
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Persian dub died a slow death in the late 1970s with the spread of corporate notions of ownership, stricter enforcement of copyright, and a growing sense of loyalty to the original. The revolution of 1979 hammered in the final unironic nail: Foreign films were banned and unavailable, and the original dubs were locked deep in the archives.
The glory of Persian dub, while it lasted, was that it didn’t hide the artifice of film or its theatrical, scripted element. On the contrary, by showing that the original lines were just as made up as the dubbed ones, it seemed to acknowledge something even more postmodern: that social roles, like acting roles, depend on artifice, and that perhaps all cultural forms develop through acts of mistranslation.
There were a thousand invented lines in every dubbed film, but they weren’t meant to fool anyone. Seeing the Persian dubbers get away with one more aside, one more joke, one more invented aphorism brought us closer to the films in a conspiratorial kind of way. They made them ours.
Excerpted from Bidoun (Winter 2009–10), a quarterly magazine that covers Middle Eastern art and culture with a refined, literate approach. A 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for arts coverage. www.bidoun.com
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