W.C. Fields confounds ’em in Egypt

CAIRO — Brush up your English or find a new job, Egyptian film censors and translators are being told.

The warning comes after a U.S. pic’s reference to comedian W.C. Fields was translated as “toilet pastures,” leaving viewers who could follow only the Arabic subtitles wondering what in the world the characters were talking about.

In another American film, “the computer is down” was rendered in the Arabic subtitle as “the computer is in the basement.” Unfortunately, the scene made it clear that the computer in question was on an upper floor of a high-rise office building.

Though the subtitlers and censors were subjected to language exams before their hiring, Dr. Gaber al Asfour, undersecretary at the Ministry of Culture, has ordered retesting. Those not passing muster will be dismissed, al Asfour says.

In Egypt, foreign films screened in theaters or broadcast on TV are subtitled, not dubbed. And when it comes to cutting those pics, censors look for scenes of sex or violence to snip rather than obscene dialogue.

Thus when Michael Cimino’s Vietnam war epic “The Deer Hunter” was recently shown on Egypt’s national TV, the pic’s steady flow of vulgarities was left intact; only violent scenes were snipped. The movie’s swearing was either not translated, or else the words were bowdlerized. “Go f— yourself!” was rendered as “you’re not nice.”

The irony is that the “Deer Hunter” language that U.S. networks would bleep out was broadcast into households all over the country – even if much of it could not be widely understood.

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