The other day I was going through the EPG on the TV and saw that Arthur Penn’s classic Bonnie & Clyde was being shown in the small hours on one of the ITV channels so I set the box up to record it. Tonight I decided to watch it. I hadn’t seen it since I was at school but remember it being a good one. I thought it would also be interesting to see a young 1967 Gene Hackman to compare with the 1995 Gene Hackman who I watched in The Quick and the Dead recently.
What I hadn’t counted on was that this was another of those late-night showings of films with sign language for the hard of hearing.Now I have nothing against the hard of hearing, but it seems to me that this way of showing films is interfering with the films a lot more than it used to. I’m sure they used to do it by shrinking the film a little and showing it in a window on the screen, with the signer in the corner mostly outside that window. This time round the film was full-screen and the signer seemed larger than ever. In certain shots he was the same size as characters in the film and looked like he was part of the action.
At the start of the film there are some captions explaining the background of Bonnie and Clyde. One of them was unreadable because the signer was in front of the writing. Early on in the film there is that section where Clybe is teaching Bonnie to fire a gun, with an iconic shot of the two of them and a tyre hanging in the foreground. It is a beautifully framed image, somewhat spoiled by having a bloke taking up a large section of the picture. I would argue that even people who need the signing are having that image spoiled for them.
A few thoughts about all this:
- Why not go back to showing the film in a window? TV sets are so large now that the window would still be bigger than the whole screen was only a few years ago.
- Why are films only shown this way in the middle of the night? Are deafness and insomnia inextricably linked?
- Why are the (many) ad breaks not also signed?
More importantly, why not use the advances in technology to make life better for everybody? There are hundreds of channels on TV now. Many of them are extremely niche with audiences that are often officially zero. Many channels have a companion HD channel and a companion “+1” channel so why not also have a companion signed channel? That way you could have all programmes with sign language enhancement, even during sensible hours as well as letting those of us who don’t need that to be able to record late-night films without unnecessary distraction.
By the way, is close caption sub-titling still available? It used to be on Ceefax. I think that if I was deaf I would prefer that. The signing may give you the meaning of everthing but it can’t (or doesn’t) convey the nuances of language being used – except by spelling out words which can’t be done quickly enough.