Sunday, December 01, 2013

Using Subtitles

As most of you know, I also write for a blog called the East German Cinema Blog. And, if you read the previous entry here titled, Lost in Translation, you also know that from time to time I try my hand at subtitle creation. Recently I had the opportunity to combine these two interests when I came across the East German fantasy film, Heart of Stone (Das kalte Herz) on YouTube and later discovered that someone had created German subtitles for it. This emboldened me to try my hand at creating subtitles in English for the film. As always, first I ran the German subtitles through Google Translate and, as always, this proved to be nearly useless. It does save time with the mundane statements that crop up frequently, but is not much use beyond that. Heart of Stone proved to be even more of a challenge than Mädchen, Mädchen was.

In the first place, the language in Heart of Stone is slightly old-fashioned and uses terms that are not in general use anymore. I mean, when was the last time you discussed charcoal burning (as a profession) and horse-drawn drays? Plus, one of the main characters is a little leprechaun-like character called the "Glasmännlein." Literally, this translates to something along the lines of "little glass man." Sometimes it is translated to "Glassmanikin" and sometimes to "Glassman." You could also translate it as "glass sprite" or "glass elf." Just to complicate matters, he is also referred to as "Schatzhauser" (treasure guardian).

Complex sentences—and Heart of Stone has a lot of them—also can throw Google Translate for a loop. It has a nasty habit of tossing out words it can't fit into its translation schemes, but sometimes those words are nicht and kein, which are there to negate most of the rest of the sentence. So suddenly "I really don't care if you're a wealthy man" becomes "I really care if you're a wealthy man."

The other thing that made translation difficult was that a key plot point in the story hinges on the rhyming nature of stehen (to stand) and sehen (to see). These two words don't come close to rhyming in English, so I had to decide: do I keep the rhyme or keep the meaning? If I keep the meaning, then the main character's eventual discovery of the right word to say based on rhyme becomes incomprehensible. If I keep the rhyme, then I have to find other words that will fit reasonably well, and try not lose the essence of the recitation. I based my decision on an old translation into English that was published around the turn of the century. For this, I followed that translator's lead, which was to find a new rhyme that fit.

I eventually came up with a translation that, while not perfect, will do until the folks at the DEFA Library at UMass Amherst add this film to their collection and find a translator far more skilled than I am.

Now that we have English subtitles, the next question is, how do we use them? YouTube certainly doesn't let you use subtitles, and yet that is where the film is currently available. To help with this, I've created the following guide to watching YouTube videos with subtitles. There are a lot of foreign films on YouTube that simply are not available as legal videos in the United States.* Sometimes you can find the subtitles you need online and this will help you use these subtitles to watch the films. There are some potential problems as far as syncing goes, but that is a discussion I'll have to reserve for another day. In the meantime, you'll find that my subtitles line up perfectly with the copy of the film on YouTube.

How to Watch YouTube Videos With Subtitles

Step #1: Get VLC Player

If you haven't done so already, install VLC Player on your computer. It is available for both the Mac and the PC, as well as nearly every other system you care to name. There is no better video player out there. This is especially true for the Mac which incorporates a silly five time only region change policy on their DVD player (or I should say, use to—new Macs no longer include CD/DVD drives).

Step #2: Install a video downloader in Firefox

I recommend using Firefox and installing Video Downloader. Chrome makes capturing YouTube videos difficult owing to the fact that YouTube is a Google company, and if you are using Internet Explorer, you...well...why in the world are you using Internet Explorer? There may be a way to do this with Safari too, but I haven't fired that one up in many years. There may be a way to to it with Chrome as well, I simply didn't find one that worked for me. If you have a good solution for any of those other programs, post it in the comments and I'll see that it is published here.

Step #3: Go to the YouTube video and download

Don't worry about whether it downloads as an FLV or an MP4 file, or some other format. The VLC Player won't care.

Step #4: Download the subtitles

I've included the link for my Heart of Stone subtitles below. You can also find other subtitles at sites such as, or It should be noted here that sometimes the subtitles don't sync up properly with the film. I can report, however, that the subtitles for Heart of Stone are very well synced to the YouTube video. Perhaps in a future article I'll discuss how to fix it when the subtitles and the film don't match up.

Step#5: Open the video in VLC Player

It is going to want to start playing as soon as you do this so hit pause for now.

Step #6: Add Subtitles

Under the Subtitle menu, choose "Add Subtitle File..." Then locate the file choose "Open."

Step #7: Watch and enjoy!

That's all there is to it.

You can, if you prefer burn the video and the subtitles together on a disk, The subtitles are in the "srt" format, which many DVD burning programs can recognize (I use DVD Flick).


* I realize that I am treading on thin ice here as far as the legality of these videos goes. Ideally, you should always buy your videos when they are available. I've purchased many from the DEFA Library at UMass Amherst and that's a great place to go to purchase East German films with English subtitles. I've purchased others overseas when I've gone to visit Germany. The techniques I show here are to be used only as a last resort when a film is either not available with subtitles, or, in some cases, not available at all on DVD. In the end, the film is the most important thing, as far as I am concerned. They need to be seen, and if the owners of the films are incapable or unwilling to provide them, then, by all means, find an alternative method to watch the film. If , however, a film you've watched in this manner does eventually become available, you should purchase it, just as you would purchase songs you listen to regularly via Pandora or Grooveshark.