By G. Michael Dobbs
This week in the DVD review column, a great new documentary explores what is funny and how it translates from one country to another.
When our foster daughter, who is Vietnamese, came to this country my wife and I were fascinated at what parts of American popular culture interested her. We quickly discovered that horror movies seemed more universal than I thought they would be and comedies were more problematical.
About the only comedies she watched were “Our Gang” shorts from the 1930s she liked the kids and “Married with Children.” No, I don’t know why.
Comedy is a difficult export. What some countries find funny other nations simply do not. Perhaps silent comedies translated easier as the great comics such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin did not use a lot of title cards, but carried the story and the humor visually.
Add sound and you have jokes and with jokes, you must have context. Without understanding the cultural references, humor falls flat.
Context is everything with comedy as Phil Rosenthal came to find out. Rosenthal is the creator and producer of the hit television show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The show ran for nine highly successful seasons from 1996 to 2005 and in 2009 Rosenthal was asked to join in on a Russian version of the comedy.
I didn’t know and it turns out that Rosenthal didn’t know either that a successful ancillary business for television production companies is the re-creation of hit U.S. series for foreign markets. Rather than dub an American show in a foreign language, some shows are re-made with a new cast and adopted scripts.
Rosenthal is asked to help re-create his show for Russian television, which has re-done such programs as “The Nanny,” and “I Dream of Jeannie,” among others.
This documentary, written and produced by Rosenthal, gives viewers a ringside seat to the realizations that Rosenthal painfully, and often humorously, discovers.
Ray Romano’s family everyman isn’t considered to be a relatable character in Russia as men view themselves as more macho and family is less important. Rosenthal even has arguments with the costume designer who is determined to make the cast look as fashionable as possible.
What Rosenthal must do is to see his creation through a Russian lens.
This was a very interesting film and I thoroughly enjoyed it despite the fact I’m not a fan of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” For me a grasping, manipulative mother and an absent father injecting themselves into a person’s life is the basis of horror rather than humor.
The extras are quite good as they include two episodes of the American original with the Russian remake for comparison.
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