Dissolve Translation

Below are examples of the “dissolve translation” technique from Hollywood films during the 1920s-1940s (as discussed in my article in Cultural Critique).

In this clip from Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings” (1927) viewers have to have enough cinematic literacy to distinguish between Christ’s miracle (discerning sins) and DeMille’s (“magic” sand):

In this clip from “Mr. Wu” (1927), the title character receives a letter in Chinese, which is then translated for us:

In this clip, also from “Mr. Wu” (1927), the title character is reading from a book; notice that the dissolve translation maintains the “printed” nature of the script (as opposed to the handwritten note in the previous clip):

In this clip from the same film what gets “translated” is not language (since none of the “Chinese” characters are real), but rather the “form” of the characters, in which exploding print = angry Anna May Wong:

In this clip from “Charlie Chan at the Race Track” Number One Son, Lee, sends a message to Chan, “coded” in Chinese so that only Chan will understand it, which is then translated for the audience.

In this clip, Mr. Moto has again used a “foreign” language to communicate something furtive, but it’s important that we as viewers understand it too:

In this clip, Gary Cooper picks up his laundry, which is important to know, but it’s also important to remember he’s in France:

Another “miracle” by DeMille: magic translating paper!

In “The Mysterious Mr. Wong” (1934) the highly underrated director William Nigh makes the dissolve translation part of the plot. Levels of interpretation are constantly in play; notice who is allowed to understand what at what point in the film: