The subtitles

The text for the subtitles used on the Gutter Fighting DVD comes from the printed scripts for each film. These scripts are on file at the US National Archives and Records Administration [NARA].

The script for  The Fighting Knife is dated 11 February 1944. The script for Unarmed is the second revision dated 25 March 1944.

The script for the third film in the  Gutter Fighting series, titled Shooting to Live and dated 9 May 1944, is also on file at NARA. However, the process that uncovered the two films reproduced on the Gutter Fighting DVD failed to locate the Shooting to Live footage.

The first film in the Gutter Fighting series, The Fighting Knife, has a Greek soundtrack while the second film, Unarmed, has a German soundtrack. 

In his article W.E. Fairbairn: the legendary instructor British researcher Phil Matthews suggests that the written scripts correlate strongly with the film footage. There are, in fact, several places where the films and the written scripts vary, but these variations do not seem to alter the main messages contained in the films. It is likely that the scripts were written first, and that variations occurred naturally as ideas and possibilities emerged during filming.

The aim of the Gutter Fighting DVD was to make available these primary historical sources on Fairbairn’s approach to close combat with a minimum of secondary interpretation. It is reasonable to assume that the written scripts for each film, and the visual text in the films themselves, are authentic representations of Fairbairn’s approach at the time. Weaving the written scripts into the films through the subtitles (despite several distinct mismatches) seemed to be, on balance, an option worth taking.

In preparing the subtitles a few minor changes were made in the order of some printed text so as to fit in with the sequence of scenes in the films. A small amount of text from the written scripts was omitted. For example, according to the script for the Unarmed film, in the last scene Fairbairn takes out his fighting knife, then puts it away and pulls out a pocket knife. This does not happen in the film.

The placement of the subtitles was guided initially by matching, as much as possible, the scenes in the films to their descriptions in the written scripts. This generated a story board which linked timings of the scenes in the films with the narrator’s text from the written scripts. The additional text in the scripts which framed the narrator’s text was considered in making these decisions, but not included in the subtitles to the films.

The story board for each film was then validated by people for whom Greek or German was a first language. This process uncovered some significant variations between the non-English soundtracks and the films. In some cases, the soundtrack seemed to struggle for appropriate language to capture the concepts as outlined in the written scripts. Also, there were several times where there seemed to be substantial amounts of additional material in the soundtrack that was not apparent in the written scripts. This reinforced the belief that using the written scripts as the basis for the subtitles was likely to keep the material as close to Fairbairn’s original intent as practicable.

The placement of the subtitles was also influenced by the amount of on-screen time needed for a person to read the text, and some judgement calls around where the written text seemed to make the most sense of the visual text of the film.

For these reasons, and perhaps others, there is sure to be a range of valid and appropriate suggestions on how the subtitles could be improved.

Still, the hope is that overall, despite any errors in or limitations of the production process, this project has done sufficient justice to the material to make it useful to all those who have an interest in the combative legacy of William Ewart Fairbairn.