Monday, April 10, 2006

The Hot Topic: Foreign Language Films

From the ardent minds of loudish gawks comes the suddenly fairly often meanderings on the current topics of the day.

Sharpen your pencils, and sprinkle your thoughts with lighter fluid, for this is the Hot Topic.

From: Mat Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Foreign Language Films

“I don’t want to read a movie,” said my mother.

“But it’s a Kurosawa marathon,” I replied. “They’re showing the Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress and Throne of Blood. That’s like the greatest movie ever made, the movie that inspired Star Wars, and a bloody Shakespeare adaptation!”

“I don’t care if it is Jesus nailed up on the cross, I don’t want to read a movie.”

“Jesus nailed on a cross? No, mom that was The Passion of the Christ which by the way was in a foreign language with subtitles, and you saw it.”

“Oh, whatever,” she replies, “that movie was all blood and guts and birds pulling out eyes. There was hardly any talking in it, just a lot of screaming. And it don’t matter what language you’re screaming in, it’s all the same.”

“Fine, what do you want to see?” I ask.

“How about that Pink Panther movie? That looks funny, and you like Steve Martin.”

“Fine, we’ll see the Pink Panther.”

I have had this same argument with my mother countless time. She refuses to watch any foreign language movie because of the subtitles. She says she doesn’t want to read a movie and all the writing keeps her from watching the action on the screen.

Repeat this conversation with literally dozens of coworkers, friends, and acquaintances.

I continually ask myself why this is, and I cannot come up with a reasonable answer. Sure, it’s true that by reading subtitles you do miss some of the visual imagery of a film; you might miss an important bit of action. But that’s why god invented the rewind button.

Sometimes I want to mention that most foreign language films are dubbed into English. But that’s just sacrilege. Dubbed movies are crap. The voice actors are about as good as porno actors.

This argument is senseless to me anyway. By not watching the film you miss all of the imagery, you do not see any of the action. You are missing some of the greatest films ever made.

By not watching foreign language films, you’d never see the Seven Samurai, my all time favorite movie. What with the stunning action, the comedy, the romance, the Toshiro Mifune, it’s really freaking brilliant.

No foreign language films=no 400 Blows, no Wild Strawberries, no Seventh Seal, no 8 ½, no Band of Outsiders, no…

Is this an American thing? An English language thing? Is this just something with the people I know? Why are so many afraid of subtitles?

What do you guys think? Do you watch foreign language flicks? What about you fellas across the pond think about this? Is the UK more enlightened when it comes to foreign language flickery, being so close to foreign languages and all?

From: Bennett Dawson

To: The Hot Topic Team

Subject: Foreign Language Films

I'm really with Mat on this one. If you refuse to do subtitles, you miss a lot of great films. It works for me because I'm a speedy reader, and quickly fall into a mode where reading the text is just part of the experience. It stops bothering me about two minutes in.

That said, my wife is French Canadian, and English is her second language. She would love it if the films with heavy English accents or Irish accents (Snatch) were subtitled in English so she could figure out what the hell everybody is yacking about.

I vote 'Yes' on English subtitles for anything from Scotland, Boston, or New Jersey...

From: DJRadiohead

To: The Hot Topic Team

Subject: Foreign Language Films

Books are work, movies are easy and I am a lazy cunt.

I don't want to work hard when I watch a movie. Two hours and I am done- that is the appeal. Movies are, in that sense, like poetry. Condensed. Tell the story of a man's life in two hours. Tell the story of 12 hours in two. Great films stick around with you longer than that but still only take two hours to revisit.

That movie watching is so easy makes me even less willing to put any kind of effort into watching one. If the movie is two hours and the first 30 minutes blow, I am probably out of there. I have little invested and the chance for redemption drops with each passing minute. Fuck a lot of that noise. I will go do something else.

It might sound to you like I don't like movies. Not true. I did, during the dark days of college, work at a video store. For a few years, I got to see everything. I guess I got burned out on it all. I still watch more than a few each year but I generally get less and less excited about them. You will probably be able to guess what I think of foreign film viewing.

Movies are moving pictures. Every picture tells a story. I don't really want to try and read and watch the movie at the same time. I admit it. I have been told by people all my life I am terrible at concentrating. I can't focus. Ever. I mean, let me tell you about this time when I was in a play in college and- see what I mean? Do remind me to tell you that story sometime. Anyway, I do find it disconcerting to watch a film I also have to read. I have done it. I have seen some Kurosawa and a few others in my life. I just do not enjoy the experience.

Movies are also sound. They are aural experiences and I apologize in advance to the denizens of hypersensitive PC fucks everywhere: foreign tongues sound foreign. Sometimes they even sound funny to my ears. It can be really hard to let myself get sucked in to an intense scene when I hear those sounds. The dramatic use of facial expressions, other visual scenery, and the score in the background are cannot always overcome the fact those sounds can sometimes make me laugh. Even when they don't, there is something lost in translation.

Harkening back to my college days, I learned in my nonverbal communication class 93 percent of meaning is transferred by nonverbal means. I guess the 7 percent I have to read rather than hear is the difference between loving foreign films and waiting for Hollywood to take them and fuck them up in English.

From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Team

Subject: Foreign Language Films

The whole foreign film/subtitles thing seems to be a love it/hate it phenomenon.

Personally, I've always loved foreign movies. And while I don't love subtitles, I'll put up with them because the films themselves resonate with my inner-directed self.

Kurosawa being one exception, most of the foreign language movies I love are full of dialogue and not much else. Subtitles? Ah, I don't care. There are just too many great films out there to allow some text on the screen to make the decision (to watch or not) for me.

Interestingly enough, my favorite foreign movie—indeed, my favorite movie of all time—combines moments of highly nuanced character development with segments of heart-stopping action. It's a French film called Diva. A Parisian courier's love of a particular opera singer gets him wrapped up in a white slavery and drug ring, plus some other creepy underworld types. The characters are so interesting, the plot so engrossing, and the music so beautiful, that I completely forget about the subtitles. for the sometimes proposed "solution" to subtitling: dubbing? That's more distracting than subtitles. That I hate.

From: Aaron Fleming

To: The Hot Topic Team

Subject: Foreign Language Films

Ah the old `foreign films with those word things on screen' topic, an
area close to my sensitive parts for sure. A subject worthy of many
fucks flung, as they often are, but perhaps this time with a
fuck-catapult built out of the flaming phalluses of a group of
Mahavishnu Orchestra-obsessed Pharisees.

But with a slight restraint in the flinging, maybe some put aside for
the time when the new Paul W. Anderson flick slides out his back
colon. This is due to our good fellow DJRadiohead's comments regarding
this here discussion, which are quite antithetical to my own views,
albeit at the same time being very honest and pleasant.

Of course, it doesn't matter where the film's from, what the hell
language it is in, whether the characters are speaking in the finest
and most expressive of the queen's English, or in something more akin
to Microsoft Word's Wingdings font. It doesn't matter. Plenty of crud
encrusted French movies out there. And best remember, not all foreign
language movies are the high-end of culture, where's the art-house
praise for Banlieue 13? All that Parkour and elbows to groins not
titillating the pretensions of bereted and bearded critics? I guess
not, I thought it was fun though.

But to restrict yourself to only English language films is to miss out
on so much brilliance, not just the aesthetically glorified cinema of
a Tarkovsky or a Bergman, but great entertainment pieces like Ong Bak. I'll admit to emitting a plethora of sneers towards the "subtitles? Fuck that, I'm going to watch rugby and get drunk" crowd, it's a shame.

My occasional moonlightings as a video store clerk have brought me
many painful moments related to this very topic. Like that time
someone brought back Ong Bak complaining it was in "Chinese or some ol' gibberish" and demanding nothing short of a refund. I of course corrected his erroneousness by blasting back with a negating stare and mouth movement forming "it's actually Thai, cunt." Then I told him to fuck off and how my day would have been better if he had been born still.

What can you do? Only attempt to spread the good word of Chan Wook
Park by recommending his flicks at every opportunity; maybe, some day,
one person might say, "by Mike Patton's very beard thing! This is
actually quite brilliant, now I must track down every Godard I missed
while I was watching the latest mass-produced offering featuring The
Rock, what a fool I have been."

From: Mary K Williams

To: The Hot Topic Team

Subject: Foreign Language Films

You know, there is SO much good art out there – be it music, graphic (oils, watercolors), literary, or film – that what I’ve experienced could fit in a wee thimble. Sure, now I blame my lack of art exposure on trying to raise a family and all, and well that’s as good excuse as any I guess. But lately I’ve felt so deprived – so lacking. I know my life is continually being enriched through my home life experiences, and as much we can all cram in as a family. Yet, I hear tell of these interesting quirky films, or offbeat but breathtaking musicians – and I think – ‘Wait, stop, the world is going much too fast, I’m going to miss it all!’

I do know that in the imaginary perfect world of not having to earn a living, not having anyone depending on you, a person would still be hard pressed to go out and manage to ‘do it all’.

A thought ocurred to me today - that I consider foreign films complete with subtitles like delicious fancy food. A little intimidating at first, but then quite delicious if prepared well, and if you have the right attitude.

But you have to be in the proper frame of mind for the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hero, or The Passion of the Christ (These being the few I’ve seen and enjoyed). If not. you may not be able to really appreciate the subtleties of flavoring, or the magic of lighting and direction.

Sometimes, when you feel like I did today, exhausted after a very busy week, and with a cold on top of all that – sometimes you just want comfort food. And sometimes too, you just want comfort flicks. A movie that you don’t have to have all eight cylinders cranking for – like my picks of the day, Lethal Weapon 2, Scary Movie 2, Sixteen Candles and Two Weeks Notice.

From: Duke de Mondo

To: The Hot Topic Team

Subject: Foreign Language Films

Ah, the old “Balls! It’s subtitled!” hollering.

How many times have I heard this? Far too many to be bothered thinking about.

…The lass in the video-store who, with rather lovely yap all twisted up the jaw, handed me Amelie with the cautionary aside; “This is subtitled, y’know. Is that alright?”

…The copy of Irreversible tossed back at my mug, fella tutting, “Watched five minutes. Fuckin’ all that writin’ an stuff, the hell kinda shite’s that?”

…The ex-girlfriend lamenting my choice of viewing material for the evening. “The Seventh Seal!” I cheerily announce. “For God’s sakes!” comes the anguished reply. “Can’t we watch somethin’ normal? Somethin’ without subtitles!”

…The mate all high on the beery-brew, eyes all uncertainty couple minutes into Funny Games. “Is it like that all the way through? With the subtitles?” (He did watch it mind, and quite enjoyed it. I thought it was shite and threw a shoe at the telly.)

Aye. Who knows why, or for what reason, but plenty folks who wanna be sat front the screen for a couple hours, most likely they wanna see something doesn’t piss all o’er their ears wi’ some gabble they can’t understand and a buncha text they can’t be arsed reading. This isn’t to say that folks who don’t like subtitles don’t like film, that right there is a horrendous misconception. I know people got the damn house comin’ down with 1940s comedies, for example, but it’s rare they’ll bother with anything ain’t got English as the primary language.

It’s easy to get all sortsa snobbish regarding viewing types who’d puke their faces raw if’n they had to sit front a Bergman for any length of time. But it’s also incredibly easy to get ones own perspective fucked just as bad.

There is, whether or not we care to admit it, a consensus among certain flickology types that runs along the lines of; A foreign film is inherently superior to a Hollywood number.

This is bullshit, of course.

I remember a conversation with a lady way back when, was asking her if she’d seen Pale Rider.

“No” she said. “I don’t watch those kindsa films. I only watch World Cinema.”

There are, of course, a number of reasons for why a fella might wanna claw his own ears off after hearing such a statement. For one thing, it’s fuckin’ Pale Rider. For another, fuckin’ Pale Rider was made in America, which, last time I looked, was part of the World. Also, World Cinema? What horrible ghettoised mindset has done gone soured your very arse, m’dear, for to have you using terms like World Cinema. Like “World Music”, World Cinema ain’t nothin more than a wretched, patronising, elitist-yet-incredibly-ignorant half-arsed nonsense.

Bein’ the kind of fella who cums himself in five at the thought of a couple extra minutes of Manhattan might be hidden away in a vault someplace, i.e, a Flick Geek, I’ll watch anything, and if it’s good, it’s good. Subtitled or otherwise, horror or romantic-comedy or documentary about some goof made a record one time and some folks liked it, whatever, if a fella wants to find the gold, he can’t go lingerin’ round a handful o’ rocks.

Wonderful flicks are a universal phenomenon, as is guffy ol’ shite.

Also, it ain’t necessarily the fault of the audiences that they don’t watch these flicks. Time and again, it’s been proven that a subtitled flick can be incredibly successful provided the studio flinging it screen-wards puts the effort in. The Passion Of The Christ, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Life Is Beautiful. Three flicks right there that proved enormously popular theatrically and on video / DVD. If folks could see, say, Paradise Now as easily as they could see Munich, I’d wager they would. They have done.

Studios tossing brilliant films into horrible ghettos like World Cinema, marketing them to select audiences and ignoring everyone else, well, they’re as much to blame as the fella sat front the telly choosing Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels over Ikiru, or Anchorman over La Cage Aux Folles. More so, in fact, because most likely the fella would go with Ikiru, had he ever heard of it.

A flick they’ve heard about, they’re more likely to watch. Stands to reason. How many flicks do we ignore, us enlightened cinema-fiends, on account of we don’t know shit about them? Plenty manys, is how many.

Market these things right, and it’s more likely folks’ll take the chance.

Folks take the chance with that one, there’s more chance they’ll opt for La Cage Aux Folles next time.

They’ll probably still enjoy Anchorman more, though. And they’d be absolutely right to do so. Anchorman fuckin’ rocks.

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