Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On foreign films

I enjoy a good film as much as the next person and have been known to take in an independent film or two as well. Sometimes they are good...other times they are not. Yet over and over you here an elitist crowd decry the entertainment factor of Hollywood pictures...and the closer it is to a blockbuster, the worse they think the film was. Yeah, I deliberately used the word film just to irritate them.

You see, to these elitists, a film is a brilliant, deep movie with superior dialogue, acting, directing, plot, and whatever else goes into making a moving picture. A movie is merely some poor dialogue, bad acting, and (hear the sneer in my voice as I say this word) commercialized bit of celluloid trash.

The worst of these are blockbusters. To hear these elitists speak of a blockbuster, one calls to mind a picture so bad that even Mystery Science Theatre 3K wouldn't bother to mock it. To hear them discuss it, the dialogue barely exceeds the banal level of three year olds, the plot is thinner than Kate Moss on a diet, and the directing is barely competent at best. Meanwhile, millions upon millions of people who fail to see the entertainment value in an obtuse bit of celluloid such as alleged master Fellini's 8-1/2 (1963) flock to see something like Spiderman 3 (2007) in record breaking numbers.

It is not that I object to people enjoying unusual fare. There was clearly an audience for Pan's Labyrinth (2006), even if it was not as large as the blockbusters. But the sheer audacity of a small percent of people insisting they have better taste than the masses has always irked me and I have long struggled to figure out why.

Fortunately, Joe Queenan of Movieline Magazine wrote an essay in which he did a great job of verbalizing it. In his essay A Foreign Affair (in the book Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler, New York, 2000) he has the following things to say about foreign films which I have found, with a few exceptions, also apply to most independent films.

"At several points in this stilted, incoherent, pretentious film..." (p. 243)

"I'd completely forgotten that for foreign-film buffs, attending these screenings was a nigh-on religious experience, where everyone sat transfixed, exhibiting no visible reaction to what was transpiring on the screen, even when the dialogue was completely ridiculous." (p. 244)

"They were, for the most part, mediocre-to-bad, low-budget movies that happened to have been made in a foreign country. There was nothing special about them. There was nothing awe-inspiring about them. They were dull. They were predictable. They sucked." (p. 246)

To be sure, from time to time there is a good independent or foreign film that stands out from the crowd, that entertains and amazes. But far more often, you get something that is slower (not necessarily a bad thing) paced, with characters who seem deeper because they run different thought processes than our standard characters, but once you have seen them a few times they are no deeper or more intellectual than the fare already available.

It is well past time to continue insisting films with no audience are better because most people find no entertainment in them and admit sometimes it is just fun to watch a big-budget, big-thrill flick.

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