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All Around the World

4 Nov

The Bicycle Thief, Let the Right One In, Breathless, Run Lola Run, Pan’s Labyrinth.

What do all these films have in common? Besides being incredibly well-made films, they all come from another country and industry besides our own behemoth known as Hollywood.

Now take a step back…how many of these films do you know and how many do you know by their actual foreign title? I’m going to go ahead and assume that most of you have not heard of all these films. And I don’t blame you. I mean the audience is not to blame for not knowing about movies. It comes to down to what we are exposed to, and we are naturally exposed to films and movies that come from our own country.

However, there is a firm belief in some casual moviegoer’s eyes that foreign films are somehow not as good as their Hollywood counterparts. Not only is this untrue, but foreign films tend to think ahead of the curb when it comes to film quality. While American films sometimes generate standards for film, historically, it has been foreign cinema that has introduced new elements and styles to film.

Take the film Breathless for example: it introduced a style of editing never before seen in film. Now this was a major risk, one that could have totally backfired, but Jean-Luc Godard, the director, was fearless and believed in changing people’s perception of film. And this exact mindset is what made Breathless one of the greatest French films ever made (and one of my favorite films of all time). However, most people have not even heard of this movie. It has two things going against it. It is an old, black and white 1950’s film (I talked about this before: and it is a foreign film. However, this does not mean that it should warrant any less attention than your modern Hollywood flick (let’s say The Bourne Identity). Now let’s be clear. I love The Bourne Identity but many people like this movie because it was in English and a Hollywood product (something familiar). Now let’s imagine that the same film were in German. Would it have been as successful? Probably not. Most Hollywood flicks that take place in other countries (Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie for example) do not even attempt to speak the actual language of the country. Not only is this inauthentic but it is extremely lazy.

Some people do not like to read subtitles. This is unfortunate. While reading subtitles and watching a film can be difficult for some people, it does not suggest that the film is in any way less excellent. Foreign films often offer different perspectives than American films, and they include dramatic elements that are not frequently seen in Hollywood. It becomes extremely refreshing when you watch films like these.

Latin American films in particular appeal to me most. They have a quality about them that makes them very intriguing. The language and associated cinematography have a wonderful marriage with one another. It is what makes Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron two of my favorite directors.

Nevertheless, all foreign cinema has a certain charm to it. There are so many films to discover. Wonderful ones. Whether they be Indian, French, German, Spanish, Mexican, Persian or Chinese, they all have something different to offer and it’s about time people started taking notice! Because there are films that exist outside of this country. And there is cinematic joy to be found all around the world!

Give ’em a chance!

Here are some good ones to check out:

Amelie, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Red Balloon, Memories of Underdevelopment, Rudo y Cursi, Flame and Citron, Oldboy, Ip Man, The Secret in Their Eyes, Amores Perros, The 400 Blows, Battle Royale, Tsotsi, The Edge of Heaven.

So many more exist so go find them. The ones I listed at the top of the post are excellent as well!



Out with the New, In with the Old

15 Aug

Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, Steve McQueen, John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin

What do all these male actors have in common? No it’s not that they’re all dead but that’s actually pretty close. No I bring up these actors with distinguished careers because they belong to another time in cinema, a time that younger people are increasingly beginning to forget about. Not even just forget about…no see that would just be a simple consequence of a larger time gap between modern cinema and that age. Nope, this is much more than just forgetting. Most younger people simply do not care about older movies anymore. According to them, old films are nothing more than vestiges of another time, a less flashy time, a time that did not include special effects or incredible visual, high definition technology. Black and white has become synonymous with boring and sleep inducing.

And that really is quite a shame. Yes, color and high definition definitely add a wonderful dimension to film; however, that does not make all the black and white films of the previous century worthless. As I understand cinema, it is a combination of plot, acting, visual style and sound. At least those are the big factors. Older black and white films have some of the best acting and stories I have ever seen and it is extraordinary how much modern films today draw from old classics. In fact, many of the films we see nowadays are remakes of older films and the older films tend to be far superior most of the time. Take the film The Day the Earth Stood Still for example: a modern remake with Keanu Reeves came out in 2008 and while several of my friends loved it, I absolutely couldn’t stand it because I could not help thinking how much better the original is. Yes, The Day the Earth Stood Still was originally made in 1951 in full black and white glory and the film is about a billion times better than the remake, in my opinion. If you think that’s the only example, then you are mistaken. I could probably use this whole article to just list films where the original surpasses the modern remake in about every way possible.

I’m not quite sure what it is about black and white films. I understand that most of us are conditioned to watching films in color seeing as we were born and raised following the advent of color in film. However, most of my friends and younger people I know seem so strongly opposed to watching such films that I do not think it is only a problem of conditioning. Is it the lack of a big budget that did not allow directors and actors to do incredible action sequences back then that bugs them? Is it the more conservative time period? Whatever the reason, it remains true that these films are getting less and less attention and that simply should not be the case. Whether one likes the film or not is irrelevant but they should at least watch the film so they are not reduced to simply judging a film for its black and white appearance rather than its merits.

Now sure not all black and white movies are great. Not all old movies are amazing. But it is true that several classics exist and they came before all the technological improvements to film. This makes them almost more impressive in my mind. These films did not have to rely upon color or visual effects to make their films special; they are special for the purest qualities of film. These are the films that inspire our modern directors and they definitely inspire me. Now next time you see a film on AMC or TCM that looks a little older than something you would usually watch, just give it a chance. The classics are here to stay and it’s time more people started embracing them.

A short list that I would check out: Rear Window, On the Waterfront, Paths of Glory, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Breathless (This is a French film and a wonderful testament to what I’ve been talking about in this post)

There are plenty more so go ahead and stop limiting your cinema exposure and travel back in time with film.


The Difference Between Great and Favorite

2 Aug

Imagine a hypothetical situation:

“Mrs. Doubtfire?!! I love that movie!!” you loudly react as you overhear a film buff speaking to his friends. He looks at you grotesquely and says, “Uhhh no we’re talking about Man on Wire… (see:” as they scoff and turn their backs on you. You look at them and raise your eyebrow, turning away and muttering under your breath, “Douchebag.”

You’ve just been victimized by what most individuals (and myself) like to call a “pretentious film douche bag.” In fact, most cinephiles get a bad rep for the commonly held perception that most of us are arrogant, self-absorbed jerks who love telling you how bad your taste in film is. Indeed, some cinephiles do commit this rather nasty crime by ignoring a key distinction that makes taste in film purely subjective all the time: the distinction between a great film and a favorite film.

Often, these so called pretentious film buffs believe that in order for an individual to have great taste in film, one’s favorite films must belong to some master class of technically wondrous cinema. In my opinion, this is simply false. You can truly love watching a film without it being a masterpiece of cinema or some radically voyeuristic experiment. Take myself for example: I absolutely love the film 10 Things I Hate About You and if I see it on TV, unless there’s something I prefer even more, I’ll change the channel and watch it. It’s one of those films that I can’t watch enough times: that holds true for all my favorite films! Now I would not consider 10 Things I Hate About You a technical or narrative masterpiece; in fact, I wouldn’t even consider it a great film. Nonetheless, I still enjoy watching the film and it still connects to me on some level to the point where it is one of my favorite films; does that make my taste in film any worse than any other person? Absolutely not and that’s just the point I’m trying to make. There is no almighty, set-in-stone standard for liking films; either you liked the film or not. Maybe you even liked it to the point that you could watch it multiple times and never get bored. Whether that film is The Godfather or The Mighty Ducks does not matter. Just because one is (in terms of film aspects) clearly superior to the other, does not mean you cannot prefer The Mighty Ducks or furthermore, possibly not even like The Godfather (though I do find that highly doubtful). Whether you like a film or not is purely subjective no matter what any critic may try to tell you.

Moreover, it works the other way too. There exists a multitude of movies that I respect and admire as astonishingly well made films, yet they are not my favorites nor do I care for them particularly. This is okay too. Even if a film has the best reviews of all time does not mean that you have to unconditionally love it. Why even watch the movie in the first place then?? On the other hand, there are plenty of technically masterful films that are my favorites. It works in every way!

So I guess I’m just trying to tell you, as film viewers, to think for yourself and if someone tells you you’re stupid for liking or not liking a film, just ignore it. If someone says you just didn’t get it or you’re not intelligent enough, ignore it. Maybe the film spoke to them on some deep level, but not to you. You and you alone judge a film’s merits! Even here on this blog you can disagree with my assessment of films. In fact, I encourage it. It’s a great way to learn about other people and demonstrate your alternative preferences. So go ahead and love Mrs. Doubtfire! Just always remember that there is a difference between great films and your favorite films, and they do not always have to be mutually inclusive.