Nightman’s Introduction To Foreign Cinema

Greetings, Glancers! A question I am often asked is ‘What the hell is wrong with your hair?’, quickly followed by ‘and what’s up with your face?’. Another more pertinent question, though asked with an equal amount of disdain and mewling voice is ‘why do you watch all those weird foreign films? Aren’t they all full of kinky sex, boring talking, and subtitles? Why can’t you just watch Fifty Shades Of Gray like the rest of us? And while I’m at it, seriously, what is up with your face? Cut your hair and get a job, you weirdo’.

You see, all of you big city fat cats who live in a more multicultural society probably have had greater access to more diverse areas of culture – cinema, music, art, and generally meet more interesting people. I, on the other hand, live here:

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It’s your typical 90% white, 90% Christian, 90% every other majority you can think of. Diversity – cultural or otherwise – isn’t exactly its strong suit. I’m being a little unfair though, as my town is one of the most absurdly friendly places you could dream of. Everyone says hello to me – for someone who could happily go for weeks without speaking to another soul, it’s quite a surreal ‘burb. Getting closer to some sort of point – for most of my life I have always been interested in stuff outside of the mainstream. I’m not saying that in some hipster way, and the movies and music I prefer are not really that far from centre because almost all of them have popular followings – it’s just that the stuff I like isn’t spoken of in my immediate social circles.

It all started, as most things do, with Bruce Lee. I’ve mentioned it before, but I have always loved martial arts movies, and when I grew up in the 80s the best movies of the genre did not come from Hollywood. I was therefore exposed to Asian cinema – Hong Kong, China, Japan, Thailand and more – at an early age. As time went on I branched out with different countries and genres. I’ve always loved Hollywood movies, but crucially I haven’t been afraid of looking beyond. And there is so much more. 

It’s frustrating to me that I follow multiple blogs by otherwise knowledgeable film fans who outright ignore movies outside of the US. Sure, every so often a big film will get a widespread US release and then everyone jumps on it. But then they move on to the next slice of Superhero skyscraper destructo-porn. I get that we all have limited time to watch movies and you want to spend that time either on movies you think you’ll already like or, if you’re one of these bloggers in it for the Likes and Followers, then you only watch whatever crap is in the charts – in which case I pity you. But every so often you have a blogger, or a Youtuber, or someone in a Facebook group who clearly and dearly loves Cinema and knows their John Ford from their John Hughes, yet when the subject of Foreign Film comes up they dismiss it entirely. Subtitles? Pah, if I wanted to read I’d go buy a book. You may as well say ‘if I wanted to learn I’d glue myself to the windows of the local Convent’.

I’m not saying Foreign movies are better and I don’t mean to sound condescending or superior, believe me I’m just as crap a person as you, I’m simply making a genuine plea for those people (bloggers or otherwise) who claim to love movies to widen their horizons. Don’t put yourself in a box, never limit your own experiences, and experiment as much as you possibly can to enrich your own life. Some of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, funniest, terrifying, evocative, influential, skillful, breathtaking movies ever made come from outside the US. If you love movies, why would you deprive yourself of those?

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Yes, it’s supposed to say WTF but I’m not changing it now

Basically, to get into foreign cinema you need to find your own personal niche – one movie, one performer, one genre that you can get into which acts as a gateway drug to a large and crazy cache of fantasy and wonder. Like West Coast Cooler leads to a pint of Absinthe, like a puff of pot leads to naked desert meth production, like masturbating leads to grand larceny or something, you can’t dive into the hard stuff without first wetting your beak with a treat you already enjoy, albeit with a slight twist. So for anyone asking those questions at the top of the post, or for anyone curious about foreign films, feel free to have a gander at my posts. Today I’ll give you some basic pointers, and later I’ll expand with some examples.

Lesson 1: Don’t Start With The Award Winners

An easy place to get stuck and disheartened is by Googling for Best Foreign movies and working through the list. Almost every such list will be filled with great movies, but they will likely be on the more dramatic or critically acclaimed side – not necessarily the sort of things someone new to Foreign Film will want. Better lists will give a blurb on each movie and if it sounds like you’ll like it, by all means give it a go. Another mistake people make is by checking the Best Foreign Film winners at the Oscars. Again, if you’re the sort of person who hasn’t watched Foreign Films before then there’s a chance you’re not the sort of person who even watches the Best Picture winners at the Oscars. That’s fine – I’d much rather watch a bunch of zombies get shot up than watch Emma Stone sing and dance. Oh yeah, that didn’t win. Looking at the Best Foreign Language winners of the last twenty years, there aren’t many which jump out as something which would suck in the average mainstream movie goer (and you’d be better served by looking at my Oscar Post nominations for Best Foreign Film anyway – ha).

Lesson 2: Don’t Listen To Assumptions

Boring. Slow. Cheap. Weird. Subtitles. Bad acting. A bunch of nobodies. Confusing. Artistic. Porn. These are all things I’ve heard people say, both to my face and in my years of reviewing, blogging, posting, and reading. The simple answer is both yes, no, and so what? Any movie from any country can be boring, slow, ‘weird’, and have bad acting. The assumption that this is somehow widespread throughout foreign movies is nonsense. Movies are subjective, so find what you like – see Lesson 1 and Lesson 4. Personally, I like ‘weird’ movies. If something doesn’t sound like it will be to your tastes, don’t watch it but don’t make the assumption that every other movie will be the same. Foreign films, depending on the Country, have just as many big name actors and directors as Hollywood – you just don’t know them yet. Subtitles are the best way for me to watch a non-English language movie, but if you really are that dim that you can’t read at a faster rate than 1 word every few seconds, then you probably don’t have mental capacity to watch any movie. I don’t like dubbing because I find it a more jarring experience than subtitles – taking away from the performance of the cast. Sometimes dubbing makes the movie better, though this is typically from the viewpoint of unintentional hilarity.

You will find films from a Country other than your own, on average, more confusing than films from your own Country – there’s no escaping that fact. This doesn’t mean you will be utterly dumbfounded or lost. There are just as many ‘easy’ films and mainstream films as in Hollywood – just different. Sure there will be films that you just won’t get, but again you could say the same for Hollywood. You think foreign films are more artistic – I would say that’s not a bad thing. It’s another misconception too. Foreign films make less money – less people see them, and perhaps that means there is less of a sense of Business surrounding them meaning that ‘anything goes’. Everything considered, it sounds like only toffs, hipsters, smart-asses, and weirdos watch foreign junk. You don’t have to be smart, or weird, or sophisticated, or false, or anything to enjoy a foreign movie – you just have to find the one that’s right for you. Foreign movies have sex. Non-foreign movies have sex. If you think sex is evil, don’t watch.

Lesson 3: Understand What ‘Foreign Film’ Means

For the purposes of my posts, I am calling out Foreign movies as anything not made in Britain or the US. I could even limit it to anything outside of US, but that would be weird given that I’m not American. There are a tonne of other movie markets around the world, some English speaking, some not. For any Americans looking to branch out but keeping to English Language – try UK Cinema, try Australian cinema. Foreign cinema as a whole deals with the same issues and genres as American mainstream and indie cinema. You want car chases, slasher movies, slapstick comedies, tragedies, romance, war epics, these are all things which exist around the world. You don’t need to know much, or anything, about the country of origin, but any knowledge might help your appreciation or increase enjoyment. Each country does have their quirks and very loose, very high level style based on decades of movie making and centuries of culture, and the more you watch the more you will catch these. If such things exist, a ‘generic’ French drama has inherent differences from a ‘generic’ Spanish drama, a Japanese action movie will have different trademarks than a Hong Kong one. I’ll focus more on these in my next posts.

Lesson 4: Think About What You Already Like

As alluded to above, Foreign Cinema is essentially the same as Hollywood Cinema – it just comes from a different place and culture. If you’re strictly a horror fan, then the world is your oyster. If you only like bloody and gruesome horror movies, then head straight for France, Italy, or Spain. If you like action movies, get over to Hong Kong. If you like musicals, Bollywood is waiting. You may already like a film by an actor or director who is primarily or partially known for Foreign movies – if you like their Hollywood work, chances are you’ll like their other stuff too. By far the best way to get into Foreign Cinema is by branching out from your existing preferences. All it takes is one movie, or even one moment, to make it all click. You don’t have to worry about being a connoisseur, you don’t have to worry about sounding smart or cool in a crowd, although you can do those things. Watching movies should be primarily a selfish experience – ask yourself what you want from a film and what you’ll get from it. As a secondary item, you will want to share your experience with like-minded people, and eventually even try to convert others, but that all starts with you and that first step of finding something you like.

Lesson 5: Behold Now Is The Accepted Time

It has never been easier to get into foreign movies, or movies in general. Since the mid nineties, foreign cinema saw a boom in the UK and US with a number of high profile films from around the world making a tonne of money outside of their own markets. A tonne of DVD companies popped up specifically to bring you the best in World Cinema, anime became a global monster; nerds and things nerds like became cool, encouraging others to come out of the woodwork. Streaming happened -all you have to do is stick in Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or some of the less legal alternatives, and find the foreign section. Everything is available at the touch of a button, a far cry from asking your local video store owner if he’s getting in any more Dario Argento movies and waiting 6 weeks for an answer. Scroll through a few Streaming Services after reading my posts, and you should find something to try. Just don’t come moaning to me that you lost 90 minutes of your life – what else were you going to do with that time – larceny? Masturbate? Yeah, I know all your dirty secrets.

In my next series of posts I’m going to cover some of my favourite movie making countries and why I love them, and I’m going to give some examples of gateway movies for specific genres. Maybe it will take the format of ‘If you like Hollywood’s then you’ll like Russia’s Y’. I’ll talk a little bit about the biggest stars and directors past and present from a variety of countries, and hopefully a few of you will take the plunge or use these examples and on-the-spur advice to win your own friends and detractors over. It’s a big world out there, people, and it’s all there to be enjoyed!

Let us know in the comments your struggles with watching foreign films or converting others to watching them, and point out some of your favourites!

Tell it like it is!

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