Nightman’s Introduction To Foreign Cinema – My Journey

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Greetings, Glancers! I wasn’t originally going to write this post. In fact, the last time I made any changes to my first Foreign Cinema Intro post was January 2018 and that was followed up with my run through of each Country alphabetically. I haven’t posted those yet, and I haven’t finished writing them. The point is, that when I envisioned the series as a whole, this specific post wasn’t part of it. While reading the initial post back though, I felt like something was missing among all the begging and moaning – my journey. Maybe you don’t care about this, maybe you do. I thought I’d write it anyway as it may be helpful if you decide to begin watching foreign films or if you’re one of those strange people who simply wants to know more about me. I’ll keep it brief, as I did cover the basics in how I first started watching non-Hollywood fare in my first post. The other thing which is lacking is in my upcoming A-Z posts – I didn’t feel there was enough of a stepping stone between the Intro and those posts, so maybe this will help.

It was Bruce Lee. I don’t remember why or how I started watching his movies, but I was around six years old. From there I would watch any film I could get my hands on which had ‘Dragon’ or ‘Fists’ or ‘Ninja’ in the title or which featured box art with a guy wielding a sword or performing a fly kick off or onto a helicopter. What could be more simple? I don’t even think I understood the concept of ‘foreign’ back then – all I knew was that I liked these films and that I wanted to be able to kick the crap out of people too. By the time I understood that people could be actors and that actors appeared in different films, my favourite actors were foreign – Arnie and Bruce Lee. It made no difference to me that they may have spoken a different language or been dubbed or had a weird accent or were made in Hong Kong or LA. To a kid from Northern Ireland whose day usually began watching my dad checking under our car for bombs before letting us go to school, everything was foreign. This may be one of the biggest leaps for US viewers. You guys have everything you could ever want on your doorstep and centuries of breeding and culture to make you believe you are the best at everything. We’ve existed centuries longer and we’ve come to understand truths which you have avoided or not yet been faced with. But to me, everything was foreign and everything was mine no matter when or where or how it was made.

Later, once I began talking about movies with friends I would branch out to other martial arts and action stars – typically also foreign – Van Damme, Jackie Chan, Dolph, and into the older Hong Kong staples. Then I started to get into horror movies, thanks to Salem’s Lot and my love of gruesome myths and legends. Those myths and legends? Foreign. Horror was a different matter entirely and while I was generally allowed to watch movies where guys killed each other by jumping on their spines or beheading them with swords, horror movies were more off limits. While perusing the video store I would inevitably be drawn to the horror alcove to stare at the box art for Freddy movies, Fright Night, zombies, killers in masks, pictures of hands coming out of the ground, hands grabbing throats or clutching knives, houses perched ominously on hills with weird lights and shadows coming from within. While my first horror experiences were Hollywood based, I knew that the really scary stuff – the banned stuff – came from overseas. Once I began to understand what movies were and started to make lists – of things I had seen in magazines, on shelves, by recommendations, or advertised on TV or Radio by the few people who actually talked about these things, I began seeking them out. Not because they were foreign, but because they were supposed to be good. They were meant to be ‘must-sees’.

Eventually, in my teen years as your typical jaded youngster disillusioned by the populist stuff, I would fall a little more in line with the ‘seeking things out because no-one else knew about them’ cliche. I never fully embraced this as I’ve always been a single-minded person not swayed by the opinions of, well, anyone. Which makes this post ironic as I try to convince others to watch things, but we’ll ignore that. The point is that while I watched some films that I knew none of my peers had heard of, I soon saw no benefit or got no pleasure from the process. I wanted to watch movies I knew I would like and I wanted others to know about them. Cue many unwarranted one-way discussions on ‘this guy from New Zealand called Peter Jackson’ or ‘if you hate that America doesn’t make movies like Die Hard anymore, then check out Hard-Boiled’ and ‘you think that’s bloody/scary/weird, try Suspiria/Ring/Hausu’. I wasn’t bragging or trying to score points – I wanted my friends to see the movies I had seen and get the same kicks out of them that I did. I still want those kicks today, and I always will, and I want people to know that it isn’t all Marvel/DC/Disney/Blumhouse/insert favourite US studio.

So what do you like? My favourite countries for movies outside of the US have always been Hong Kong and Japan. While I appreciate that some people are simply never going to want to watch a Kurosawa movie, or a martial arts movie, both of those industries have a lot to offer. I loved J-Horror while it lasted, before it choked on its own tropes. Hong Kong action remains breathless and you can get everything from war epics to balletic gunplay to treetop sword-fights and jaw-dropping stunts. In recent years, the South Korean, Indonesian, and Thai markets have been stepping up their game when it comes to action and horror. Japan meanwhile continues to make both the weird and wonderful – experiences I guarantee you won’t get anywhere else on the planet, but also the most perfect character driven dramas of the moment.

As I’ll mention more in my A-Z posts, Australia is a great starting point. They have a rich and varied history, although the output is much smaller than the US and UK. Everyone loves Fury Road, right? Go back and watch the early Mad Max movies and the copycats. Elsewhere, France had a wave of horror movies which we are currently seeing either the tail-end of or the beginnings of what comes next. These are not for the faint of heart, but if you’re a horror fan you’ll find something to love. My history with French Cinema is more closely aligned to looking at critic’s lists of best films and best directors, although on a personal level it has been my love of certain performers or directors which has drawn me in more – I have a thing for pretty ladies so Virginie Ledoyan, Audrey Tautou, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Eva Green have all led me down some interesting paths. I also have a thing for cool anti-heroes and action movies, which France is full of. Italy was always more distant than France for me, until I discovered Dario Argento, Mario and Lamberto Bava, and Spaghetti Westerns, and with Spain I was taken more by the sexy stuff before learning more about the whole Franco/anti-Franco influence.

What I would recommend, before embarking on your journey, is to look at your favourite movies as they stand currently. You will have something directed by someone who worked outside of the US before making it in Hollywood. If not, I guarantee there will be an actor who fits that criteria. Go watch their non-Hollywood movies. In doing so, you might find another actor or director you like, and you can go watch those too. Suddenly, your world has opened up. Read my upcoming posts in which I’ll talk about my limited experiences of each country and I’ll talk a little about what I consider to be gateway films – films which are from the particular country, but also universal enough that the majority of film fans should get something out of them. I’ll list some of the most well-known performers and directors in the hope that you say ‘oh, I’ve heard of that guy/I liked that one thing they did/maybe I should give one of their other movies a try’.

Well, that was more of a P.S post than I intended, but I am typing this on the fly. My simple hope is for anyone reading this who is skeptical about foreign cinema to watch a single foreign movie – just one. Give one a chance. If one person comments to say that they’re going to try a foreign movie, I’ll be happy. If only one person comments to say that they did take the plunge, watched, and loved one, I’ll be ecstatic.

It’s over to you – let me know in the comments if you’re willing to give it a go and how you got on.

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!