A couple of months ago, I addressed the issue of younger people categorically refusing to watch black and white movies. Now I'm turning my attention to the avoidance of foreign language films, a pattern which unfortunately is not just found among our youth.
Americans of all ages it seems are willing to forgo even outstanding movies that just happen to be made in a different language.
Obviously the reasons for this go beyond mere patriotism, so I went online to check out a few blogs on the subject.
I found some choice comments:
"Foreign movies tend to be 'art-house'."
"They're just too boring to watch -- no action."
"Subtitles distract from watching the actual scenes."
"Subtitles require my undivided attention."
"Most foreign movies are crap."
And my favorite:
"I don't want to read my movie."
Oh well, it is a free country.
Still, the same message holds for this group as for those twenty-somethings that only watch color movies: You are missing out, big time.
Beyond the unfortunate fact that more and more of the finest, most original narrative films today are coming from foreign shores, let's consider the older stuff as well.
In all, it's a treasure trove of cinema, reflecting everything this medium can and should be.
The actor Seymour Cassel told me several years ago that when his son was griping about watching a subtitled foreign movie, he just turned to him and asked, "You can read, can't you?" The kid was silenced. (Granted, part of the impact lay in Seymour's deadpan delivery.)
Reading subtitles is a lot like riding a bicycle. Practice not only makes perfect, soon enough it's second nature so you don't even notice you're doing it. This particularly holds true when you're watching something great.
With this in mind, I've isolated 25 foreign titles that every subtitle hater should see at least once (note: I have excluded silent entries). Though for the most part these are not light or easy films, they provide outsize rewards for those willing to watch and read at the same time.
1) M (1931)
2) Grand Illusion (1937)
3) Rome, Open City (1945)
4) Bicycle Thieves (1948)
5) Tokyo Story (1953)
6) Seven Samurai (1954)
7) Pather Panchali (1955)
8) The 400 Blows (1959)
9) 8 ½ (1963)
10) Playtime (1967)
11) War and Peace (1968)
12) Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)
13) The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (1972)
14) Amarcord (1974)
15) Fanny and Alexander (1982)
16) Ran (1985)
17) Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987)
18) Close-Up (1990)
19) Raise The Red Lantern (1991)
20) Central Station (1998)
21) In The Mood For Love (2000)
22) Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
23) Talk To Her (2002)
24) The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
25) The Lives Of Others (2006)
To see John's videos for WNET/Channel 13, go to www.reel13.org
Follow John on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BMBFarr