Friday, January 19, 2007

Rouge and A.O. Scott on Foreign Film

The other day critic Jonathan Rosenbaum was singing the praises of Rouge, an online film magazine, so I was doing some browsing. It's fairly serious and highbrow (no big shock, given JR's taste) but I've already found some fun stuff. Issue #5 was devoted to still images, and it's fun to browse through. My favorites were: Adair on Astaire, Cuerda (a director I'd never heard of), a shot from the film Weeping Meadow (which I have yet to see), stills from Ford and Ozu, a clever piece by Grant McDonald and lastly: this piece on Teresa Wright. This is what I was trying to say not too long ago (here and here). She's magnificent!


A.O.Scott had an interesting topic the other day in an essay wondering why Americans don't see more foreign films. I think he got at some of the issues, and I appreciated the point (I read this as a mild critique of Rosenbaum's writing) that the notion that large numbers of Americans would see foreign films if only they played in their multiplexes is wishful thinking. But I think Scott's only halfway there. A bigger problem is that the critics' favorites from others countries are highbrow art films (Kiarostami, Ming-Liang, Angelopoulos, etc.), often very arcane work that is aesthetically anti-Hollywood in the extreme. We're not just talking about reading subtitles, discouraging enough to some, but choosing to be baffled by a style of art that's alien to most Americans and a pace that bores most people who are used to Hollywood/television aesthetics when they could instead watch some excellent and accessible television.

If critics really wanted the American mainstream to embrace foreign films, they'd also champion foreign work made with more mainstream aesthetics. There's room for both in the market (look at martial arts films), but in privileging "contemplative cinema" over genre work, the film critics have been foreign language cinema's enemies as much as they've been its friends.



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