21 août 2008

Europe is too different

Caller's question (Los Angeles) :
"I was wondering if you think that foreign films if they had been made in English with no other differences would manage to find a broad audience in the US. I don't think so because of culture shock. The actors that we want the most often in the US outside of Americans are of course the British because of the language similarities. But the British culture is very different from ours and even then it could be a hard time making a translation. I think it would be really hard to translate French, Italian, Chinese or Japanese culture to a broad audience here. what do you think?"
Answer by Mick LaSalle : "I agree. There are some movies, if they were made in English, they would do rather well. But even then they would need some kind of adjustment. It would be different, the stars are different. There is different attitudes towards life. Although I do sometimes observe that there are some English language movies, were they subtitled, would actually get great reviews from critics but because they are not subtitled people don't appreciate them because they are American. [...] But even though just doing a direct translation would be in most cases a little bit of a jolt. The English they have a different culture but their values, the way of looking at life is much more similar to ours than the way the Italians look at life, and certainly the way the French look at life. I mean when you travel on the continent and then when you go the England for a couple days and it almost feel like you're home, it really does, and it's not just because they're speaking English. They don't stop to work at 2 o'Clock in the afternoon for 4 hours for absolutely no reason... and they just have a different way to look at life that is more similar to ours."
Podcast by Mick LaSalle at the San Francisco Chronicle (07-16-2008) it's in the first 3 minutes.

The old continent is too different from Americans, life style, language, culture... "cultural shock", "a bit of a jolt"... heck they are just like the Chinese! We grew apart in our own separate ways ever since you guys flee to the New World. Americans and Europeans, we are not the same people. Our cultures are so incompatible now that it is impossible to conceive watching our respective movies, even with a direct translation. Really the only way to comprehend European storylines for the broad American audience is the home-made remake. Even if the entire world sees no problem watching translated Hollywood blockbusters and loving them, it cannot possibly work the other way round, Americans CAN NOT understand a foreign culture, even the Brits! It's too far from what they are used to.
Way to go "broad American audience"! Bravo Mick LaSalle! That's indulgent nationalist self-suggestion at its best. Not to mention the discriminative stereotypes...

I admire the fact they even ask themselves this kind of question about subtitled foreign films though, given their scarcity on the American market, it's a moot point anyway... But I guess there are too many of them already if they become a worry.

28 commentaires:

davis a dit…

Yeah, Harry it's part of your culture to be able to appreciate foreign movies (like ours). We're just not built that way over here. ;-)

LaSalle actually loves French film, so I'm not sure why he bowed to this so-called hypothetical. I think the real answer is that there's no need to guess what would happen, because you can observe it yourself: it seems like half of the horror movies coming out of Hollywood are very close remakes of foreign films. And the kids, they get 'em.

HarryTuttle a dit…

What do you mean "your culture"? The entire world (except a couple of countries) watch American movies since the dawn of cinema, and TV series since the 60ies, they are understood anywhere in the world, even if the "way of life" is a little different from our daily life...

"Cultural shock" is a big word! A slight variation of "way of life" at worse, but I see no major differences between American and European Cultures. We are all based on the same Judeo-Christian Western cultures on either side of the Atlantic, in the Northern hemisphere.
America is mainly made of families issues from European heritage! How far can the culture of your grand fathers can be? LaSalle is freaking French name!

Anyway, the point is not to live in Europe and fit in, it's just to watch a damn movie. Are we telling stories based on different psychological schemas, different archetypes, different emotional ropes, different cinematic grammar, different social codes???

Is it a cultural trait to be open to foreign cultural production?
This is not a matter of cultural difference if the "mainstream audience" refuses to understand the content of European movies, it's more a matter of taste.

davis a dit…

I agree. I was just being sarcastic. Sometimes I forget that American-style sarcasm doesn't transfer through the Internet tube to France, where sarcasm is not the same because of the lack of functioning democracy and freedom and gumption. Ahem.

Honestly, this idea of "American culture" as a homogenous whole is nuts. In many ways there's a bigger cultural difference between my former home in San Francisco and the town my parents live in (in Missouri) than there is between San Francisco and Paris! We had lots of family visitors in San Francisco when I lived there, and it often seemed like a totally foreign place to them. Chicago does, too, although the difference is not quite as stark.

What is this American culture I keep hearing about that is so distinct from the rest of the world?

HarryTuttle a dit…

I know you don't defend LaSalle, I'm just trying to understand this type of mentality. It's a false excuse to speak of "cultural differences", and an uneducated assertion.

You're right, there are obviously wider differences between sub-cultures within the American population, than between the average American and European people.

I know there is no idiosyncratic issues between you and me, between American cinephiles who like world cinema and cinephiles in Paris. We speak the same language and we understand each others. It's not a matter of upbringing or education, it's a matter of being interested in artistic achievements wherever they are great, instead of seeking for a mirror to look ourselves into.

The mainstream audience is conservative and shy in every country. In France too, the majority of movie goers prefer easy entertainment than boring artfilms. But I don't think there are more protectionist mainstream audience anywhere else than in the USA...

And when a guy who poses as a cultural educator encourages on the air this kind of self-centered comfort zone, I'm consternated.

P.S. i meant "family issued" not "issues" in my previous comment.
P.S.2. what is "gumption"?

Paul Martin a dit…

Americans (and I'm talking in generalities, of course) live in a bubble. Relatively few travel beyond their borders; they don't see the need. The US of A is the best country in the world and doesn't need to look beyond itself. The rest of the world longs for their freedom, wealth and opportunities. Why look elsewhere?

Americans don't want to read subtitles and while you, Harry, and I might agree that there's not 'that' much difference between various western cultures, on the surface their is. They speak funny languages 'over there', they have different road rules, they eat funny food, they do everything differently. Mostly importantly, they don't sell Hersheys.

Whether we're in my country, Australia, or the US, or anywhere, there'll always be people who have an aversion to cultural differences. In America, they'll take a European story and remake it to make it palatable to US audiences (hehe, look at what Michael Haneke has done!). In Australia, we think so poorly of our own culture that we generally won't go see a local film until it's been validated by an OS audience. Strange.

I've met a lot of Americans in different countries and situations. I've seen communities of expatriates that have been away from their homeland for decades and become like normal people, real people who acknowledge that the US is not the centre of the universe, but just one small part of one small universe.

Harry, you say you're trying to understand this type of mentality. I know where you're coming from, and I often ponder these things myself. I think one is open to other cultures and their differences, or not. The more we accept the differences, the more we realise we are the same. The US has done a great job of demonising Iran, but Marjane Satrapi's and Vincent Parroud's Persepolis does a wonderful job of humanising these aggrieved people, who are scarily just like us. What a revelation!

Anyway, I'm tired and ranting. I better quit while I'm ahead. BTW, I look forward to having a conversation like this with you en français.

davis a dit…

"Gumption" is a kind of home-spun resourcefulness, an audacious display of elbow grease, totally unique to Americans. Um, although when I look this up in the dictionary, it says the origin is Scottish. Weird!

Pacze Moj a dit…

This must be why the Lord of the Rings trilogy bombed everywhere: the "culture shock" of Middle Earth!

HarryTuttle a dit…

My apologizes, Paul, for talking about the "Northern hemisphere", it's just because they compared USA to Europe, but we can extend the "Western Culture" to the South too. Australia, South Africa, South America are very much "Europeanised" territories. We could even argue India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea are too, but the "cultural clash" becomes more apparent there.

OK, maybe we could talk of "cultural idiosyncrasies" (I rather think of it as "folklore"), but what are the values they talk about? I'd like to know how is it that "the French look at life" that is too foreign to American brains!

But Pacze Moj gave the ultimate argument : there is a reason why Entertainment is called "escapism", it's to project yourself in an exotic environment that changes your mind from daily life!

I wouldn't even argue if the caller was a redneck from the Midwest... but how could a woman from LA and a Guy from Frisco think that way? California is the less "American" state of the USA, these cosmopolitan cities, with NYC are the most Europeans in America, the governor is from Austria!

A sizeable portion of the faces this woman likes in Hollywood probably comes from abroad (UK, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Europe)...
Christopher Nolan, Heath Ledger, Michael Kane, Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Pierce Brosnan, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson, Russel Crowe, Guillermo del toro, Louis Letterier, Alexandre Aja, Christophe Gans, Shyamalan, Peter Jackson are NOT Americans.

What is this allegedly strict-American cinema unfettered by foreign culture? If there is a country on Earth that should embrace multi-culturalism as a "way of life" it's the USA! What is this xenophobic B.S. about the "American way"?

Ironicaly not one American cinephile reacted to my earlier posts on the American-centric market, as if it was a moot point, a fait-accompli that nobody cares to discuss or to fight for because the status-quo is preferable to self-examination.

If the issue was raised more often by the media and the blogosphere, in the USA, by American activists, the audience and the studios would at least stop pretending it's a non-issue. Then maybe we could hope for some evolution of the mentalities and an opening of the domestic market to world cinema. But with this kind of radio show pandering to their listeners (while it's supposed to enrich them with a wider, deeper, varied culture) it's really hopeless. Where are the people who dare to raise their voices to bring more foreign films on American shores?

Thanks for the definition, which I still don't get... I guess there IS a cultural divide. ;)

what is an "OS audience"?

Paul Martin a dit…

Harry, OS = overseas.

I didn't really notice your use of "northern hemisphere", so you have nothing to apologise about.

I accept what I think you're saying about western cultures that we're basically all on the same page. But there are noticeable differences. I noticed when I was in the US in 2003/4 that ethnic communities are much more integrated into the US culture moreso than here in Australia. For example, if you're a Greek immigrant to Australia, chances are you still maintain strong cultural ties and identity. Many Greeks here identify firstly as Greeks and as Australians only secondarily. My observation of Greek immigrants (in Washington DC) was that their allegiance is much stronger to their adopted country and little about them superficially gives away their ethnic background. I sensed that there is socially a much stronger compulsion to fit in and be American. Australians in contrast pride themselves on their cultural diversity. Mind you, we also have problems getting people to subtitled films, and our main cinema diet is Hollywood. Still, we have much more foreign language films here than there.

I believe that patriotism is a form of intolerance. When people rally around a flag to promote their shared identity, it's usually at the expense of others. I know of no country more patriotic than the US, and the number of people with flagpoles and the stars'n'stripes in their front yards is staggering.

I haven't addressed everything in your last comment, but this is what came to mind reading it.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Well I guess 9/11 exagerrated this patriotism and the flag-mania. And this patriotism seems more welcoming, based on citizenship adoption, rather than local heritage (like it is in France, where claiming patriotism is only open to Franco-French ancestry) which is more racist by nature. Though there are also sub-culture pride in the USA: African-American, Mexican-American, Italian-American, Irish-American, Native-American... but we digress. Being patriot shouldn't make it impossible to watch foreign films anyway.

HarryTuttle a dit…

A propos, est-ce que tu prends des cours de français à l'Alliance Française? Je crois que tu en avais parlé sur ton blog ou chez Girish... Au plaisir de discuter en français avec toi. ;)

Paul Martin a dit…

Harry, I disagree with your comments about patriotism. A culture may be welcoming, but patriotism dictates that the welcome is based on the home country's terms. You must accept our ways. The more patriotic, the more this is so. I don't have a problem with pride in one's culture, one's country, etc, but I do have a problem with patriotism per se. I try to see the planet as home to one people; patriotism is exclusive (ie, pertaining to exclusion).

I think the more patriotic one is, the more one will want to see one's culture, one's language, one's heritage, etc on the screen. I think Americans' aversion to foreign language cinema is directly connected with their seeing their country as the centre of the universe and as their culture being complete and superior.

Another factor is that most people go to the cinema for time out, light entertainment. Cinema with sub-titles is hard work for the average film-goer. This is probably as true in France as it is in Australia or America. While France is the home of my favourite cinema, it's also the home of my most disliked.

Mon français est assez moyen et je lutte pour construire des phrases. Mais j'y arrive. Oui, j'appris a l'Alliance Français - actuellement débutant 6 (pendant 18 mois). Maintenant, je pense je pourrais aller en France et communiquer avec une quelque lutte. Je peut parle meilleur que je peut ecoute. Tu me comprends ?

I certainly couldn't communicate the above comments in French. In addition to AF, I also have weekly conversation classes with a young person from the Champagne region. For what it's worth, I'm just learning to use passé composé and l'imparfait ensemble, as well as comparatifs (supériorité, infériorité & égalité, qualité & quantité)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Tu te débrouilles très bien en français. Bravo. C'est l'écriture le plus difficile alors si tu y arrives la conversation ça ira tout seul.

I agree with you. I was just trying to distinguish the lesser of 2 evils, patriotism is culturally exclusive, but it's not as bad as racism. Though patriotism is not directly related to movie going habits, that's why I'm saying it's a digression turning into free-bashing on Bush's America.

Personally, I think subtitles are the only way to watch foreign films. But dubbing is good enough for the mainstream audience, it's better than a remake, because it honours to work made by the original film crew. And contrary to what the guys are saying in this podcast, I don't think a European "culture" is impossible to translate in English.

Paul Martin a dit…

Firstly Harry, this isn't about US-bashing. I think we agree on that. The traits I mention are found everywhere, in different degrees. Is it the lesser of two evils? I don't know. I believe it is the racists who fan patriotism more than any others. It is a mask for their intolerance.

As an aside, I went to a screening of Beneath Clouds a few years ago in which the director Ivan Sen (an Australian aboriginal) said some words that stuck with me. He said his film (which I highly recommend) is not political per se. He said he doesn't think in terms of racism or sexism or any ism. Basically, there's two types of people: the tolerant and the intolerant. A racist person is usually sexist, homophobic, etc.

I agree about subtitles. I hate dubbing and I don't know if that's preferable to a remake. ça dépend.

As for translation of culture, I think it's something that the average person gives little thought to. They just go to the movies for light entertainment.

Could you please translate for me << si tu y arrives la conversation ça ira tout seul >> ? Je trouve l'écriture plus facile qu'écoutant et parlant. Pour moi, l'écoutant est le plus difficile !

HarryTuttle a dit…

"si tu y arrives, la conversation ça ira tout seul" = if you succeed (to master spelling/writing, which is the hardest in French), conversation will be fine.
Tu as des problèmes a comprendre l'accent français à l'oral? Regarder les films français en V.O. (original version) t'aidera à comprendre plus facilement avec le temps.

Paul Martin a dit…

Actuellement, je trouve l'épellation pas trop dur. C'est très semblable à anglais - beaucoup de mots. Et beaucoup des autres sont exactement les mêmes.

Ta question - oui. Il est trop rapide. Je vois beaucoup de filmes français, mais je dois les sous-titres. Quelque fois, je peux écoute le différence entre ce qui est parlé et ce que est écrit. Pardon ma grammaire. Aussi, je utilisé Babelfish Translation en ligne. ;)

Paul Martin a dit…

I could also mention that I'm a visual person. Seeing the word spelt is much easier. Hearing is much harder, because French drops so many letters, and for me, many words sound the same: quand, con, qu'on, etc. It's just a matter of practicing hearing and speaking, starting with little phrases and sentences and gradually building on that.

If I find a shop that has a French person, I find myself going back to practice my French speaking. And of course, a long way from home, people like to hear their native tongue. So it's mutually beneficial.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Maybe you're right, soundalike words must be troublesome. I think that there are a lot of spelling exceptions in French, and verb conjugaison is part of it.
But if you learn vocabulary and spelling fast, the rest will be much easier to cope with in practice.

HarryTuttle a dit…

I don't want to sound Euro-centric now... to be more exact, I should have said that historically the culture of these territories have been forged by the European empires and colonies during centuries, including the USA. But since WW2, America has Americanized these territories and most of the world, through export of music, cinema, processed food and economic power. So when in fact I say we have the same culture, I mean that in Europe we are Americanized enough to feel very much familiar to the American people.
So now to hear the American people complain that these cultures that they have deeply influenced are not Americanized enough to welcome a bilateral cultural exchange... is ludicrous.
Maybe explained that way is clearer and less Euro-centric. But Europe and America come from the same mould anyway, they are hardly a distinct "civilisation".

HarryTuttle a dit…

If that woman calling Mick LaSalle was right, then the Mumblecore movies, made by Americans, with Americans, about American mundane life, for Americans would be more successful at the box office than the foreign movies about a "way of life" so different from what the broad audience lives everyday, say, like Harry Potter (or Pirate of Carribeans)...

Something doesn't compute there in her theory.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Pacze Moj talks about this history book on the USA, ironically titled "Empire as a Way of Life", over at Critical Culture.

HarryTuttle a dit…

related link:
Remaking Your Own Foreign Language Film by Alison Willmore at IFC (9-14-2008) on the self-remakes (Bangkok Dangerous, The Vanishing, Nightwatch, Just Visiting, Funny Games, The Shaft)

HarryTuttle a dit…

related link:
Gwladys Fouché in The Guardian (09-24-2008) "A dub step too far"
Dubbed films are two a penny on the continent, bringing foreign language films to mainstream audiences. Why hasn't it taken off in Britain?

Paul Martin a dit…

Fouché: I used to hate dubbing. It was a crime against art, an outrage against all the actors who slaved away on set to get their performance just right.

That pretty much sums it up for me now. Aside from the casting aside of the director's and actors' work, dubbing takes me out of the moment, conscious of the mechanical process. In my mind, while I'm watching the film, I see actors standing with a script in their hand, reading.

I'm aware that dubbing is common in Europe, but it does nothing for me. It's a stumbling block for my appreciation of older Italian films.

HarryTuttle a dit…

As a purist film snob, I hate dubbing too. First because voice-over "actors" are dreadful (at least they are in France). And also because we can't say we have seen a film, or appreciate someone's performance if it wasn't the original voice!

And yeah I agree with you, even the built-in post-synch in cinecitta, where the actors lip-synch their own performance, is unbearable. The voice and the body are dissociated, even the depth of the ambient sound is fake. It's just an insult to dramatic arts.

This said, when it comes to mainstream audience, it's OK to resort to dubbing, for the purpose of reaching out to a larger audience. Most people don't care/mind this level of subtle detail. so what matters is that it gives them the most comfortable experience during the film, and entice them to watch movies they would no watch if subtitled.

If the mainstream American audience (and in the UK) were more open to dubbing, maybe they would see there is a cinema outside English-spoken movies.

Kunal a dit…

"Ironicaly not one American cinephile reacted to my earlier posts on the American-centric market, as if it was a moot point, a fait-accompli that nobody cares to discuss or to fight for because the status-quo is preferable to self-examination."

Harry, you forgot about my comments on your earlier post :)

Hope you're doing well. Been a while since we spoke.

Regarding your post about LaSalle and his caller, I would say that first, it's kind of a sad state of affairs if you have to even think about the fact that foreign movies should have to be dubbed in English in order for them to potentially have a larger audience. I mean, aren't subtitles good enough? Is it too much to ask that people put in a little effort and try to learn the wonderful art of enjoying (and actually relishing) the experience of watching a movie in a language other than theirs? Perhaps it is, going by the state of things.

Perhaps it is people's own open-mindedness and willingness to open up their mental apertures that may be at the bottom of this dismal issue. I was in New York recently and watched a screening of Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev" (for the third time) at Film Forum. It was a sold out screening, subtitles or not. Here in Portland (where I stay) the theater would be lucky if it can break even on the screening night. And Portland's actually a pretty cool city.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Sorry about that Kunal. This comment was tongue-in-cheek irony. I'm still waiting for a major platform of the American press/blogosphere to engage with this issue... but it's still not worthy of attention. And there is no incentive for the market to stop being self-centred if nobody cares.

You're right about subtitles. But this said, do we want cinema to be the exclusive reward for subtitles-friendly audience? An elite. Or to open its cultural wealth as well to "lazy" people? They get a truncated version of the auteur's original vision, of course, but it's better than not seeing it at all.

And subtitles are already a truncated version of the original language! The only purist way to watch a film would be to understand its original language (to avoid language barrier and translation approximations). Reading subs is also a distraction from what happens on the screen.
Subtitles are only a handy clutch, they are not the ideal way to experience cinema.

HarryTuttle a dit…

René Girard: "Les Américains imaginent qu'il y a quelque chose de spécifiquement européen qu'ils n'ont pas et ne comprennent pas. En réalité, ils ne comprennent pas l'identité des réactions de part et d'autre; les différences ne sont que des différences de situation, de pouvoir relatif. L'Europe fait la même chose vis-à-vis de l'Amérique : elle ne voit pas à quel point l'Amérique est la même chose que l'Europe. chez les Américains, il y a quand même cette idée qu'on a immigré parce qu'on est des Européens ratés; par conséquent, l'Amérique est en rivalité permanente, toujours en train de prouver à l'Europe qu'elle peut faire mieux qu'elle. [..]
Aux Etats-Unis, les politiciens vous diront qu'ils sont d'accord pour prendre des mesures écologiques si elles ne touchent pas les accroissements de production. Or, s'il y a une partie du monde qui n'a pas besoin d'accroissement de production, c'est bien les Etats-Unis; le profit individuel et les rivalités, qui ne sont pas immédiatement guerriers et destructeurs mais qui le seront peut-être indirectement, et de façon plus massive encore, sont sacrés; pas question de les toucher. Que faut-il pour qu'ils cessent d'être sacrés? Il n'est pas certain que la situation actuelle, notamment la disparition croissante des espèces, soit menaçante pour la vie sur la planète, mais il y a une très forte possibilité qu'elle le soit. Ne pas prendre de précautions, alors qu'on est dans le doute, est dément. Des mesures écologiques sérieuses impliqueraient des diminutions de production. Mais ce raisonnement ne joue pas dans l'écologie, l'humanité étant follement attachée à ce type de concurrence qui structure en particulier la réalité occidentale, les habitudes de vie, de goût de l'humanité dite 'développée'."
Philosophie magazine; nov 2011