Movie Wars. How Hollywood and the Media Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 2000
excerpt Chapt. 7 : Isolationism as a Control System
"This chapter and the next explore complementary and mutually alienating attitudes: the desire to keep out foreign influences in order to preserve American "purity," and the fact that what we consider American "purity" is often composed of foreign influences. [..]Precisely for this reason, even bad or mediocre foreign movies have important things to teach us. Consider them cultural CARE packages, precious news bulletins, breaths of air (fresh or stale) from diverse corners of the globe; however you look at them, they're proof positive that Americans aren't the only human beings and that the decisions we make about how to live our lives aren't the only options available - at least not yet. [..]"
Critics forgot that there is more than prescription in "film criticism", that to determine whether a given weekly-batch movie (approved by the distribution system) is worth spending the admission fee for a pleasant night-out is NOT the end-all argument of the conversation.
When the specialized press wastes time and space dismissing festivals and "foreign cinema" just because they allegedly repeat "mannerism" (while these incriminated films are precisely the MOST POTENT VISIONS in our current film landscape!!!), I really question the motive of their bitter boredom... The fact is that they only know how to ride the coattail of popular (or rather populist) "blockbusters". Yeah, everyone has something to say about Avatar or Inception! But give them ART and they yawn, begging for mercy, skipping to the next "big sensation".
I thought Cinema had achieved a true cultural binding in the world, because it is mainly based on visual language. Translation in local idioms doesn't suffer as much as in Literature or Poetry (and if it does, it's more a script than a film!)
I thought that, at least amongst cinéphiles, we could talk about films regardless for their language and country of origin, that every filmmaker was accepted on equal footing, as long as his/her mise en scène had something significant to say... But the cultural barrier is high and thick.
When non-domestic films are rejected on other ground than for being subtitled, critics find fancy ways to paint them in negative light... They won't say that they prefer Entertainment (cause it's not politically correct amongst cinéphiles) They say the competition for Hollywood is "déjà-vu", that they aren't on par with the slick (and dull) professionalism of studio movies, they believe a slow pace is a misunderstanding of the Hollywood sense of timing, they purport that going for a plan sequence is a proof they can't cut... How far are they willing to go to tarnish the appeal of creation, over the "comfort food" of Customary patterns, Classic screenwriting, Traditional narrative, Standardized timing, Conventional blocking, Pre-formated editing : everything that defines AMERICAN moving pictures... 80 years ago!
Some people will never learn from overseas...
[David Denby said "One of the extraordinary advantages of growing up French is that you can be absurd without ever quite knowing it"]
Rosenbaum replies : "If a French critic made the same statement about growing up American, I wager that most of us would find the remark stupid. But too many Americans feel licensed to define the rest of the world, cheerfully and without shame, in terms of their own limitations. [..]"
cue Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 lol
You may also read this : Cultural relativism (Sontag), Cultural Fallacy 10: Insularity, Europe is too different
"That a good many Americans are interesed in seeing foreign movies, including some that exist only overseas, isn't really a matter of dispute. [..] But people can only be interested in films that they know about, and given the lack of interest in the mass media in anything that isn't already omnipresent, the range of what people are likely to know about is shrinking rapidly. That's why the themes of innocence and ignorance strike a chord in young audiences despite the supposed cynicism that the press keeps attributing to them. On some level Americans are aware of their own isolation from the rest of the world as well as their crippling lack of information [..]"
Well that one is a bit far-fetched... I wouldn't have dared to make that connection. Aware of insularity on a conscious level? Probably not. Americans wouldn't even conceive the idea that neglecting non-American culture could be considered as a negative. The world needs Hollywood, sure, but America doesn't need to care for underlings of their commercial imperialism. That's more what the overwhelming majority of Americans are thinking. And the American intelligentsia who knows better, isn't vocal enough to change this mentality. Thus fatalism. Thus Isolationism.
"Another reason might be the industry truism that in order for a film or series to be commercially successful, it has to have the status of an "event" - meaning, I suppose, that a retrospective with new prints qualifies as an event and that the prior commercial release of a single Bresson masterpiece (say, Au Hasard Balthazar) apparently doesn't. [..]"
I believe even Rosenbaum himself revised his support for the big screen (DVDs A New Form of Collective Cinephilia). Nowadays he'd rather boost the DVD economy and forget about the ever-shrinking peau de chagrin of artfilm screenings in his homeland. But who cares for the original format films were meant for, if the floors are sticky in movie theatres? I guess not being invited to free screenings since he retired can change a man's belief system...
"Given our extreme isolationism - arguably even greater today than it was half a century ago - it's logical that we should think of foreigners in stereotypical terms because we have so little informations and experience to draw upon; similarily, we often think of non-Americans as wannabe Americans. So, out of necessity, we wind up thinking about much of the rest of the world in shorthand: Communists are nonreligious, the French worship Jerry Lewis, Iranians are subject to heavy censorship in the arts, the Chinese produce fortune cookies. That there are plenty of religious Communists, that most contemporary French viewers prefer Woody Allen to Jerry Lewis, that Iranians tend to revere artists more than we do, and that Chinese fortune cookies are strictly for export are lesser-known facts because they interfere with our ready-made formulas. At most such data offers fleeting clues about what usually escapes our radar, and unless we can combine them with additional information, they're likely to be helpful only as counter-stereotypes, not as understandings of these foreign cultures. [..]The assumed desire might be expressed in infantile and emotional terms: "I don't like the world, take it away" In other words, the virtual-reality thriller seems to solve the puzzle of how to address an audience assumed to be interested only in escaping without reminding them of what they're supposed to be escaping from. [..]"
see also National stereotypes and Expatriates (2008) (which Rosenbaum published in Spain instead of preaching his own parish!)
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Where are the anti-isolationism activists in the American specialized film press? People who DO NOT believe that foreign festivals are the latest hype target to bash. Where are the bloggers who care for a nationwide distribution of films they indulge with ease in the elitist quarters of NYC? Where are the critics who disagree that "foreign" artfilm auteurs had a free ride (too many screenings? too much BO money? too many DVD sales? too much air time on TV?) for too long? Where are the Jonathan Rosenbaums of 2010? Where are the readers of this book who thought it was OK to move on and stop worrying about it?
When Isolationism reaches the breaking point, the moral responsibility of film critics is to fight it with words EVERY SINGLE WEEK until it improves, or else there is no point continuing to mindlessly promote the market-approved releases of the industrial system! There is no film commentary possible under these circumstances.
How could cultural intellectuals be consumed by an apathetic fatalism? It makes no sense. But it explains the abysmal level of approximate film discourse, confused priorities and questionable responsibilities in what we read these days...
Apparently in some places, culture can do without any sense of collective responsibility... but could we still call that "culture"?