Sunday, March 13, 2011

What I've Learned About Americans (from foreign films)

My ears tend to prick up in that way people's ears can totally go except when they can't which is always, when I hear of a foreign film that involves an American character. It's not only because I am nearly guaranteed at least bits of English, where I'll feel like, say, Russian speakers feel when watching any pre-21st century Hollywood action movie. That is to say, beaming at the in-jokes you totally get with your native language. The sudden adjustment you must make, having spent a good portion of the movie reading subtitles. Of course, I could easily get this same feeling from a British character, or an Australian character, or hell, even that brief dialogue between the Chinese lady and the French lead in La Moustache, but there's something about a familiar accent, an accent I'll hear all day (except for that one British substitute at school), but among a sea of French, Korean, German, Italian, whatever language, it's kind of a comfort. A relief, if you will.

Right. I'm done now. Except I'm not. I forgot.

Ah, yes. An international favorite. The boorish, greedy, stupid-ass American businessman or tourist who just won't stop harshing the lead's mellow. Bon Cop, Bad Cop had the Texan guy who wanted to buy a hockey team, then went off on some random tangent about steaks. Cause we're like that. Love us some meat.

Or in Contempt, where Palance is a blunt jerkoff of an American producer, scolding Fritz Lang (yeah, that one) for his artsy take on an adaption of the Odyssey that he commissioned him for, buying Michel Piccoli to rewrite the script, probably to include more boobs, meanwhile blatantly flirting with Piccoli's wife, Bridget Bardot. All of this flinged at his co-producer/interpreter, Giorgia Moll, an Italian who must additionally translate French into English, French into Italian, German into Italian, Italian into German, German into French, German into English, etc, etc, poor dear. One is left to assume Godard did all this to avoid studio dubbing.

Right. I was going somewhere with this. In Memories, segment 'Stink Bomb' (最臭兵器 Saishū-heiki), we get the US military involved in a case where a young lab technician gets infected with a stink bomb that kills everyone around him. Again, they are shown, through the US Secretary of Defense, as bullying, cocky assholes. Never mind that they very obviously just got a Japanese guy to read off English dialogue phonetically.

There's another Godard film, Breathless (duh), where Jean Seberg, an American in Paris, shacks up with a French outlaw. He, at one point, comments: "You Americans are dumb. You admire Lafayette and Maurice Chevalier. They're the dumbest of all Frenchmen."

Bong Joon-ho, who I like to think of as my Spiritual South Korean Bestie Until Park-Chan-wook Gets Off His Ass With This Whole iPhone-Movie Nonsense, certainly has no high opinion of American military. In The Host alone, we've got a sixties-era doctor who insists his Korean, despite his better judgement, pour all the toxic whatever down the drain because the glasses aren't properly washed, a modern-day soldier who runs around, screaming "I've gotta help! I've gotta help!", and another military higher-up who's quite proud of a certain cover-up he and the folks down in Washington got boiling, if only to be discovered by one characters inexplicable knowledge of at least a bit of English, but I'm rambling again, aren't I?, so sorry...

What is my point? I have no point. Sorry to have wasted your time with this huge anti-climax. Of course, if you want to name some of your favorite moments of foreign-film Americans, then go right ahead. I, after all, can't stop you. Except for my wizard powers. But I don't like to use them unless Tom Cruise is on screen. Carry on.