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Foreign-Language Movies With Subtitles

     Okay, you've already broken your millennium vows of cut down on smoking, only safe sex, and reaching out with a palm branch to problematic ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends. Is there any way to atone for such a quick collapse of character? Yes, my friend, I offer a simple way to make your already-crummy year 2000 right. Everything turns karmically copacetic if you resolve, and carry through on this resolution: I WILL ATTEND LOTS OF FOREIGN-LANGUAGE MOVIES WITH SUBTITLES.

     This is not a joke, gentle reader. In the US, subtitled films are truly madly deeply a vanishing species. At one time, 7% of American box office came from films in languages other than English. The latest figure: a dire .7%. Distributors turn away from films by major directors from France, Germany, Russia, and there's not a chance for pictures from "peculiar" countries like, say, Poland or Holland.

     What happened? The common wisdom is that it's young people who have dumbed down, who, except for a goofy night at a Hong Kong programmer, have turned 100% USA-o-centric, and who are too lazy, or too disinterested, to deal with subtitles. My own observations are, unfortunately, in line with the above. From a year programming the Harvard Film Archive: practically the only foreign-language films guaranteed to attract undergraduates (there was no difference for Harvard film production students) were cult head-trips such as Wings of Desire and Solaris. Alas, I've been to the Brattle on those depressing, barren nights when a masterpiece of world cinema is revived for an audience half-dead, half-asleep.

     Where are the kids? Am I totally unfair? I'd love to hear from youthful readers, those who break the stereotype and, perhaps even more, from those who shun films from foreign lands: Assuming you are smart and educated, please tell me ( what keeps you away from subtitled movies?

(January, 2000)


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