As it avoids the controversy of foreign film, Hollywood simultaneously enforces a stigma about international cinema and pilfers its material for remakes.
The words “foreign cinema” inevitably strike fear into the hearts of most people. The horror of endless subtitles, zany plots and sorrowful settings is what many anxiously anticipate. People are put off by the unknown and the alien. Hollywood has helped to enforce a stigma about foreign films, one that places these films in the dustbin labelled tasteless and extreme. The American film industry as a whole likes to play it safe. Last year’s Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, was denied a theatrical release in the USA, while in the UK the tale of scandal and sequins was welcomed with open arms. If American cinemagoers were not able to cope with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon sharing a smooch, then it is doubtful whether Blue is the Warmest Colour will fare well there.
Instead of embracing exciting offerings from foreign lands, Hollywood has selective vision, like a child choosing pick ‘n’ mix
Hollywood, however, is a big fat hypocrite. For all that it sneers at foreign films and avoids more controversial and challenging topics that foreign cinema tends to embrace, Hollywood is perfectly content with copying, adapting and regurgitating material that originated in a foreign land. If you examine the new television shows and films that have been made in the USA in the past few years, you will find that a significant proportion of them are not home grown. Scandinavia, Israel, Colombia and the UK have provided the inspiration, characters and material for hit shows such as The Killing, Homeland, Hostages, Ugly Betty and The Office.
In many instances, attempts to translate these programmes have failed, suggesting that Hollywood is incapable of recreating whimsical British humour or compelling European drama. Instead of choosing to embrace the exciting offerings from foreign lands, Hollywood has selective vision. Like a child at the pick ‘n’ mix selection, it grabs at the colourful, delectable choices that have the potential for full scale Americanisation, but leaves the less glamorous options on the shelf.
The Millennium trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson is set in Sweden. It therefore seems fairly natural that these stories should be adapted for film in an entirely authentic Swedish manner. Produced in quick succession, the films were widely lauded and helped to launch the career of Noomi Rapace, who took on the challenge of the fierce yet vulnerable Lisbeth Salander. While most were impressed by the Swedish adaptations, this was not satisfactory for Hollywood.
The lack of a follow-up speaks volumes about the success of David Fincher’s The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo remake
It was unreasonable to expect people to watch unknown foreign actors speaking Swedish in a film set in Sweden, looking as middle-aged and ordinary as the author had described them. Instead what people needed was Daniel Craig in a pair of fake specs and a cardigan, and a near-anorexic American girl with some piercings and a moody expression. The lack of a follow-up speaks volumes about the success of David Fincher’s The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo remake.
Considering that foreign films often tackle the subjects that Hollywood avoids in the same way that Kristen Stewart avoids smiling – things like homosexuality, religion, political oppression, poverty and familial complexities – it is hypocritical that Hollywood slyly selects ideas and plots that can be wrapped in a Star Spangled Banner and called its own. It embraces the rest of the world’s cinematic and televisual offerings when it fits, or can be adapted into, its idea of acceptable.
It’s not just the US: Why is world cinema still so foreign to UK audiences?
While foreign cinema may not always achieve the global success it merits and might not be to everyone’s taste, this does not entitle Hollywood to rip off international success and hard work for its own end. If it’s not prepared to accept the full spectrum of beauty, intrigue and dynamism that foreign films do so well, then Hollywood should steer clear of anything that has been tainted with the international brush. Either embrace it all, or leave it to be appreciated by those with better taste.
Certain foreign films would never hold any validity as US remakes. They require freedom to make a statement and impress
World cinema is continuing to break new ground and entertain. A recent delve into the foreign film scene has brought tales of revenge, courage, impressive dance routines and an enforced sex change, films involving characters and scenarios that you would never find in an American movie. Such films would never hold any validity as a US offering, but rather require the freedom of the foreign film network to make a statement and impress. And yet if there were a chance that Hollywood could convert any of these to its dull and stale formula, then it would be all over them like Nicolas Cage on a terrible film role. So Hollywood, don’t snub the foreign market as a whole then steal its ideas for your mainstream remakes. Learn something from its example and come up with something original.
More on this topic: Oscar’s foreign film neglect has reached its apotheosis with The Great Beauty
Featured image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Columbia Pictures
Inset images: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Columbia Pictures; Warners España