Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Universal Language

Film, a medium based in images. Back in the day, films were made entirely without sound, just the power a succession of images could produce. Nowadays we tend to put too much emphasis upon the sound in which we hear when we see a film, this applies very wholeheartedly to foreign films.

Many here in the States have an odd stigma about foreign films. Most simply see them as pretentious art films, while others just simply don't care about anything that isn't spoken in their native tongue.

Over the years I have seen a fair few foreign films, many of which I would deem better than films produced here in America. Films like The 400 Blows, Pan's Labyrinth, and more recently, Departures, are brilliant pieces of cinema regardless of where you come from. What is even more intriguing about all of these films I've just mentioned, not a one of them would I consider a pretentious art film. These films are all told as powerfully and as effectively as a product of American cinema. So what makes these films so different from other foreign fare that is pretentious, like say, Breathless? The power of the image.

No matter how much witty dialogue you have, if you can't watch a film without any sound and still not be moved, then there is something missing in the proceedings. A good film is a film that is infused with wondrous images to tell a story. Now while dialogue is often needed in order to add clarity to a situation, the image is still the most integral part of a film.

Many films nowadays tend to forget this. Just look at something like Pulp Fiction, or even one of my favorites from the Golden Age of cinema, Casablanca. These films were made by their dialogue, not their images. Do I enjoy good dialogue? Yes, but not to the detriment of the image. There are many films that I love that I can't even remember a lick of their dialogue, but I do remember just about every single image that flickered across the screen.

It is the succession of images that makes a film unforgettable. Think back upon your favorite films of all-time. Try and imagine thinking about something like Star Wars without thinking of a lightsaber duel or space battle? It's just about impossible.

It is the images that make films to me among the best things in the world. That is why film is a universal language. It's why I can watch foreign films subbed into English and feel as if I'm watching a film that was a product of the American cinema. When the images are so engrossing that I completely forget where a film is from, I simply know that I am watching a great piece of cinema history.

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