Articles: International Cinema Report: American Filmfare Geared Towards Adolescence, Not Much Substance.




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"Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon"

Laurence Washington

Like fine wine, films from the Far East are making their way into the hearts and discriminating palettes of film critics and connoisseurs, because they deal with the human condition to drive their plots, not the wizards from Industrial Light and Magic’s toy shop. Many critics feel some of the best films in the world are being produced in Asia because they underline basic human themes.

"Well, it seems to me that right now, all the good films are coming from Asia or Iran," says NPR film critic and film purist Howie Movshovitz.

"And there’s always a question as to why that happens. Why all of a sudden should Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Korea be making this incredible stuff."

Movshovitz who teaches film study at The University of Colorado at Denver and shows films around Colorado to eager film lovers and community groups, said people may look for a social, political or financial reason for the cause of this growing phenomenon from Asia during the past five years, but it really doesn’t stem from just one factor.

"Sometimes it just has to do with the artist," Movshovitz says. "Somebody, somewhere gets good and all of a sudden a whole bunch of people realize what’s possible."

As an example, Movshovitz points out that the People’s Republic of China has, in the last 20 years, established an extraordinary tradition in filmmaking.

"What amazes me is we talk endlessly about these repressive societies around the world," Movshovitz says, "and trumpet our artistic and political freedom. And these countries are producing films that may face political censorship, but damn it – those films confront fundamental things about human life and social interaction."

On the flip side, Movshovitz says American filmmakers (studio execs for the most part), are making nothing at all. And the independents are making films such as, ‘Oh my girlfriend doesn’t love me anymore.’

This doesn't mean Americans aren't going to the theater. They are. But they may not be getting what they really want.

"If you take people who are thirsty and you give them a choice of liquid soap or liquid shoe polish, they’ll choose one. They may not be happy, but they will choose one.

"Right now we have an incredibly adolescent cinema," Movshovitz says, "and several Asian countries have adult cinemas. How wonderful! Good thing somebody’s doing it!"

Movshovitz underlines the fact that director Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") takes on martial-arts films, punctuates all of the elements of its genre, and then adds all the other ambient factors that he can bring to it.

"If you look at that film – it’s just exquisite," Movshovitz says. "He just does so much with it."

Movshovitz says American film attendance in terms of population, not dollars, hasn’t gone up in decades. And that Hollywood cinema used to understand that film entertainment needed some substance.

"Hollywood has always been anti-message – which I think is smart," Movshovitz says. "You don’t want movies to lecture you. But Hollywood had, for a while, a grasp of how to make films that were really fascinating to a huge range of people. Hollywood doesn’t have that now. But a film like ‘Crouching Tiger' does."

Like most critics, Movshovitz triumphs "Crouching Tiger" as an entertaining film. But he stresses that entertainment doesn’t mean stupid.

"It never did. It's only meant that to the Hollywood guys in recent years," he says.

Movshovitz says many American journalist have perpetuated the lie that Americans won’t read subtitles and subtitled films suffer as a result. But to quote Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘Americans don’t read subtitles, except when they do.’

"And Americans won’t look at black and white films unless they do," Movshovitz says. "The American public is a lot smarter than the media gives it credit for."

Movshovitz says he’s amazed over and over at broad range of Americans who are grateful to see movies that not necessarily have happy endings or are mindlessly upbeat.

"They’re grateful for movies that don’t insult them and are willing to give them some kind of intellectual and emotional pay-off," Movshovitz says. "They can think about things a little bit, their eyes are delighted and they are grateful."


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