Movies, an introductory post

I have always loved the movies, since I was five or six years old and attended double-feature matinees in the local theater in Columbus, Ohio.  And I loved watching movies on television as a child, especially late at night when my parents were out.  I associate this experience with Glenn Ford, for some reason.

More recently, I came to enjoy going to theaters less.  It’s just a lot of trouble, getting in the car and finding a parking place, and it became rather expensive.  Now we have a big-screen high definition television, and we primarily watch movies that I have recorded on DVR from our satellite television service in France, which means that we are about a year behind in our viewing of recent feature films.  In 2009, I think we went to the cinema perhaps three times.  We saw “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler” in English with French subtitles at local cinemas.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult to attend the cinema in the US without being disturbed by the talking of fellow customers.  That happens less often in France.

In any event, I am happy with the domestic viewing experience, and so we rarely attend the cinema anymore.  In addition, we are regaled with a fabulous selection of movies to watch on our French satellite television service, because we pay for two separate premium services, Canal+ and Canalsat.   We do this for two reasons.  One is to compensate for the fact that we are no longer going to the cinema very often, and there is no video rental service comparable to Netflix in France.  There are such services, but they do not have a comparably broad range of titles.  The second reason is that I can follow some American sports, particularly the NBA, to some extent by subscribing to these two services.  In addition, there are two excellent music channels, Mezzo and BravaHD, on CanalSat.

As regards the selection of movies, American movies are much in evidence, in English with French subtitles.  Turner Classics is available, with the addition of a small number of films that are not American and are shown in their original language.  CanalSat also has its own classic movie channel which is international in scope but with a French concentration, as might be expected.  Broadly speaking, the selection of films available is better than anything I could have imagined, including both art films and commercial films, from all over the world.

For anyone interested in the history of French film, having these two satellite services is a voyage to paradise.  It is a paradise I rarely enter, however, because my wife’s French is not good enough to watch unsubtitled French movies with any pleasure.  And, truth be told, my own success in being able to follow an unsubtitled French movie is hit or miss.  The older the film, the more difficult it is, because of the quality of soundtracks.  Crime films are particularly difficult, whether old or recent, due to the prevalence of slang and the slurred and clipped way in which people tend to speak.  A French actress of our acquaintance recently told me that she has been asked on film sets to speak in a less articulate way, in order to be “more natural.”  But, in fact, the way people speak in many movies is not really natural, it’s an invented hyper-naturalism in which people speak in a muffled and highly accelerated way.  It is as though there is a contest to distinguish the real French speakers in the audience from the pretenders, and the pretenders can include Frenchmen who are not attuned to the latest slang.  There is nothing peculiar to French cinema in this regard, of course.  We have watched episodes of “The Wire” on DVD with English subtitles, because we were unable to follow crucial parts of the dialogue without subtitles.

So I hope that this will be the first of many posts devoted to commentary on film and television.  My taste in film generally tends towards social realism.  I am not generally attracted to film that is primarily visual in its ambitions, nor am I attracted to surrealism in film or poetry.  And I generally like film narratives to be readily comprehensible.  If there is jumping back and forth in time and perspective, I don’t like to feel that I am taking an IQ test in order to be able to follow the narrative.  I will probably have a post about “Slumdog Millionaire,” which I recently recorded but also saw in a theater, and about which I had what might be a novel interpretation that might not survive a second viewing, that speaks to this.

The new language war in France

One of the most difficult aspects of moving to France for me has been the fact that French people want to practice their English-speaking skills with me.  When they speak English pretty well, conversations often become a linguistic turf battle between them and me.  I did not move to France in order to speak English with French people.  I could count on one hand, and perhaps on two fingers, the number of occasions on which the French person’s English is better than my French, although I suppose that this is a very difficult think to judge.  For instance, the French person might find my accent, which is a light anglophone accent and not an American one, difficult to bear.  In any event, French “hauteur” has been transformed over the past 10-20 years with regard to the question of speaking English.  Now, it can be difficult for the anglophone to speak French in France, even when he wants to.  If one betrays the slightest hint of linguistic difficulty with one’s French, certain French interlocutors will take that as a cue to switch to speaking English.

After 3.5 years of living here, I still do not have a good way of addressing this problem, and I have as yet never directly insisted to anyone that he or she not speak English to me.  I hope to find a polite way of saying this and to be able to introduce this gambit into conversation at appropriate times.