I: 12 Questions for Travis Anderson

Russell Fox’s post on International Cinema at BYU and the responses to it inspired us to ask Travis Anderson, IC’s director, to do 12 Questions for us. Here is the first installment, answers to four questiosn.

1. What is the mission of BYU International Cinema? Have technological advances like the DVD and the large number of foreign films now available for rent, sale, or online viewing modified that mission or altered what you show at BYU IC? Have those changes altered the general public’s relationship to film? Isn’t International Cinema a bit of an anachronism now that so many video stores in town have excellent selections of foreign films, and services like NetFlix offer even more choices? Are there still good reasons to have an International Cinema program, and if so, is the place of IC in the BYU community changing–and narrowing–overtime?

ANSWER: Outside of NY, LA, Paris or some other first-world metropolis, it has always been a challenge to keep abreast of art films in general and foreign films in particular. And even if you do live near a venue for viewing great cinema, it requires a certain dedication to pass on the latest attention-grabbing blockbuster and take a chance on an unassuming foreign film. Salt Lake City’s Madstone theaters came and went almost before anyone noticed, and every time I see a sparsely attended art film at the Broadway or Tower theaters, I wonder how much longer they can stay afloat. Despite all the vocal support among the cappuccino crowd for theatrically released foreign films, things don’t seem to have changed a whole lot since my friends and I(and occasionally Jim Faulconer, who was our favorite teacher) used to make a near-weekly pilgrimage to The Blue Mouse, SLC’s art house cinema (dingy little fire-trap that it was) during the late 70s and early 80s—most people still aren’t as willing to plunk down their hard-earned money for foreign films with subtitles and challenging subject matter when the same time and money will buy them 90 minutes of Hollywood produced, adrenaline-pumping escapism, especially if they have to drive a long way to do it. So, I’m sure that the convenience of widely available and affordable DVDs, and services like NetFlix have facilitated the dispersal of filmart. And I suspect that more people are viewing foreign films than ever before, especially in areas of the country (and globe) where art house cinemas are rare.

But even so, foreign language DVD sales and gate receipts (even in foreign countries—more on that later) are still almost eclipsed by Hollywood fare. I am amazed every time I introduce a film at a BYU International Cinema screening or our annual freshman Honors Orientation Film Night by how many audience members and especially incoming students have never before seen a foreign film, not even one—despite their affordability and availability. So, I’m inclined to think that the people who buy and rent foreign films on DVD or watch them online are pretty much the same people who would patronize them at the box office (just as Jim and I and others in our circle would rent tapes of foreign films as well as see them in the theater)—a relatively small percentage of the movie-going public, in other words. And thus, exposing people—especiallyyoung people—to the merits of international cinema still seems to me to be a worthy and necessary task

As to whether home theater viewing has displaced the big screen, I would say it depends on the movie. Any foreign films that I haven’t seen at a festival and that look to be promising I try to see at the theater, since I’m seldom sure I’ll get a chance to see them later. But ever since films started coming out on videotape soon after their theatrical release I’ve been prone to being highly selective about what I pay for at the box office. And I doubt I’m alone in this practice. Among English-language films, lush cinematic masterpieces and sweeping epics—films like those of David Lean, Merchant and Ivory, and Terence Malick—are definite big-screen movies for me, as are high quality action and fantasy films like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lord ofthe Rings. In other words, films that take full advantage of the medium are those that I’llcommit my time and money to seeing at a theater. But character studies or comedies I’ll usually wait to see on the small screen. And this is especially true now, when I have to preview 6-8foreign films a week for IC—not counting the 40 or so I see at every film festival I attend. It has to be a really good English-language film to drag me into the theater.

That said, I would rather see any film on the big screen than on a computer or TV screen, and I think most serious film viewers feel the same way. Even with uncomfortable chairs and sticky floors, there’s a huge difference between seeing a film larger than life and seeing it on a small screen, even on a HD plasma screen. Seeing it at the theater allows you to totally immerse yourself in the imagined world of the movie. And I think that’s what an ideal aesthetic experience should be—an experience in which, for a few minutes or hours (or days, in the case of a really good novel), you’re someone else and somewhere else. And film, more than any other medium, brings together all the arts in a symbiosis that approximates as closely as any contemporary venue can, I suppose, the ecstatic transport once characteristic of Greek tragedy, Elizabethan theater, and high opera. For a while, attending a film even had the communal element Aristotle and others attributed to Greek drama—I have very fond memories of Friday and Saturday night midnight shows of Chariots of Fire and Monty Python and the Holy Grail at Provo’s old Fox Theater (as well as a few more colorful films at The Blue Mouse), when the entire audience (some in appropriate costumes) would happily wait (and chat, and sing, and share donuts) in long lines and then participate in the film itself once we all got inside. 20 years ago even less sophisticated fare, like the opening of a new James Bond, would occasion a communal spirit of sorts. But sadly, that aspect of the film-going experience is pretty much dead and buried. Theaters are so small now and social alienation so commonplace that even at films like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, where you would expect the homogeneity of the crowd to produce at least a little amiability, people are more concerned with gabbing on their cell phones and guarding their place in line than in being genuinely friendly with other theatergoers.

But the question remains, have these changes affected IC? And has our mission narrowed over the years? In short, the answer to the first question is “yes” (but not as much as you might think), and to the second it is “no” (our mission has actually broadened). That’s partly because our primary objective has never been to entertain, or even to expose students and locals to foreign films per se (though the latter was certainly an important aspect of Don Marshall’sprogramming choices) Our mission is, and always has been (at least since the program was officially formed in the 70’s), to use film to educate—in a threefold way: first, to afford the multitude of students studying foreign languages at BYU (the single biggest foreign language program of any university, after all) with a chance to experience the culture they’re studying and to hear native speakers speak that language; second, to provide English majors and students taking GE classes involving world lit with a chance to see film adaptations of great literature; and third, to help BYU theater/film majors and Honors students become familiar with great works in cinema. (This mission partly accounts for the “highbrow” trait of IC films many of you referred to in your questions). Of course, we try to choose films that are also morally praiseworthy in some way, entertaining as far as possible, exemplary of fine film art, etc. But those are not our primary goals. In fact, it is not unusual for us to choose a film in, say, Portuguese, that is a real dozer, simply in order to meet our language quota while, on the one hand, avoiding the rut of showing the same films over and over again, and on the other hand, avoiding films that contain problematic material (ironically, now that we can’t edit out a word or two, it is also not unusual for us to have to choose a film that is much less praiseworthy both artistically and morally than many other available films in that language, simply because the others run the risk of “offending for a word”—more on that later, as well).

Could requiring students in a foreign language class to buy a foreign film on DVD along with their texts accomplish the same purposes with less trouble and expense? Well, it might accomplish the purposes of that particular class, and it would certainly accomplish the task with less trouble and expense for the college and for me. But it would do so simply by transferring that trouble and expense to individual students. And more significantly, it would restrict the film experience to that particular class, whereas IC allows the entire university and local community to share those benefits—and to see the film on the big screen as it was meant to be seen. Moreover, and contrary to what some of you speculated on your posts, a significant percentage of the films we show are not available on tape or DVD when we show them (and some perhaps never will be, since despite their quality, some films will probably never enjoy enough demand to prod someone into producing and marketing a DVD version). Every semester we have a few Utah premieres—films that have not yet showed (and sometimes won’t ever show) at any Utah theater. Every once in a while we even have a USA (non-festival) premiere. And every year we show at least a couple of films which are unavailable for viewing except in a 16 or 35mm format. Many film classics and small foreign productions fall into this category—meaning that our film students (and other moviegoers) might never have the chance to see these films were we not able to show them in a theater environment. And rather than our mission having narrowed over the years, we now serve a broader spectrum of university programs and classes than ever before: in response to our efforts at better aligning IC films with curriculum needs, we now receive regular requests from faculty for both particular films (like last year’s Orpheus-themed movies) and specific subject matter (like holocaust-related films, or films about cross-generational issues) to supplement planned coursework.

All things considered, then, while IC no longer offers in most cases an exclusive chance to see foreign films, I think IC still plays a vital role at BYU. And let’s face it, any genuine university should be not only a vehicle for obtaining degrees, but a well-spring of extra-curricular learning and life-enrichment opportunities—and how many universities can boast a program like ours, which shows 30-40 top quality international films every semester free of charge? None.

2. How much does a movie’s notoriety play into its desirability at IC—for example, “The Last Temptation of Christ” or “The Passion of the Christ”? And what about challenging content generally? When I was at BYU in the late 80s and early 90s, IC was the one artistic venue on campus which seemed completely immune to censorship and radical sensitivities. Can BYU folk today still count on IC to show films which push the typical BYU student’s envelope? Or has whatever power it once had to stand impervious to the vague cultural pressures of the place gone the way of the dodo?

ANSWER: I don’t know where people got the idea that IC ever tried to “push the envelope,” but that’s utter nonsense. Maybe it pushed your envelope because you knew little about film or foreign film. But all education should do that—at least in the sense that it should teach you something you don’t already know. But actively seek out controversy? Not a chance. We live on a razor’s edge as it is, thank you very much.

IC (like many other programs at BYU) is not now nor ever was immune to university standards, nor to guerrilla efforts at censorship or radical sensitivities—far from it. If Don Marshall is to be believed, IC came close to extinction on a number of occasions. I don’t doubt that those close calls were sometimes exacerbated by somewhat marginal film selections, since a few of the films I saw at IC as a student, even after being heavily edited, were bound to draw complaints from an ultraconservative audience simply because of the topic, and it never failed to amuse me when Don claimed complete surprise that anyone could find such films offensive. But more often than not, IC’s tenuous position on campus was (and still is) due to malicious attempts by a select and oddball group of students, faculty, administrators and locals to shut down the program for various idiosyncratic reasons: in some cases it is or was as petty as a territory fight over campus resources or space, or rage over students standing in line in front of a secretary’s mailbox, or an offense taken at something Don said or didn’t say in response to a complaint or suggestion, or a chance to sound morally superior in a letter to the editor, and of course, the vast majority of reasons march ubiquitously under the anti-pornography banner—which behavior usually secure sat BYU an immunity from criticism, lest the criticizing party be accused of being pro-pornography. (A perfect example is a recent incident at the BYU Bookstore, where a student claimed offense at a particular book, and demanded that it be removed from store shelves or he would stand in the doorway with an open copy and force every customer to see the offending page. Now, the fact that he was more than willing to expose people, against their will, to material he viewed willingly (and repeatedly), but purportedly considered pornographic, indicates that his motives were anything but pure—nevertheless, his antics succeeded in getting the book removed from easy access.) The complainers in such cases are following a strategy a little like that advocated in a humorous article I have taped to my office door, the last paragraph of which reads: “If all else fails in an argument, compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler. This is your heavy artillery, for when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong. Bring Hitler up subtly. Say: ‘that sounds suspiciously like something Adolf Hitler would say’ or‘you certainly do remind me of Hitler.’ You now know how to out-argue anyone, but don’t pull any of this on people with guns.” Around here, claiming that something is pornographic is more potent than claiming it reminds you of Hitler.

In a community as conservative (and intolerant) as Utah County (remember, people here were willing to contribute or withhold huge contributions to UVSC in order to prevent Michael Moore from even being heard, not just endorsed—legitimating their efforts at censorship by laying claim to their own free speech rights. Go figure.) it’s not just Rodin nudes that raise hackles. Don once told me of a complaint that had been lodged because a film contained the word“consummate” in the dialogue. When I became director of IC I found a letter on file (that had worked its way down to the dean after being sent directly to a church general authority) which accused Don of exposing the audience to “full frontal male nudity” when he showed a film in which (and this vital detail went unmentioned in the letter, of course) a naked newborn was held up for family members to coo over. There was even a letter CC’d to Don from a BYU VP (now retired) who praised a particularly stubborn troublemaker for his “vigilance,” agreeing with him that “foreign films by their very nature are pornographic.” Such astonishing behavior would probably be completely ignored anywhere else, but at a university supremely (and rightly)concerned with treating everyone respectfully (even when they’re wrong), and extremely sensitive to donor pressure and bad press—or threats to generate it—such complaints, even the fabricated ones, are given much more attention than they usually deserve, and often the truth falls victim to the bureaucratic equivalent of a sealed-case plea bargain. What makes matters worse is that the troublemakers know this only too well, so they play that trump card as often as they can and as high up the administrative ladder as they can—often to great effect. Of course, the administration is usually stuck between a rock and a hard place in such matters, and while most administrators here are remarkable people performing remarkably well in an often thankless job, everyone knows that it only takes one mistake to raise a real ruckus, so everyone always tends to err way way on the side of caution.

This makes choosing films for a BYU audience a very finicky and frustrating process. I know exactly why Don sometimes chose the films he did (which, in hindsight, probably included a few questionable titles), and it wasn’t because he craved notoriety—he simply loved film. He was excited about it the way any genuine teacher is excited about his or her subject, and so every time he saw a film that excited him, he wanted to share it with everyone else. And that excitement sometimes got the better of him. I probably preview 40 films for every new one that we show. I myself have a whole list of films I would love to show at BYU—really great films, in my opinion. But not being anywhere near as optimistic and charitable in my estimation of other people’s judgment as Don was, I won’t risk showing them unless they not only completely accord with college media-use standards and criteria, but aren’t likely to draw even unwarranted fire if it might jeopardize IC or tarnish the reputation of the college or university at large. Even so, as in the case of “Hero,” my judgments are sometimes vetoed in favor of greater caution still. So, no, we haven’t had anywhere near the number of complaints since I became director that Don had when he was director, but that’s mostly because I haven’t been willing to fight the battles that Don fought and I’m naturally a lot more conservative in my film choices than he was. But while I genuinely try to avoid films that might legitimately offend a reasonable viewer—and even grudgingly try to avoid those that shouldn’t offend a reasonable viewer, but might offend a few of the unreasonable ones—I harbor very little sympathy for those who eagerly exaggerate or completely misrepresent a film’s faults (and defame a program or person in the process) in order to fabricate or advertise a false view of their own righteousness. And I’ve come to believe that if you grease wheels that are squeaking when they really need fixing, not lubricating, then the usual result is diminished performance from all the other wheels and a whole lot more squeaking from the broken one. In other words, I think we’d have far less problems at BYU if we stopped lending a sympathetic ear to illegitimate and fabricated complaints, and thinly veiled power plays. But to date, my infinite wisdom has drawn no administrative job offers, so things are likely to remain unchanged in that respect—especiallysince my tenure as director is about over.

So, when all is said and done, we choose films for IC based on the foreign language that dominates the dialogue, the moral appeal of the film in question, its artistic merits and cinematic importance (usually in that order), not on its ability to generate controversy or “push the envelope.” In fact, if a film is likely to generate controversy, we studiously avoid it, not only to forestall trouble, but so as not to sabotage our program’s intended purpose.

3. When I went to BYU, the International Cinema was quite a bit less family oriented than the Varsity Theatre, which seemed more heavily censored and was reputed to have used pre-censored films (airline versions or something similar). Most people would agree that some films, like “The Last Tango in Paris,” will never screen at IC, nor should they. But what about more marginal films? Does BYUIC make an effort to obtain cleaned-up versions of somewhat racy films (like the PG version of “Saturday Night Fever”), or do you simply scuttle the showing of any film with lurid or objectionable content? What about relatively minor content concerns, like the sexual sounds in “Hero”—isn’t IC a zone where some of this stuff is supposed to be allowed? What standards or rules (both formal and informal) do you use to determine whether a film can be shown? And was (or is) International Cinema held to a different standard than other campus film programs, like the HBL Library film program, and the old Varsity Theater program, and the program that used to show films like “Psycho” in the old Joseph Smith auditorium—which all had vastly different audiences?

ANSWER: Let me begin by describing the process by which films were edited at IC, so my later remarks will make more sense. Films arrive in shipping canisters and are wound on lightweight and flimsy shipping reels. 16mm films usually come on 2-3 such reels, while 35s usually need 6 or more. They are prepared for projection by removing the protective (extra) film stock at the beginning and end of each reel, called headers and tails (the part with the number countdown on them—harking back to the days when films were shown reel after reel on multiple projectors and had to be cued up), so that each portion can be spliced to the next and then transferred with a loading spooler onto durable metal projection reels (in the case of 16mm films) or onto large horizontal platters (in the case of 35mm stock). The multiple sections of film are spliced together with yellow tape so the joints can be easily found when the film is ready to be broken down and re-attached to the headers and tails prior to return shipping. The same yellow tape was used by IC to mark editing splices, so that when the film was broken down the edited strips could be spliced back in—this time using the clear tape that is used to repair breaks. Clear tape is used so that the repaired and replaced sections of film aren’t later confused for reel change splices, not to hide an edit. Neither kind of tape is seen by the viewer, since you’re not really seeing “moving pictures” when you watch a movie (or you would see nothing but a blur); you’re seeing still frames pass before the lens and stop 24 times a second (which is what makes the clicking sounds characteristic to projected films). So an individual frame partly covered even with bright yellow tape passes before the eye much too quickly to be noticed.

To my knowledge, all the editing for content that IC did in the past was done legally (when I took over, we still had drawers full of letters from distributors granting BYUIC permission to edit) and it all took a great deal of time: the film had to be previewed and stopped at each spot to be edited; the trouble spots then had to be marked (usually by sticking a piece of paper into the rotating reel, just as in “Cinema Paradiso”); and then the whole film had to be run again (though this time it could be run at high speed from marker to marker) and the actual cut and splice editing carried out (and IC didn’t have the benefit of a lightbox editing apparatus as did the Varsity, so it was all done with makeshift lighting and a small hand splicer); finally, the edited film had to be re-viewed and marked for any needed adjustments or further cuts. Don and his projectionists would often work all Monday night editing that week’s films. It was a very labor-intensive process.

People who complained about Don leaving in offensive material have no appreciation for the extraordinary time and effort he invested year after year in editing those films so they could be enjoyed by a BYU audience. And when you understand the process, it’s easy to see how ridiculous it is for someone to claim that films were systematically left unedited without Don’s knowledge (as one of your blog respondents named Greg Allen erroneously claimed on his web site and referenced in his post (here, response 106) to your “Hero” thread—a claim that Don rebutted point by point in a reply to Greg which he wrote and CC’d to me quite some time ago, when he also reminded Greg that his claim to have been a “student manager” at IC was a mistake, since no such position ever existed; the only student employee positions on record that were ever allotted to IC were, and still are, 1 part-time secretary, an occasional temporary 5 hr/wk assistant to the secretary, and 3-4 projectionists—and according to Don, Greg was just a projectionist, and a short-term one at that).

Now I’ll try to answer the question about the differences between IC and the old Varsity Theater Program, which are legion. Really the only thing they had in common was the fact that they both showed movies on campus.

It always surprised me no end that IC drew more fire from the self-appointed media police at BYU than the Varsity, since R-rated movies were a Varsity Theater staple. They edited them, of course—often in very humorous ways, like turning down the volume during profane dialogue, so everyone could still see perfectly well what was being said, but just couldn’t hear it, or by placing a piece of cardboard or a strip of paper over the lens during a sex scene, so everyone could hear what was going on, but just couldn’t see it. They would often cut/splice edit as well, but since editing films is such a long and arduous process, and since one of the Varsity’s primary purposes was to make money (the Varsity wasn’t independently funded like IC; they had to cover their own costs through ticket sales), they didn’t want to bear the cost of projectionist overtime hours, so they would cut corners whenever possible (or so I was told by a former VT projectionist). But even with editing, the Varsity’s shows were almost always a lot more objectionable to my mind than IC’s, since when Don edited a film, at least it was usually a film that had enough artistic merit to justify the cuts. But editing 90 minutes of mindless pabulum just produces edited mindless pabulum—and I happen to think that art (or most anything else, for that matter) should be judged primarily on the basis of its virtues, not solely its lack of grievous vices. The Varsity showed some good films as well, of course, but their bread and butter were popular Hollywood movies that had most of the nudity, sex or harsh profanity edited out of them (which is precisely why the Varsity had to close shop soon after BYU instructed us all to discontinue editing—students simply weren’t willing to pay to see G, PG and PG-13 films (which didn’t need editing to be showable) at a mediocre theater like the Varsity, when they could pay the same price to see the very same movies in a Dolby-equipped state-of-the-art theater elsewhere). When we moved into the Varsity I hauled out box after box filled with film committee review forms for the films the old Varsity had shown, and with the exception of some high quality Disney animation and the infrequent English language jewel like “Ghandi,” they were the same virtue-less formula films I avoid seeing at the local cineplex today. I’m not criticizing the old Varsity program, since their intentions were good enough—like the Wilk bowling alley, they simply wanted to provide students with affordable and inoffensive entertainment. But the fact remains that usually their films weren’t anywhere near as good (or inoffensive) as those that played at IC. And yet, IC took most of the flack.

As some of you noted in your posts, there were other venues on campus where films were shown as well. The Film Society showed Hollywood classics (like Hitchcocks and Capras) in the old JSB auditorium. And there were films shown in the MARB and in the student dorms with portable 16mm projectors. These were the venues where movies like “Psycho” were frequently seen. But since such films didn’t suffer from the stigma of being “foreign” films, they usually didn’t draw fire even when their content was dicier than IC’s. Hitchcock films are a perfect example, since everyone agrees they’re great art and almost no one today finds them the least bit offensive, and yet they’re absolutely full of provocative clothing and behavior, sexual innuendo, sexual situations, suggestive activity, and often, scenes of violence that are still shocking today.

On another note, IC didn’t target films because they were “highbrow” or less “family friendly,” as one of you described them (though I fail to see how James Bond even in an edited version of “Octopussy” at the old Varsity was a more family friendly event than seeing DeSica’s “The Bicycle Thief” at IC). But foreign films (at least the good ones) generally tend to tackle more thoughtful, philosophical subjects, so they end up being less an occasion for mind-numbing entertainment than an opportunity for serious reflection. Like a lot of other people who appreciated IC, I always saw that difference as a good thing, but plenty of people apparently didn’t—and still don’t. Do we try to obtain “airline” versions as did the Varsity? First, I have no way of knowing whether or not the Varsity indeed used pre-edited prints, and second, that’s usually not possible for us, since most foreign films don’t have pre-edited versions. I think the only distributor-edited print we have ever showed was “Glory.” Do we clean-up or avoid lurid films? Actually, we would have no interest in even a cleaned-up version of a “lurid” film, so yes, we avoid them. Is IC a “zone” where we should demonstrate a certain tolerance for great art as well as for views not our own? I think a university should be such a zone. But obviously there are those who disagree.

4. Don Marshall is reported to have claimed that IC wouldn’t show a movie at all if it couldn’t be shown uncut. But some people distinctly remember seeing films at IC that had been edited (“My life as a Dog,” for instance). Did editing become a problem when the industry heard about the Varsity’s practice of editing of movies and consequently threatened legal action (which seems hypocritical, since the industry clearly allows editing for airline films)? Did Marshall ever make such a claim, or did IC indeed edit films? If so, why was the practice stopped?

ANSWER: I’ve already answered this in part, but just so we’re clear: of course IC edited films. There’s simply no way that some of the films shown at IC over the years could have been shown on BYU campus without editing. The program would have been shut down in a New York minute otherwise. I have no way of knowing, of course, what Don said or didn’t say to whoever made that claim about him, but I can see no reason why he would have said such a thing, since he had permission from distributors to edit and it was no secret that he did it. I can remember many times even as a student when I wandered into the Kimball Tower auditorium to speak with Don about one thing or another while he and his projectionists were editing films on Monday afternoons and evenings, and there was never any effort to conceal the practice. And during his frequent film lectures Don often referred to things that had been edited out of a film. Moreover, most of the negative letters to the editor and complaints that IC received during those years (judging both from those I remember reading as a student and those that are still on file) concerned things that had or had not been edited out. So, clearly, it was common knowledge. And that being the case, why would Don claim not to have edited films? Nor can I believe it is true, as I mentioned above, that rogue projectionists systematically managed to circumvent the editing procedure and leave films unedited out of spite or perverse humor. I can’t prove that it didn’t happen once or twice, but Don surely would have noticed a pattern had it happened as regularly as has been claimed—and any grievous or regular oversights would have generated an immediate uproar that could not have escaped notice. On the other hand, it is certainly possible that an occasional intended cut unintentionally slipped by for a day or two, given the complexity of the process. But again, Don was pretty conscientious about watching the films during regular screenings early in the week precisely in order to see the final results of his editing session and catch such oversights. Also, his film students were required to see the films every week, and would have quickly reported back to him about any problems. When I sat through his course one semester, he would ask in almost every class session for reactions to that week’s films, and students were pretty frank with their praise or criticism—and with their observations about what they found interesting, inspiring, or offensive. During my years as a student I attended IC religiously, seeing every film each week. And if it was a film I was particularly interested in, I’d attend every showing to take voluminous notes on the film. And rarely did I see editing oversights—but when I did and brought them to Don’s attention, he would immediately see to it that that were corrected. So all things considered, I think those who have claimed otherwise are simply misrepresenting the facts. And in Greg’s case, since he was wrong about the job position he held (which we can prove), then I think it’s all the more likely that he was wrong about the editing as well.

As far as I know, editing was halted at BYU by the BYU legal team, who feared (or so I’ve been told) that the “Clean-Flicks” controversy (involving the local company that was editing videos for those who purchased them and wanted their copy to be free of objectionable material like the semi-nude scene in “Titanic”) might result in civil judgments against those who edited films, and thus might drag BYU into the fray. As it happened, the industry threats against “Clean Flicks” have not yet resulted in any legal judgments of which I am aware, but BYU stuck with the decision to no longer edit. Some have said that decision was made partly in response to the Varsity Theater program being forbidden by Steven Spielberg’s representatives to edit “Schindler’s List.” If that is true, I know nothing about it.

Lastly, I completely agree with those who think that most studio objections to editing are instances of pure and transparent hypocrisy. We have all noticed that the lion’s share of studios and filmmakers are more than willing to prostitute their so-called integrity and allow editing when airlines and TV networks offer them big bucks to do so. Over the last few months I’ve seen several TV broadcasts of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in which the entire bridge battle and dying soldier episodes—which arguably constitute the very heart of the film, since there is no reason to judge Eastwood’s character to be “good” without them—were edited out, presumably to shorten the broadcast. 30 minutes or so of critical footage completely gone. Legally. With studio permission. And as everyone well knows, in addition to editing for time, studios routinely allow TV broadcasters to pan and scan, time-expand, edit for content, superimpose those annoying logos and banners over the film, completely mangle the music and credits at the end of a film, and interrupt a film every few minutes for commercials. But apparently they’ve got no problem with that. Not even the most callous and zealous theater-operators or private viewers would hack up films to that degree were they allowed or enabled to edit. So, yes, in my opinion it’s all too clear that studio objections to “Clean Flicks” or anyone else editing or censoring movies are almost never due to concerns over artistic merits; I think they are mostly due simply to the fact that studios aren’t likely to get a significant cut of whatever money might be made by whoever does or enables others to do the editing. If you ask me, it’s all about the money.

107 comments for “I: 12 Questions for Travis Anderson

  1. Good answers all. I look forward to reading the rest. (Good move staying away from the “dyke” issue, by the way.)

  2. Travis, thank you for taking the time to respond so thoroughly! It made for fascinating reading–particularly the details about the editing process–and I look forward to future installments.

  3. Ditto what DKL and Rosalynde said. Your responses are much appreciated, and quite extensive!

    I ran across some old IC cards this weekend as I was cleaning out my closets. It brought back fond memories.

    As for your advice about using Hitler in an argument, on the internet at least, the person who compares his or her opponent to Hitler is commonly recognized to have lost the argument.

  4. Travis,

    Thanks for the careful and interesting responses. Reading your first answer, I am curious how much it costs to run IC. You mention the cost of having students buy their own DVD. What about having foreign language students (and others who are interested) buy season passes (for a fee comparable to buying one DVD) in order to bring the costs back to those who benefit? It seems as if some people that went to IC did used to pay a fee. Is that still true and to what extent does that pay for the program?

    Obviously it is nice to have free movies in the Varsity, but it would also be nice to have free pancake breakfasts in the Varsity. Why should the University do one and not the other? What is the community benefit, not absorbed by the individual viewer, that justifies the University (as opposed to individual) time and expense? How much is the University paying to get this community benefit?

  5. “foreign films by their very nature are pornographic�

    What a great quote!

    I didn’t realize it until I saw this definition, but I apparently have a moderately large stash of porn films! No wonder I fight with my wife so much.

    In fact, just two nights ago, I was watching “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (filmed in Spain by an Italian director) with my wife! I had no idea that we were watching porn. Maybe I should have invited over some prostitutes as well, or at least bought some whiskey for the occasion.

    By the way, the worst are “dubbed” foreign films. Clearly an attempt to disguise their pornographic nature, by hiding their telltale foreignness.

  6. Frank, can I assume that you meant “International Cinema” when you wrote “Varsity” in the second paragraph?

    Also, you’ll remember that BYU is a university where education is one of its primary missions. It is not a culinary establishment where providing breakfast is one of its primary missions. I think I understand what you’re trying to ask, but could you state your question in terms that don’t compare foreign movies and pancakes? I can see the educational purpose in the former, while it’s a bit more difficult for the latter.

  7. Are free movies more like a free pancake breakfast, or more like free books available for reading at the library?

  8. Frank:
    Of course, the administrative work involved in charging a fee for IC would itself eat up resources, so it would be socially optimal (Kaldor-Hicks criterion) to do so only if you were correcting a distortion. What distortion are you hoping to correct…do you think IC film showings are inefficiently overproduced, or are you worried about congestion?

    Perhaps you’d also favor charging students for using the library?

  9. travis:

    rather than leaving a slew of slighty pithy, mostly lame comments in my wake (i see that member-sites are no less criminal in this respect than non-member-sites)–take a look at the recent ‘divorce’ section on this site if you need any evidence–i’ll simply thank you for your insightful comments about the international cinema at b.y.u. reading the name again brings back many fond memories of great films that i saw for the first time (edited or not) through the services of i.c. bravo to you and your associates for fighting the good fight!

  10. watch it, Neil! I take great pride in being slightly pity and mostly lame, particularly on threads where I have no real experience or insight. You do your work, I’ll do mine. ;)

    Glad to see you around.

  11. hmmm… under that premise, can you please transform “lame” into “fame”? this blogging thing turns out to bring me more opprobrium than accolades.

  12. Nah, don’t worry about it, Neil. I have a sneaking suspicion that you have better things to do with your time. If you wouldn’t mind giving me an autograph, though…

  13. It seems to me that everyone get a little bit too huffy too quickly at Frank’s suggestions that perhaps the IC might be improved if you charged for it. Books are actually a pretty good example. University’s provide students with free access to the library. On the other hand, classes also frequently require that students purchase books. It seems that the question ought to be whether or not IC movies are best thought of as library books or text books. There are arguments to be made both ways about this, but getting worried about the commidification of knowledge and the sacred nature of the university doesn’t seem to provide much illumination on the topic.

  14. BTW, I also appreciate Travis’s extended and detailed responses to our questions. It is fun to peak behind the veil and hear from someone who is so obviously passionate about what they are doing.

  15. gst – why wait? if you’ve got a question, fire away. if you’ve got 12 of them, you’ve got too much time on your hands and should get out more…

  16. Well, neil, it looks like, in spite of your best efforts, you’ve ended up “leaving a slew of slighty pithy, mostly lame comments in [your] wake.� The good news is that few of the rest of us lamoes will be quitting our day jobs. I guess the bad news is that you won’t either. I’ll just have to live with all the chatter about your movies and plays and whatnot, which are about as offinsive as the Care-Bears and in all the same ways.

  17. “…you should haul LaBute in here for 12 Questions.”

    Yes, then maybe we can ask him why he preferes well constructed sweet-nothings over pithy sweet-somethings.

  18. i knew you’d show up, sooner or later–with nothing to say but taking up plenty of space. and yes, you’ll “just have to live with the chatter” about my work, which you at least know about whereas i don’t know (or care) who the hell you are. there is one way to forego that chatter, of course, and that is to get lost…

  19. Everyone calm down immediately–PLEASE. There is absolutely no reason to turn this into one more slug fest. One would think that the divorce thread would have gotten that out of people’s systems, but instead it seems merely to have primed them. If people insist on attacking each other on this thread or hijacking it into something else, I’ll close it down to comment. I’m interesting in what Travis has to say and what people have to say in response to that, not in the kinds of remarks we’ve just seen several of.

  20. I have a question for neil: why the link to the Godard film in your name? Is it a reflection of your own efforts? Are you Paul Javal?

    p.s. I’d like to shamelessly beg you for an interview for my slightly-less-lame blog, kulturblog. You can email me at [email protected] if you’d be interested.

  21. Nate, I wasn’t being huffy. If you go back and listen to my comment closely, you will detect not a whiff of huff. Your reformulation of Frank’s question–“whether or not IC movies are best thought of as library books or text books. There are arguments to be made both ways about this…”–is fine, and more or less what I was hoping that Frank would answer with. I have no problem with any university program having to justify its existence, but I don’t think free pancakes are a useful standard to judge them against.

    On the other hand, aren’t there events BYU where food is provided to all participants without charging for it? Maybe we could reformulate the question as, “Is IC more like the food court in the Wilkinson Center, or is it more like free doughnuts after an honors lecture? Is charging for IC like a Cannon Center meal plan, or is lit like coin-op water fountains?”

  22. Well, Travis’s comments about individual DVD’s versus community participation were certainly interesting. I’m not sure I agree.

    I mean, we’re living in a post-Napster world. If I want to see Manon or Run Lola Run or whatever else, I can find it, whether on DVD or simply by going to Kazaa or some other peer-to-peer file sharing service.

    But Travis seems to be saying that there is something different about sitting in a theater with a group of other people, all watching Run Lola Run. I’m not sure that I completely buy that. It’s certainly true for some cult, audience participation films like Rocky Horror. But for your everyday film, I’m less sure. Yes, it gives you a base of other viewers with whom to discuss the film. But is that really different from any other medium where you have to find a base of peers to discuss with?

    Does Travis’s point suggest that we should sit a group of people all down in a room to read The Brothers Karamazov together, to capture the same kind of community togetherness? (Is that the point of cities deciding to promote a particular book for citizens to read at the same time?)

  23. Jonathan: I apologize for being overly sharp in my response. I withdraw any accusations about huff. I thought that Frank asked an interesting and legitimate question of the kind that is frequently ignored by appeals to essences of universities and the wickedness of commodification.

  24. the advent of video tape and now dvd has turned film into an acceptable solo sport–in its hundred year or so history this was never the case before. while it doesn’t have the same performer-to-audience connection that theater does, i do feel that the scope of most films is better suited to projection on a screen in front of an audience. of course they films can be enjoyed in other ways–from the home television to your laptop–but the ‘larger-than-life’ mode of storytelling seems perfectly matched to the presentation and audience aspects of today’s cinema houses.

  25. Nice reflexes, Jim F. That’s definitely a record for the least amount of time before one of my posts was deleted. Now that you’ve defeated my attempts to make humor, I’ll just have to make nice:

    Sorry, neil. I was just joking around, because I thought you might be finding all of the fawning hero-worship to be boring. You needn’t bother apologizing to me, since everything you say about me is (basically) correct.

    (That said, I’m terribly disappointed that my last post got deleted. It threw me into fits of laughter.)

    Anyway, nice Job, Dr. Anderson. You’re doing great!

  26. this really is a l.d.s. website! only now do i realize that it encourages comments, then censors what it sees fit…
    i will no longer darken your collective doors.

  27. Did you get censored, too, neil?

    I must say, this is the best discussion of IC I’ve ever been involved in.

  28. Okay, boys, play nice. I like having both of you around.

    And don’t worry, we’re equal opportunity censors. ;)

  29. For the record: I, not Jim, cut the comments. The point is not about censorship, content, thought control, etc. It is about the life cycle of online forums. Internet communication is uniquely impersonal. This creates the constant danger that discussions descend into flame wars, which tend to spell the death of interesting internet discussion. We have seen lots of online forums destroyed in this way. Indeed, it is a pretty common phenomena in online discussions. That is why we get pernsnickity about comments. It isn’t about Mormonism or the persecution of those with differing views, it is about the dynamics of the internet.

  30. Don’t worry, Rosalynde Welch, I won’t be leaving. If I abandoned every situation where people hated me, I’d never get to kick anybody’s *ss.

    By the way, I thought that Dr. Anderson’s comment about pushing the envelope to be quite apt.

  31. My apologies, Nate. Late me make good: Nice reflexes, Nate Oman. That’s definitely a record for the least amount of time before one of my posts was deleted…

    And I had no idea how difficult it was for the IC people to edit the films. Talk about devotion!

  32. Neil, we hope you change your mind and darken our doors (though I thought you were bringing some light to them), but I don’t consider deleting comments that are explicitly against the policy of the site–after a warning–to be censorship. Nate deleted the comments before I got to them in hopes that we wouldn’t have to cut off discussion. He did it, but he beat me to the punch.

  33. If I prove I’m over 21 can I please, please, please see all the deleted comments? The curiosity is killing me.

  34. A few quick follow ups on the topic of DVD versus film:

    Are cinema houses always the superior choice, for all films? In particular, what does it mean when a film does poorly at the box office, but does well on DVD? (See, e.g., news story at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/20/eveningnews/main579020.shtml ).

    I’m not sure what this means — perhaps it’s nothing more than poor marketing, poor timing, or whatever — but a few interesting possibilities seem to be:

    1. Maybe movies and DVD’s aren’t really the same thing at all. They’re different mediums altogether. Some stories tell better in one, some better in the other.

    2. Maybe audiences are a participant who decides how a movie is received. That is, it’s normal for a director to take a writer’s work and then change it to match his vision. (Kubrik did this all the time — movies like The Shining and A Clockwork Orange differ significantly from the books). With the advent of video/DVD, perhaps the audience engages in the same function — taking the director’s work, and adapting it to match their own vision. “I’d rather watch this at home, thank you.” And they do.

  35. My apologies to Neil as well. (though my two cents worth of offenses probably came across like a guy throwing weak punches at a brawling mass of rugby players)

  36. Travis, thank you for your answers. I understand that it must be frustrating for someone with a love for “filmart” that Latter-day Saints opt not to see nudity or pornography. Perhaps people are just standing extremely far away from the edge in light of admonitions from Church leaders that pornography should be avoided like the plague and that it is as addictive as cocaine.

    I was a little disappointed with your statement that [i]n a community as conservative (and intolerant) as Utah County (remember, people here were willing to contribute or withhold huge contributions to UVSC in order to prevent Michael Moore from even being heard, not just endorsed—legitimating their efforts at censorship by laying claim to their own free speech rights. Go figure.) it’s not just Rodin nudes that raise hackles. Just because people in Utah County didn’t want the University to spend the money that it did to bring MM to speak doesn’t mean that they are intolerant, as you suggest. What people (I assume you are talking about donors) do with their money is their own decision, and if they want to withhold a donation because they think that the school was unwise to bring in MM, that makes them intolerant? Again, I assume that much of this stems from frustration that conservatives, en masse (and this is a horrible generalization that seems to inform your answers), don’t have the same tastes as you do in “filmart.”* I just think that (1) you ought not to equate conservativism with “intolerance” as you did, and (2) you shouldn’t dismiss people’s concerns about pornographic content so harshly; they are likely objecting out a good-faith attempt to abide by the very direct and modern counsel of living prophets to avoid pornography like the plague.

    *I have to add a disclaimer here: I am a huge fan of IC and of foreign films and have my own collection of them. But I won’t deny that some scenes in them are indeed pornographic or at least below the standards that the Church leaders expect of Latter-day Saints and for that reason can be and are the subject of legitimate concern of Latter-day Saints who don’t think that a Church-run institution should be showing them. Take, for instance, the pornographic scene in Goodbye Lenin, the protagonist’s first foray into the “West” where he stops off at a porno store and watches an XXX film which is not spared the audience of the film either. Or the full frontal male adult nudity of our hero’s sister’s boyfriend as he jumps from his tanning bed. Thus, I would be legitimately uncomfortable watching those scenes with my young daughters (and indeed, it is embarassing to watch them with my wife, especially that XXX scene), even though I personally really like foreign films and own Goodbye Lenin, among others.

  37. Let me second John’s comments on foreign films. One that comes to mind is an otherwise excellent French film Ridicule which has an inexplicable close short of a man urinating onto someone else. I understand the symbolism of it relative to the rest of the film. But it really was more than a little disturbing. Further because it happens at the start, I suspect many Mormons would turn off the DVD. Which is unfortunate because as I recall the rest of the film is G or at worst PG rated.

  38. I need to clarify that what I wrote was not to defend efforts to sink the IC or to censor foreign films but just to appeal to reason as to why the content of them might be objectionable to many Latter-day Saints and for good and legitimate reason. That doesn’t mean that I am going to stop watching them but I am not going to criticize Latter-day Saints who have chosen out of an effort to follow prophetic counsel not to see them. In fact, I will grant those individuals the freedom to crusade against those films if they find them offensive. People like Dr. Anderson likewise have the freedom to campaign and crusade in favor of them. And that is what happens and what puts the IC on the “razor’s edge” that Dr. Anderson describes.

  39. Ugh. That was poorly written: I wasn’t trying to say that the prophets have counseled not to see foreign films but rather merely that Latter-day Saints attempting to follow prophetic counsel (on e.g. pornography) might be staying far away for that reason, which I find hard to describe as an illegitimate or intolerant reason.

  40. Re: DVD/home video vs. movie theater viewing

    It’s not just the communal aspect of watching a film in a theater that appeals (although I think this is undeniable, despite Kaimi’s doubts). There’s a different quality to the experience altogether. Attending a screening means going out of one’s house, conforming to someone else’s schedule, with no ability to pause or rewind, and generally forking over some money for the privilege (IC was a blessed exception). Consequently, the viewer is more engaged. There’s more at stake, so to speak.

    I recall reading some interview with Michael Moore in which he was asked why he chose a theatrical release for Fahrenheit 9/11 if he wanted as many people as possible to see it. His reply was something like, “I want people to affirmativley choose to see this film” (not a quote at all, just an impression of what I remember). He wanted people to engage the material; people who have rearranged their schedules and paid money to see a film will pay closer attention to the ideas presented on screen than someone sitting alone in front of their TV, however nice it is.

  41. John Fowles: I don’t read Travis as criticizing people for staying away from IC. I read him as criticizing those who have made destroying IC into a campaign by making false charges of pornography. They don’t stay away at all; they come and raise hell. It is difficult for me to see the kinds of activities he has described as following the counsel of living prophets–a counsel which, from long acquaintance with Travis, I can assure you that he too is quite happy to follow. It is difficult to understand the things he has described as merely someone finding the content objectionable because of they are following thsoe teachings when the things he has described go far beyond objecting to nudity.

    However, it is also odd to describe nudity as, in itself, pornographic, which it seems to me you have done, though I’m not sure. Pornography isn’t just nude scenes (though there have been very few of those in IC, certainly nothing like the things you and Jack describe). Pornography is, literally, material describing the life, manners, habits, etc. of prostitutes and their customers. It isn’t too much to widen it to include material like that which may or may not be directly a depiction of prostitution, but it is far too much to describe nudity itself as pornographic. And, to repeat, there has been very little depiction of nudity or human sexuality in IC films (as far as I know, little of the former, none of the latter) and I think Travis made it clear that he has no problem with that.

  42. pornography

    n : creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire [syn: porno, porn, erotica, smut]

    wordnet 2.0, 2003 princeton university

  43. Federico Fellini: …the cigarettes were a revelation. If we’d smoked those wonderful American cigarettes, in those wonderful packages, before the war, everyone would have known that no one could defeat America. (from I, Fellini)

    Jim F., Dr. Anderson only attacks the opponents of IC, but his prejudice against Hollywood comes through pretty clearly. Far be it from me to dictate which movies Dr. Anderson should watch, but his prejudice is ill founded. For my part, I find his bias to be characteristic and typical of the demographic that practices continental philosophy. And though Dr. Anderson is, of course, LDS, he’s got to realize that his taste in philosophy and movies place him squarely within a demographic that eschews Starbucks coffee and Sam Adams beer and American cigarettes because they are too commercial or too pedestrian or too American—basically, the type of sentimant embodied by the New York Times’ front page story on NASCAR racer Dale Earnhart’s death in the Daytona 500, which started, “His death brought a silence to the Wal-Mart.…�

    But criticizing such products for being too commercial/pedestrian/American is beside the point. You can get better coffee than Starbucks, but until Starbucks came along it was hard to find decent coffee anywhere. Same with Sam Adams and beer. And no cigarette in the world can lay a finger on (say) a Nat Sherman. Though these products are indeed commercial, they are also wonderfully accessable and free from pretension. These are the kinds of things that Americans make, and it’s these types of things (in addition to American movies and American generosity) that led young Fellini (who at the time was eeking out a living by drawing caracatures of US soldiers on the sidewalks of Rome during our post-WWII occupation of Italy) to love America and Americans.

    Bringing this back to movies: Aside from movies in which bug-eyed weirdoes ogle and murder small children to a calliope music soundtrack (I’ll concede this genre to Germany), every major film genre started in the USA. Additionally, American films are the most entertaining in the world. And though some equate entertainment with escapism, there’s nothing cheap, mindless, or sleazy about entertainment. Indeed, entertainment isn’t everything, but it counts for quite a lot. It’s what makes Fellini a better filmmaker than Bergman. It’s what makes Woody Allen a better filmmaker than Cocteau. It’s one reason why Giuseppe Tornatore is better than Alfonso Arau. It’s what makes the film industry possible.

    So I do find some pretense in Dr. Anderson’s distaste for Hollywood. And I wonder if it doesn’t also reflect his larger disdain for the accessible. That said, I admire the work that he’s doing to keep IC running smoothly at BYU. I enjoy foreign films myself, and I appreciate the efforts of those who kept the IC open when I was at BYU—I appreciate them even more now, thanks to Dr. Anderson’s answers. (Incidentally, I hadn’t planned on mentioning Dr. Anderson’s anti-Hollywood bias, because I hadn’t wished to detract from Dr. Anderson’s very good, very informative, and very detailed responses. But someone else already brought it up anyway. And since he’s had me in class as a student, I don’t risk losing any respect.)

  44. screw it, i have to darken this door again–when you start mouthing off about bergman, then it’s time to eat a little crow and write a quick note. besides, i’m a big, fat liar so who cares if i said i wouldn’t be back?

    dkl, while you seem to actually have some sense (probably god-given), you fall headfirst into the choppy, dangerous waters of subjectivity in your response–statements like “american films are the most entertaining in the world” and “it’s what makes fellini a better filmmaker than bergman” are ripe for disagreement and, frankly, based on nothing more than your own opinion, which counts for exactly nothing in my book. please always add ‘in my opinion,’ before any of these statements–it may be implicit, but it’s better than you do it each time to remind yourself and us that you know that your hyperbolic statements are, in fact, just that. hot air (and a bit xenophobic–if you’re referring to fritz lang’s “m” in your description of child-murdering ‘bug-eyed weirdoes,’ that ‘calliope-music’ you hear is actually grieg, who probably be offended (as would most sensible folks from any country, including this one, by your ‘america is great’ remarks).

    i love fellini, but i think i prefer bergman overall. that’s my ‘opinion,’ not fact–still, nothing in your billious paragraphs will change that ‘opinion,’ even when it’s served up disguised as the gospel truth.

  45. Thank you very much, Travis, for your very interesting and open comments. As a European and intense film fan for decades I have been fascinated by the struggle around IC at BYU. I have tried to understand the concerns of those who are “shocked” by some images, and I realize it would be cheap and insensitive to dismiss their concerns as eccentric prudishness. If certain images make people uncomfortable, that is a reality. However it is a different thing to act as vigilantes and come to absurd and dishonest accusations as the one you describe with the baby’s “full frontal male nudityâ€?.

    In just previous comments Jim F. and Neil Labute have drawn the attention to the problem that “pornography” is a very specific genre and I agree with them. Much misunderstanding comes from not seeing that specificity. But we must also agree there is a continuum that moves from films with a minor erotic scene (e.g. Titanic) to a major erotic theme (e.g. Emmanuelle), finally coming close to pornography. Therefore we struggle with a gray zone. Some viewers will lay the division line lower or higher according to personal criteria, cultural traditions, and, of course, perception as a consequence of education. As a child I was raised in an artistic milieu (my father was a museum curator) and nudity in art was so natural to us that we never realized it was “nudity”.

    I have no easy answers for the dilemma of perception, but it saddens me that IC has to struggle over scenes that, according to my perception and education, present no problem whatsoever. Last year I published a French textbook for senior highschool in which a dozen films are presented, including “Ridicule” and “Amelie”. Yes, for highschool, and nobody would even think of objecting. Both films were mentioned in previous comments as examples of problematic films because of one scene. I understand these scenes would raise eyebrows for some, but to reject a film for such minor and certainly not-porno scenes exemplifies again the problem of perception in cultural traditions.

    “Full frontal male nudityâ€?? I’ve mentioned this in another thread, but the only place in the world (and I have lived for years in Africa) where I experienced that, and continue to experience it weekly, is at… BYU. Yes, in the men’s locker room of the sport facilities. They undress fully, in front of others, then shower, next to each other, totally naked. Well, that makes me uncomfortable. But I would feel “ridicule” to write a letter of complaint about it. The way we perceive certain things, even things with a moral dimension, is greatly influenced by our upbringing, our daily habits and our cultural traditions. Another example is toilets: quite a few Europeans find American toilets, with the large open space at the bottom and the chinks between doors, indecent. In that sense we are more prudish than Americans. Ah, traditions…

    Thanks again, Travis, and also for showing the Flemish film “Pauline and Paulette” recently. My wife and I enjoyed it thoroughly – Flemish in the Varsity!

    PS. I just read the last comment by Neil (thanks Neil, for not abandoning us!). Yes, agreed! Also, DKL’s statement “every major film genre started in the USA” seems not only a sad example of chauvinism, but is quite wrong. Study the history of cinema starting with the Lumiere brothers and Georges Melies…

  46. “…there have been very few of those in IC, certainly nothing like the things you and Jack describe”

    When did I enter this conversation? I think you must mean Clark. (or perhaps you were responding to Clark and refered to John as Jack)

    Well, now that I’m here I will say that I do sympathize with John and Clark to some degree. The gospel requires that we place the uh gospel above all other traditions – and that includes cinematic traditions however entrenched they may be. The problem is that we simply are not agreed as to what the gospel is and therefore are going to be indisagreement as to what traditions need to go.

  47. Gee – I consume both foreign films and hollywood fair regulary and enjoy both immensely.

    Does that make me a freak, as it seems we’re dividing up into two camps – one where foreign films are teh best and hollywood produces mindless pablum, and the other where Hollywood makes great films and foreign films are hopelessly elitist.

    Of course, I think some Hollywood films are minless pablum, but not all – and many foreign films are elitist and inaccessible, but (again) not all.

  48. As long as we’re on speaking terms, neil, I can only speculate as to the origin of whatever sense you attribute to me. Nevertheless, I often write with the assumption that my audience has the sense to intuit where reality ends and my opinions begin—even if my ego doesn’t. Perhaps in this respect, I am pretentious: I don’t much like the look and feel of prose that is too liberally (and too self-consciously) peppered with “I think,� “I feel,� and “in my opinion.� (And for the record, Peter Lorre was much better in “Arsenic and Old Lace.�)

    And you mistook my meaning if you take me to be flag-waving. In its simplest terms, my point is that made in America and made in Hollywood are insults that occur with greater and greater frequency, and they are awful ad hominum arguments.

    And Wilfried, I’m sorry I make you sad; all I can say is that I’m sure that you’re in great company. Even so, this is what makes me sad, Wilfried: that attacking bias against American culture makes me either a cretin or a xenophobe.

  49. And Ivan Wolfe, I agree with you that it’s not an either/or with Hollywood vs. foreign fare. In fact, that’s my entire point.

  50. Well, if we’re talking about the merit of Hollywood films, last year was a banner year for the major studios, who managed to release films that were both broadly entertaining and interesting at the same time. It’s about time.

    I think a lot of the anti-American sentiment found overseas as regards the cinema has to do with Hollywood’s role in the decline of national cinemas all over the world. It’s increasingly difficult for overseas filmmakers to compete with the Hollywood studios, which have bigger budgets, bigger markets, and much more room for error (which unfortunately doesn’t prevent them from producing bland, unimaginative fare).

    It’s no surprise that the most interesting, vibrant national cinemas are in places like Iran and China, where the American influence is restricted by the government.

  51. DKL,

    You cretinous xenophobic wretch! How dare you elevate “Arsenic and Old Lace” into such stratospheric heights! Just because I laugh my #%* off every time I see it and am thoroughly charmed by a line-up of silly vaudevillian caricatures and an endless array of ingenious melodramatic plot twists doesn’t mean I should put it on my “noir” list.

  52. DKL: “my point is that ‘made in America’ and ‘made in Hollywood’ are insults that occur with greater and greater frequency”.

    Interesting. Are there statistical references to back that statement? I never had that impression from reading film reviews abroad. Some absolutely wonderful films have come from Hollywood, and they keep coming as Bryce I. just pointed out. But imagining a fundamental “bias against American culture” from abroad, as DKL claims, and then proceed on that assumption to justify chauvinistic statements seems a too easy way out. It seems it suffices to say you like a foreign film, and you’re depicted as anti-American… That’s a slippery topic for a long thread!

  53. I don’t want to get into the pornography debate, since I think I’ve discussed that ad nauseum over on AML. I’d just say that to argue pornography is different than art is to somehow suggest that one can produce artful pornography. This separation between art and pornography is forced at best, in my opinion. It is typically the attempt to justify the artists actions as always justified. (Something I admit I find annoying)

    Second, I think we ought consider pornography a kind of relational phenomena and not something intrinsic to the works themselves. After all a Victoria’s Secret Catalog probably is pornography to the average 14 year old but not to a woman shopping for bras. This idea of tying what is or isn’t pornography as something essential to the work just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Thirdly, it seems pornography isn’t something that simply “is” or a simple category of text, but rather something texts do in various degrees. I’m reasonably confident that while we’d all agree that Jenna Jameson’s latest opus is pornography, that gratuitous additions of unnecessary sex to the typical B movie is partaking of the same spirit and differs only in degree.

    My point isn’t really to make a judgment on it all. I think we can all do that quite well ourselves. Further I think there is usually a prick in the back of our mind when we are rationalizing rather than justifying. My point is instead to simply suggest that the whole issue is typically far more complex than I think my artist friends wish to believe.

    For instance I think most Mormons would consider playboy pornography, however artfully done, and whatever the quality of the interviews or essays found within its pages. But what about FHM magazine or Maxim? Saying that there is any ability to say what is or isn’t pornography seems quite difficult. But if it is an attribute that comes in degrees and is always related to a person, then I think things become clear.

    Now, does this problemitize foreign films? Probably. I think that European views of sex simply entail a lot of work having what for the average American would be a high degree of pornographic aspects.

  54. Wilfried, can you please provide statistical references to back your assumption that statistical references will clarify the argument?

    The relevant example of made in Hollywood being considered pejorative is Dr. Anderson’s comment, which displays a clear bias against American films. If you don’t see this as indicative of something larger, then you can just take my statements to apply to Dr. Anderson.

  55. we are not on speaking terms, dkl–especially not when you are under the assumption that, just because you have enough time on your hands to constantly blather away on this website, you have an ‘audience’ and that what you produce is worth being called ‘prose.’ what you write are ‘comments,’ nothing more. like everybody else. quickly dashed off, easily forgotten. and i’m glad someone else took you to task over the ‘peter lorre’ thing–again, your opinion. again, meaningless.

    clark, in my opinion (see, dkl, this is how it works) pornography is different than art, so we’ll agree to disagree. don’t look at “playboy” and that will take care of that–except for
    those who don’t think “playboy” is simply pornography. if a sex scene in “amelie” or a
    person pissing on someone in “ridicule” ruins the entire film for you–previous example
    on this thread–then shut the film off. if you rented it, take it back (be bold, even–ask for your three dollars back). after that, forget about it and let others form and maintain their own opinions…it’ll be a better world, i promise. (although don’t trust me on that last part!)

    and as for china and iran having “the most interesting, vibrant national cinemas”–what do you base that on, bryce? the handful of movies that are released in this country in any given year, or the filmmakers who can’t get their films released in their own countries because of ‘subversive’ material? you seem to have an opinion, so tell me…
    there are good films coming out of those countries, to be sure, but i don’t believe that they are of significantly higher quality than the rest of the world or that the number of good films they produce is significantly greater.

  56. Thanks for the clarification, neil. It’s a real honor to get feedback from someone who’s actually directed Renée Zellweger. Even so, your bad at being ill tempered for the same reason that your films leave much to be desired—which, as it turns out, is for all the same reasons that the Care-Bears are insufferable. And feel free to gain whatever comfort you can from the fact that this is my opinion.

  57. “renee zellweger” and “care bears” again. you’re repeating yourself, dkl, and it wasn’t that good the first time–even when it was censored. just walk away for once…we’ll all be better off. again, only my opinion, but i get the feeling i speak for most everyone.

  58. Repetitive, yes. But I’ve had to sit through you’re movies, and turnabout’s fair play.

  59. how did i know that you couldn’t keep your big keyboard shut? fair enough. you were here first–i’ll leave you to your little fiefdom, grammatical errors and all. pathetic.

  60. How did you know? Because I’m predicable, repetitive, and stupid. You said so yourself.

    But I’ll miss you, man.

  61. One last entry, and then you can have the last word.

    I actually don’t think badly of your films. For my part, my real opinion is that you’re talented, hard working, and care a lot about what you do. Since adolescance was more for me than just a “phase,” I’ve never been able to resist having fun with a little bit of barbed banter. In this case, I was having fun at your expense, and this speaks badly of me. I apologie

  62. neil —

    One nice thing about T&S is that I can blithely offer my opinions about stuff I know practically nothing about :)

    That said, when I talk about Iranian and Chinese films, clearly I’m referring to the few films that are released in the US. I can’t even have claimed to have seen very many — I don’t get out much. And my viewpoint is hopelessly American — no doubt there are many serious-minded film lovers in Iran and China who would relish the opportunity to view and produce Hollywood-style films.

    My point is that by and large, the marketplace still determines what gets produced, distributed, and viewed. Sure, digital technology is breaking down lots of the traditional barriers, but still, if you live in a country that trades information and culture freely with the United States, you’re going to have to deal with the Hollywood studios. I’m not talking about indiviual films — I’m speaking on nationwide scales. Why does Canada have to legislate the amount of Canadian produced content that must be available in their country? It’s because without such protections, US producers would drive the Canadians out of business, which is not in their interest or ours. Even with such protections, producers in other countries must react to Hollywood’s influence. I imagine it’s harder to get funding for a project that doesn’t have some kind of mass appeal as dictated by US mass market sensibilities than it is for a crowd-pleasing popcorn movie, but you’d know better than I would :)

    So when I hold up Iran and China, I’m not claiming that they are producing higher quality movies in greater numbers than the US, or anything of that sort. I’m saying that filmmakers in those countries are producing films under different constraints than the rest of the world, which include both insulation from the US studios and a politically repressive environment, that cause their output to be recognizably of that place and culture, in a way that is disappearing from other national cinemas, which have moved closer to an American aesthetic over the past few decades.

    Again, I’m speaking in very broad terms — there are certainly any number of individual cases one might hold up as a counterexample to my claims. And there are plenty of things I’m not accounting for — as you rightly point out, I’m basing what I say on the films that get released in the US only, for example. And I am admittedly only a very occasional, casual observer of the international film scene. But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, until someone convinces me otherwise.

  63. “I’ve never been able to resist having fun with a little bit of barbed banter”

    Thing is, DKL, your banter is not fun for anyone else. You should spend some time contemplating the awful state of sinners in the hands of angry blog-administering gods.

    Neil, there’s no need to respond in kind–everyone else see’s David’s wit for what it is.

  64. Gee. If that was an example of what got deleted yesterday than I guess I didn’t miss a thing.

  65. See, Brian: The “angry blog-administering gods” are smarter than you’d thought.

  66. damn it all, dkl–i’ve tried to stay angry but find i cannot. any person who can honestly apologize deserves some respect. and, in turn, must be apologized to as well. i’ll leave
    it at that.

    i find that i’m not cut out for this kind of give-and-take, however–it brings out a side of me much closer to brawler than orator.

  67. “i find that i’m not cut out for this kind of give-and-take, however–it brings out a side of me much closer to brawler than orator”

    Yes. We’ve all individually discovered that whatever it is about music that has power to still the savage breast, the internet has quite the opposite effect.

  68. Neil, I think you misunderstand. If someone wants to watch pornography, that’s their choice. The problem is that because pornography is such a pejorative term people who basically film pornography don’t want the label. Personally I think someone can produce artful pornography and there’s definitely a market for it. But I think the Art vs. Pornography debate is more or less akin to the fine art versus the despised folk art that used to rage a few decades ago.

  69. It wasn’t the intelligence of the blog-administrators I was questioning, DKL.

    Here we had a thread headed toward an interesting discussion of the relationship between American cinema and the cinemas of other countries in the world. That alone is valuable, but as an added bonus an accomplished filmmaker was willing to participate, to me that’s cool, it’s something of a precious opportunity, something I get excited about because I love films. To be frank, you ruined the fun for the rest of us, not once, but two days in a row. Miraculously, NL appears willing to continue, but please exercise some restraint. I’m dead tired of hearing the I’m-an-*ss,-but-at-least-I-admit-it defense.

    Having said that, I want to discuss your earlier post where you applauded the accessibility of American films. I wonder if we should value accessibility in both consumer products and art quite as much as you do, but I find it worth discussing.

    The accessibility of a film has a lot more to do with the money invested in it than anything else. Because most American films cost a great deal of money they need to be more accessible to reach a wider, larger, audience so that investors can make enough money back to continue making films. Many American filmmakers would gladly be less accessible, less commercial, and more experimental, but must meet the demands of commerce. Nevertheless, I feel that plenty of inaccessible films are made in America every year, but they’re all generally made on lower budgets where the filmmakers, either out of necessity or desire, are more abstract or experimental because they don’t have tens of millions of dollars at stake or at their disposal. Plenty of accessible films are made in other parts of the world, but typically they all cost more money. In my opinion, accessibility is in large part a function of money more than anything else, not as you seem to suggest American ingenuity.

    European filmmakers, particularly in the post-war era, had less money and technology available and in some countries they had the added challenge of oppressive governments. Still, they showed innovation and contributed to world cinema. Perhaps, Chinese and Iranian filmmakers are going through similar challenges today. It’s hard to make a film under even ideal circumstances. In countries besides the U.S. it’s often harder. I think to make the struggle worth it foreign filmmakers often choose to eschew pure escapism and entertainment in favor of philosophical or political themes. This along with the lack of funds or technology, plus, the obvious cultural differences are part of the reason many foreign films are less accessible—again it’s got very little to do with American superiority in anyway.

    I find it an important point to make because I think you ignore the fact that from the silent era to the present day great filmmakers from all over the world have come to America to make their films. Inevitably, with more money available their films get more accessible and commercial which is why I feel accessibility is a function of money, not an American virtue. It’s a consistent pattern with results that are sometimes wonderful and sometimes sad, but it happens. So many of the directors that churn out the American films you applaud and others disdain are in fact Europeans and Asians. It’s true today and it was true in the 20s. Even homegrown talents—the greatest directors that America has produced—have often been one or two generations removed from immigrants that arrived here or are deeply in touch with their European roots. Take for example, Italian-American directors like Scorsese and Coppola. Americans should do their best not to get haughty.

    There’s a process of cross-fertilization and influence which needs to be recognized. Film Noir is an example. You insist Americans came up with all the film genres. I disagree. The horror film was pioneered by Europeans like Murnau and Dreyer. Both the sci-fi film and the gangster picture were pioneered by Lang. Even the Western–about as American as it gets–was mastered not so much by Ford, but by Leone. The list goes on. Film Noir didn’t have a name until the French used it to define American movies they loved. Those films influenced the French New Wave directors which in turn influenced American filmmakers. Peckinpah influences Woo who influences Tarantino. Kurosawa influences Lucas who influences an anime director who influences the Wachowski brothers who influence some kid in film school…in Iran.

    Back and forth it goes, across the Pacific and the Atlantic and hopefully the films and directors get better and better each time. As that happens the country the films or the directors came from becomes less relevant. In today’s world of modern big-budget filmmaking the cast and crew are truly international. It’s great. Cinema gets closer each day to fulfilling its promise of being a universal medium. It’s a good thing, good for film and good for film-lovers.

  70. Brian G.,
    I can’t tell if you’re arguing that making more costly films forces filmmakers to make more accessible films that can recoup their costs, or if you’re arguing that filmmakers want to make more accessible films but can’t unless they have lots of money.

  71. On your point about filmmakers coming from all over the world to here:

    I dont’ think that when people talk about Italian or American or Iranian film they’re necessarily referring only to the director’s birth place.

  72. Brian, I think I’d disagree with you somewhat. Certainly there are directors and actors who think that real cinema is targeted towards a small niche. There is that tendency to look down at the masses. And while I roll my eyes at the attitude, I’ll confess that some of my favorite directors aren’t mainstream. David Lynch, Quenton Tarantino, Wes Anderson, not to mention various foreign directors like Kurosawa. (Well, Tarantino and Anderson are probably more accepted by the masses)

    Why I disagree though is that I think plenty of directors enjoy making movies that the average Joe can enjoy, but do so in a fashion that is artful. Spielberg is the obvious example. But once again a lot of my favorite directors fit into this category. John Ford, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, even Martin Scorsesee.

    In addition to those figures there are those who want to make mainstream movies, but either aren’t as good artists or else simply disdain some of the artful flourishes.

    So I don’t think the situation is quite what you suggest. Certainly it does describe a subset though.

  73. Well, the market must have an influence on the accessibility or lack thereof in films. However there are/where film makers like Frank Capra who felt it his moral – even christian – duty to create works that spoke to the masses. So even if he (after a certain point in his career) never had to worry again about keeping Columbia Pictures alive, he would have stuck with making accessible films.

  74. Also, we should be careful not to lump foreign films into the “inaccessible” category merely because they’re foreign. For example, if there were no language barrier something like Renoir’s “Rules of the Game” would be completely accessible. As a matter of fact, it has it’s fair share of vadevillian silliness. (which serves as a wonderful irony when the whole thing winds up at the end) For me, Kurosowa has been the most entertaining simply because I don’t have to read as many sub-titles as I do with the European films. His are more “cinematic” and action oriented than the heavily scripted Fellini’s or Renoir’s. It’s amazing how “La Vita Dolce” completely changes it’s complexion (in my eyes) in those moments when english is being spoken. It’s at those times that I wish I had the gift of tongues so I could experience these movies the way they’re ment to be experienced. Wilfried, I envy you! It’s not fair that you get to kick your feet up on the couch and enjoy Renoir with no more effort than it takes to eat the popcorn while you’re watching.

  75. Yes, it’s true, Jack. Knowing a few languages is certainly a boost to enjoy films in those languages. But you raise an interesting question in film enjoyment. The language spoken. Since the vast majority of films shown in the world are English spoken, there are two directions taken for non-English audiences: either subtitling or dubbing. Dubbing is much more expensive (especially if it is well done, with good actors and perfect lip-sync), which explains why it is usually only done for large countries with a major language, Spanish, German, French, Japanese. In smaller countries, with smaller outlet, subtitling is the standard procedure. That’s why in my native Dutch-speaking Belgium and the Netherlands, films are undertitled. Absolutely to be preferred in my opinion: 1) research has shown children in those countries become much faster readers; 2) already as a child you pick up a lot of the foreign language, in most cases English; 3) you hear the original voice and speaking talent of the actors which is always better than even the best dubbing. So, while some people probably find subtitling annoying, once you get used to it, there are advantages to it. Downside is that is faster dialogues, only essential parts are being put in subtitling.

    Another aspect you raise, Jack, is very true. “We should be careful not to lump foreign films into the “inaccessibleâ€? category merely because they’re foreign”. If I look at French film, the purely entertaining films (adventure, comedy, detective, historical) outnumber by far and wide the artistic-less-accessible kind.

    And then there is the often forgotten fact that quite a few American films are remakes from foreign films — often French (there goes your chauvinism, DKL): Jungle 2 Jungle (Un Indien dans la Ville), True Lies (La Totale), Mixed Nuts (Le Pere Noel est une Ordure), Twelve Monkeys (La Jetée), Three Men and a Baby (Trois hommes et un couffin), Sommersby (Le Retour de Martin Guerre), My Father the Hero (Mon père, ce héros), The Birdcage (La Cage aux folles), The Little Things in Life (Les choses de la vie), Breathless (A bout de souffle), The Fiends (Les Diaboliques). And we could go and on… Not well protected by the Writers Guild, the original foreign writers and producers are not always properly recognized. The “based on” credit is often pushed back to the very end of the American film when the audience is already leaving.

  76. Wilfried stole my thunder a bit, as I’ve been thinking about subtitling and remakes myself. I’ll pick up one of his points.

    Why is it that Americans have to remake foreign films, while movie goers in other countries are satisfied with seeing the original? Americans have a well-documented fear of subtitles. There was much doubt about the possibility of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon having much success in the US because of the language issue, and surprise when it did as well as it did.

    I imagine that there are similar reasons behind remakes as there are behind sequels: rather than take a risk on something completely new, studios prefer to invest in properties that have some track record of success. However, this does not explain why some distribution company isn’t making a fortune finding great films from overseas and bringing them to mainstream American audiences.

    The answer, I’m afraid, is that Americans are pretty lazy. We’re a huge exporter of “culture”, with very few imports. As a society, we’re just not used to engaging other cultures on anything other than our terms. My wife and I bailed out on a viewing of the DVD of Crouching Tiger because the rest of the group insisted on hearing the dubbed audio, instead of subtitles. And this was a group of medical doctors and PhDs.

    Of course, this is a gross generalization. For example, one can easily and compellingly argue that minority populations in the US engage other cultures on a regular basis. Hollywood is still overwhelmingly white. Still, there’s no denying that for the most part, US audiences have a very low acceptance rate for movies that fall outside of our cultural norms.

    Which is why IC is such a valuable program. There are plenty of people who would gladly watch subtitled movies in other languages, but who don’t know where to find them or what is available.

    I guess what I’m saying is that accessibility as it is used in this thread seems to be referring at least in part to conformity with received mainstream American cultural norms, as opposed to any intrinsic quality of the film itself.

  77. Wilfried,

    I’m interested in your opinion. Which do you think more faithfully represents the original dialogue if as you say: “only essential parts are being put in subtitling”; subtitles or dubbing? I’ve always preferred subtitles because dubbing tends toward a loyalty to wording that matches the movements of the players mouths. I think this makes for a weaker translation than subtitles. However, if only the more “essential parts” are subtitled than we’re still missing a lot of nuance. (I ask this question laying aside the “plus” of hearing the players speak the original dialogue)

  78. It’s great to read Prof. Anderson’s insights at length, even though they impugn me unfairly and characterize my own posts and experience inaccurately to make a point I don’t quite follow [see below]. IC was and is a tremendous asset to BYU, and its students should realize that. The DVD/theater debate misses the point of what IC–and seeing these films in a theater, on campus–means to the institution, and conversely, what the institution’s POV contributes to the films themselves. It was visionary–and it’s still rare–for the school to present films as an important part of a complete education, not just a sugary escapist entertainment snack [I have a box of Fruity Pebbles in front of me, in case you’re wondering.]

    I’m especially interested–and ultimately disappointed– to see that not showing edited versions of films is a litigation-dodging legal dept decision, not an academic one. My whole reason for posting my experience was to argue for the benefits of seeing these movies, even in their slightly altered form. I’d rather see an institution like BYU take the Clean Flicks [sic] stand, get studios and distributors to accede to viewers’ and community’s standards, and thus make more praiseworthy films available to more people.

    But to factchecking: Travis refers to an email exchange between Dr. Marshall and me last year–which he and a host of BYU HUM dept and admin. people were cc’ed on–which was precipitated by the same pornhounding zealot who unfairly and dishonestly harassed IC in the mid-90’s finding my weblog post about not always taking everything out of IC films in the late-80’s. DM didn’t “rebut” my post or even “refute” it; he professed that he didn’t know about such activity and denounced it as irresponsible. Well, he didn’t, and it was, and I apologized to Don for 1) sometimes substituting my own judgment for his, and more importantly, 2) being a source of unnecessary grief by inadvertently restoking one self-appointed activist’s self-righteous fire.

    But let’s keep things in context:
    1) there were just not THAT many films that needed to be cut to begin with: DM was already filtering before he put the schedule together, just as TA does.

    We’d have weeks and weeks where no cuts needed to be made at all; to estimate it now, I’d say that DM would have 12-20 cuts to make in a season, big and small.

    2) Editing and building up the films was archaic, but not quite as arduous as TA makes it sound. DM would often have very specific notes of a cut that needed to be made, with the reel #, the time, and the content/context, which made finding it easy enough.

    3) I only sometimes left things in. I never claimed–and never did–“systematic” surreptitious inclusion of DM’s cuts. When I thought DM was being over-sensitive AND when I thought it’d fly–i.e., when _I_ didn’t think something was offensive AND when I didn’t think others would find it offensive, I might leave a word or a few frames or a slightly longer shot in the film.

    Honestly, this probably happened maybe ten times in two years, with people raising objections maybe once or twice early in the week–at which point, I’d take the scene out. That TA finds no evidence of widespread offense taken is not a sign that I didn’t leave a swear word in a subtitle occasionally–it’s a sign that people didn’t notice or get worked up enough about it to mention it to DM or the department or the administration or Church HQ. Ahh, those were the days, I guess.

    4) It’s a personal, nitpicky thing, but TA’s attempt to discredit me by claiming I misrepresented my job is unfair and inaccurate. I ‘ll call it self-serving, too, although I don’t see how TA’s points are made by impugning me.

    I opened my original post, by saying I worked at IC for two years, 1988-90 [Why, that’s almost a quarter of my undergraduate career. ba dum bum. Actually, it’s half, but it’s long enough to counter TA’s assertion that I wasn’t there all that long.] In addition to running the projectors, I did the box office (we did charge a dollar in those days if you didn’t have your IC card), took tickets, made the theater work schedule, sometimes introduced films and professor/speakers, trained new people, and recommended films for screening. We called Celeste the office manager at the time, so I assumed–at the very least, for first resume and b-school application purposes–I was a manager, too. Going by what I was called at the time, I was “the International Cinema Guy.”

    From now on, though, I’m having T-shirts made saying “rogue projectionist.”

  79. I want to repeat that I personally greatly enjoy the IC and foreign films. My point was that I feel we should be less critical of those who do find the nudity in foreign films to be offensive or akin to pornography instead of “ridicule”ing them. Jim and Wilfried, you have a great point that Travis was directing his ire more at “crusaders” to shut down the IC rather than at Latter-day Saints who are too “prude” to watch an ejaculation in Amelie or defilement by pissing in Ridicule. I admit that I find the actions of these crusaders inexplicable. But I also point out that IC is still around and that, apparently, people in the right places also find these crusaders’ actions to be extreme. (That is not to diminish the stressful and vigilant job that Travis and others are doing to defend the IC from the extreme positions of the crusaders.) I actually agree with Neil on this point: if it bothers you, don’t see it. There is one further dimension, though, that Neil side-steps with that approach–how much is appropriate at a Church-run university? Unfortunately, Clark’s questions about what is p*rn come into play here, and these questions are unavoidable in an atmosphere that represents the Church and the Church’s standards on human sexuality and its eternal meaning.

  80. Bryce (comment 84) raised the question as to why America prefers to remake films rather than to promote the original. I don’t think it’s because “Americans are pretty lazy”, as Bryce put it (though it is gentle of him to lay the blame this way). The reasons are various: foreign films are often made on a low budget, lack therefore the technical sophistry and special effects that Hollywood can afford, they are often more compact to understand, mostly proceed from a different cultural context which is less appealing… A remake allows a producer to match the film to the expectations of the American or even worldwide public. And, of course, a successful remake can make much more money. That may be the most important reason for a remake.

    Jack asked (comment 85): “Which do you think more faithfully represents the original dialogue if as you say: ‘only essential parts are being put in subtitling’; subtitles or dubbing?” Normally, if looked at the overall effect, dubbing would be rather close to the original, as it follows the rhythm of speech, though the translation sometimes has to be pretty creative to keep up with the number of syllables. It also depends on the distance between the source language and the target language. Most West-European languages follow about the same rhythm, but that is not true for others. I did dubbing for some Church films in the 70s and was amazed at the time and energy it took to get it “right”. Just imagine “Latter-day Saints” to be dubbed in “Orang-orang Suci Zaman Akhir”.

    Subtitling on the other hand can differ greatly from sequence to sequence. If the dialogue is slow, if there are pauses, the translation can be excellent (if well done linguistically). If the dialogue is fast, it is impossible to translate everything within the time frame and still keep it readable. Then non-essential parts of sentences are not translated.

  81. Wilfried —

    I don’t disagree with any of your points re: remakes. My point in describing Americans as “lazy” was to answer my own question:

    However, this does not explain why some distribution company isn’t making a fortune finding great films from overseas and bringing them to mainstream American audiences.

    There are plenty of good reasons to remake a film. What’s remarkable is that this is the only way that mainstream audiences get exposure to foreign cinema. While American, English-language movies are standard fare the world over, in addition to films in the local language and of the local culture, the reverse is simply not true. No one is making lots of money as a distributor of foreign films in this country, which is a huge unfilled niche in the market. I was trying to account for this puzzling disparity in my comment #84.

  82. This thread is not an appropriate place for people to air grievances against Mr. Anderson unconnected with his work on the International Cinema.

  83. I typically prefer to simply read through the comments posted in this forum rather than actively participate in it, but the backwards thinking that is evident in this thread has prompted me to respond.

    By backwards thinking, I do not mean uneducated or uniformed. In this case I mean it in the literal sense of the word. Many of you are literally seeing things backwards with regard to DKL’s and Neil Labute’s dialog. Let me explain:

    The way I see it, the frustration began not when Neil showed up with his self-reckoned “celebrityâ€? status and an attitude that seemed to prove his stature. Nor did it start, as it should have, when Neil proceeded to attack members of this forum with his condescending brashness. Instead, everyone stood by and pretended to be honored by Neil’s presence–that is, except for DKL. DKL was the only one who was willing to rise up from among this star-struck crowed to take Neil to task for his attitude.

    To Neil’s credit–and in retrospect, much to my surprise–Neil’s response was not directed towards DKL but rather to the forum administrators for deleting his earlier post. Despite this, I am not willing to extend this credit much beyond this. First of all, I personally have little tolerance for people who sophomorically threaten to leave forums when things don’t go their way. Instead of whining about it, I would prefer to either see them leave quietly with a little class, or better yet, take DKL’s approach and simply laugh about it. Unfortunately, Neil’s whining prevailed, and sadly, some of you asked him to stay. I personally feel that if Neil wants to be a childish boob, let him either go home or find some other kids to play with, but of course, that is just my opinion.

    As you might expect, Neil’s celebrity-sized ego could not let DKL’s comments stand. And Brian G., here is one of the things you’ve gotten backwards. You scorned DKL for getting this forum off track when just the opposite was true. At this point, DKL was still on topic, but Neil’s dialog seems to be a rambling, sophomoric tirade intended to smear anything DKL happened to say. In Neil’s next comment, for example, he chooses to use the tired tactic of claiming that DKL’s comments are nothing more than useless opinion.

    I find this rather curious: If Neil holds the value of personal opinion is such low esteem then why does he bother participating in opinion-based blogs? Again, in my opinion, I think the answer to this question is obvious: This is simply an unsophisticated, if not cheap, way of dispensing with DKL’s comments without having to addressing them legitimately. That is, it is tantamount to an ad hominen attack that would rather dismiss DKL’s comments as being stupid, useless opinion instead of respond with thoughtfulness and class as DKL has.

    This is a particularly classic ad hominen attack:

    · how did i know that you couldn’t keep your big keyboard shut? fair enough. you were here first–i’ll leave you to your little fiefdom, grammatical errors and all. pathetic.
    Comment by neil labute — 1/8/2005 : 2:04 pm

    There’s nothing like seeing an apparently semi-literate blowhard throwing a temper tantrum and trying to discredit an opponent by using a bit of intellectual snobbery.

    At this point, the discussion has been completely de-railed, but it has been de-railed by Neil’s sophomoric rantings, not DKL’s playful jabs, which, by the way, DKL had enough class to apologize for in the end.

    Rather than condemn Neil for his ad hominen attacks and his mistreatment of other forum members, some forum members jumped on the LaBute bandwagon and attacked DKL’s comments with cheap tactics of their own.

    Wilfried, for example, uses another tired ploy to dismiss DKL’s comment about growing anti-American sentiment:

    Interesting. Are there statistical references to back that statement? I never had that impression from reading film reviews abroad. Some absolutely wonderful films have come from Hollywood, and they keep coming as Bryce I. just pointed out. But imagining a fundamental “bias against American culture� from abroad, as DKL claims, and then proceed on that assumption to justify chauvinistic statements seems a too easy way out. It seems it suffices to say you like a foreign film, and you’re depicted as anti-American… That’s a slippery topic for a long thread!
    · Comment by Wilfried — 1/8/2005 : 12:11 pm

    “Quote me the statistics� is another cheap way to try and dispense with someone else’s argument without addressing it honestly. If you disagree with DKL’s assessment, the burden is upon you to come up with evidence or examples to disprove it.

    What puzzles me the most about your comment, Wilfried, is the fact that you pretend that DKL’s comment is so novel and unsupportable. The truth of the matter is, this has been a hotly debated topic for many years in most political forums: Journalists have written editorials about it; it’s often the topic of conversation on talk radio programs and news broadcasts; and, believe it or not, entire books have been written about this very topic. If you really want statistics to back up DKL’s “novel� statement, you might consider reading one of them. Particularly, you might check out “Hating America: The New World Sport� by John Gibson. This book was recently published and is therefore current and has received reasonably good reviews.

    If you want anecdotal evidence, log onto just about any European blog or web forum and say something pro-American. I have tried this and can tell you that you are likely to get pummeled. Here is an example: I happen to belong to a German-based BBS that provides support for a hobby of mine: RC helicopters. This is obviously not a political forum, but Americans consistently get the same shameful treatment on this website. I can say without equivocation that in the 3 years I have belonged to the BBS that the German members of this board have not let a single pro-American comment or even a positive comment about an American citizen stand without launching into a patently anti-American tirade that usually continues for days. And they are not coy about their anit-American sentiments. They state outright that they hate American culture and everything it stands for.

    Ironically, you really don’t have to go any farther than Neil’s comment above to find anecdotal evidence of this trend: Neil warns DKL above to avoid saying that Americans make some of the best movies in the world, because this is likely to offend someone. Would this really offend someone? What’s wrong with any group of people taking pride in their cultural accomplishments. Who in their right mind, for example, would be offended by a French man claiming that the French make the best wine in the world or by a Dutch man making the claim that the Dutch make the worlds best chocolate. Likewise, why would anyone be offended by an American drawing attention to a positive aspect of American culture. Well, Wilfried, I will tell you the reason why certain people would be offended by such a statement: These people harbor anit-American sentiments and tend to be offended by anything that can be construed as being pro-American.

    Why am I giving this so much attention? Because it is so blatantly obvious that this is a commonplace idea and you say you want statistics to back it up. Shame on you, Wilfried. Either you are incredible naïve or you are simply using this as a ploy to dismiss DKL’s statement without further discussion. In other words, the name of the game here is to smear anything DKL says by dismissing his comments out-of-hand without giving any serious consideration to their merits. In either case, I’m not impressed. By the way, can we expect you to apply this tired, if not crude, ploy to your own dialog in the future? Should we expect you to be footnoting your comments or at least citing your sources?

    Bottom line here, Neil Labute came into this forum with an attitude and mistreated members of this forum. DKL was the only one who was willing to take him to task for it. But instead of commending him for this, everyone who participated in this dialog decided to attack everything that DKL said—with a certain amount of dignity, I might add—while giving Neil’s rambling, sophomoric rants a pass. I understand that the dialog has moved on from here, but I felt compelled to draw attention to this shameful behavior. And as far as I can see, DKL’s post on Coffee, Beer, and cigarettes still stands without any serious challenge. I’m on you’re side, DKL. Don’t let these people get you down.

    Oh, and I loved the IC when I was at BYU.

  84. The reason they make remakes is because then they get the money for the new film whereas distributing a foreign film with subtitles won’t generate the same income. Same with why they do remakes of Hollywood films (which are the majority of remakes)

    Now I’ll in general decry remakes. Most are inferior to the original and some just make me go, “why did they do that?” (i.e. Demme’s remake of Charade as The Truth about Charlie or something to that effect, or the shot for shot remake of Psycho) I’d add that in terms of pacing and other issues, foreign films don’t typically match US expectations. Further there are all the marketing issues regarding whether there was a big star or not and whether it has broad enough appeal. The number of foreign films that appeal to a wide cross section of Americans is small. The last few years there has been Hero, Crouching Tiger, Amelie, and that’s about it. The next tier down had films like City of God and a few others. But by and large foreign films feel foreign to Americans and thus aren’t as enjoyable for escapist entertainment.

  85. I typically would not reply to such a comment, but I could not stand idly by while someone claimed (spuriously) that the Dutch produce the worlds finest chocolate. Please. Everyone knows that the Belge and the Swiss compete for that honor. And (sorry Wilfried, despite Leonidas) the swiss are the victors.

  86. J.Syapely,

    Coming from a Dutch heritage (largest exporter of tulips from Holland is evidently my mothers’ cousin), I challenge you to a duel over that conclusion. May i suggest wet noodles at 5 paces. I love Dutch chocolate.

  87. Ever tasted our Belgian Guylian or Godiva? Superior to Leonidas according to many. But, agreed, Lindt or Teuscher or Neuchatel may take the palm. And since this thread is about film, let’s all watch Chocolat this week.

  88. I’m glad this thread is finally resulting in an actual discussion of film. Let me apologize in advance for having too much to say.


    I’m sorry if my post was confusing. Yes, I was arguing that the more expensive a film, the more the people financing it demand it be accessible. I wasn’t exactly saying all filmmakers want to make accessible films, but don’t have the money required. I’m simply pointing out a consistent and general pattern in film history that continues today. Whether an up-and-coming director comes from the U.S. indie scene or a foreign country, the lure of bigger budgets, great actors, cutting edge technology, and many other advantages draws them to big-studio film-making. This in turn forces them to make more accessible films. DKL’s original point was that accessibility was what makes American films great. Obviously, some directors bail out of the system, or work their way to a niche outside the mainstream, or never come to the U.S. to make movies, but I think very few can resist the appeal of the Hollywood system, at least for a project or two.

    My greater point was that it’s the infusion of talent, often from other countries that makes American film great. It’s analogous to the fact that generations of immigrants have made America as a nation great. I think DKL overlooked this.

    As far as the birthplace of a director not being the sole criteria for how his or her film is categorized in a certain national cinema, I agree. I don’t think I even said that. I do think that the culture a director comes from (frequently determined by birth) is a good place to start when making distinctions, however. Admittedly, a better way to group certain films with the cinema of various countries would be to consider the primary audience they were produced for. In today’s marketplace, however, the intended audience for big-budget films is nearly always international. This supports my idea that gradually the distinctions between the national cinemas are fading away as we approach an increasingly universal cinema.


    I agree some directors never want to make films for a mainstream audience and some directors only want to make films for the widest audience possible. I don’t know if the directors you choose as examples are the ones I would choose, however. Lynch is probably the director I think best illustrates your point. His career fits the pattern I suggest though. Eraserhead, a less than accessible film, got him noticed. He directed Elephant Man and Dune, both pretty mainstream, particularly Dune, then Lynch got frustrated and moved further away from mainstream Hollywood taste. Yet, even Lynch has worked in TV, the most accessible of mediums. If I had to pick a director that never wanted to be mainstream, I’d pick John Waters, but even his work has become more sanitized.


    I’m afraid to respond to your post because I think you might say I don’t love my country.

    In any case, you do point out both DKL and NL contributed to the derailing of this thread. I agree with that. I was more frustrated with DKL because over on the divorce thread where the entire fiasco started there was similar baiting and badgering, that’s all. As far as kissing up to NL, I don’t equate courtesy with being starstruck in quite the same way you do. Honestly, I’m not sure if there was ever any anti-American sentiment on this thread. Saying you like foreign films more than American films is not anti-American, but even if it were, Wilfried, who you go off on, praises American films in post 59. I can tell you like DKL’s post about how great American films are because you defend it so vehemently. It intrigued me too, (DKL can be insightful and even amusing at times) but the truth is it shows a narrow-sighted view of film history. I doubt anyone was seriously offended by it. Many of us just thought he was wrong, particularly in his assertion that America invented all the film genres. Every film genre existed in print and other story-telling mediums prior to the invention of film. Both American and foreign filmmakers pioneered adapting those pre-existing genres to the new way of telling stories.


    As long as I’ve written this much (I’m sorry, I told everyone I love movies) I thought I might add something to the conversation. The first year the Academy Awards was held a melodrama about fighter pilots called WINGS won Best Picture, but what a lot of people don’t know is that at that time the Academy had two Best Picture categories. One called Best Picture, Production and another called Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production. Murnau’s SUNRISE—possibly the best silent film ever made—won Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production. Murnau, of course, is German.

    SUNRISE and WINGS offer a great contrast between where American film was headed and where German film already was. However, the fact that the filmmakers of the day in the Academy, primarily Americans to be sure, bestowed it with the “Unique and Artistic� title and not vice versa speaks volumes of where they saw their European counterparts in terms of filmmaking originality and merit.

    The question is do American filmmakers and American filmlovers still show foreign films that same respect today?

  89. Excellent thoughts, Brian, and very helpful nuances. We may never forget that the public is also very vast and diversified and that the overall majority expects easy entertainment in the first place. It explains why also most foreign films, usually unknown in the U.S., are geared towards that entertainment. Only a fraction would fall in the category of “Unique and Artistic Production”.

  90. Brian, if you don’t mind a slightly tangental discussion…

    I’m not sure I’d call any of Lynch’s works “mainstream.” The closest would be Twin Peaks, but even that was very out of the mainstream and was a surprise hit. Further, partially due to ABC but partially due to Lynch and Frost themselves, the popularity peaked quickly and then waned. I’d also not really want to call either Dune or Elephantman mainstream films. The latter did quite well for him, garnering several awards, but then so did Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive.

    With Lynch what I think tends to happen is that other directors pick out a few of Lynch’s themes and then water it down into a form acceptable by the masses. Thus for example X-Files owes a lot to Twin Peaks.

  91. as the non-resident non-expert on Chocolate, I think the discussion is simply off base.

    First, you have to start with a discussion of the cocoa bean itself. Most “brands” use “mixed” cocoa beans. Frankly, a mixed bean can’t compete with a “single bean” chocolate. Period.

    Second, y’all talking about “brands” of chocolate made by large conglomerates. Wrong place to start. Most of the best chocolate is made by individual chocolatieres (sp?) in various countries, not corporate conglomerates.

    Third, “dutch,” “swiss,” & “belgian” chocolates are all misnomers. There is some historical fact to the “type” of chocolate that comes from these different regions. However, they have been replicated & exported & can now be found just about anywhere.

    Finally, you have to look at the “tablature” of the chocolate. As noted, it should be single bean. Second, alot depends on the cocoa content, i.e. “darker” or “milkier”. IMHO. :)

  92. Sure, Clark, I’ll concede that I may have overstated the mainstream qualities of Elephant Man and Dune. I was after all saying that Lynch is your best example of a director determined not to be mainstream. I do insist though that his body of work supports my ideas. Dune spiraled out of budget in 1984 and ended up costing 60 million–that’s big, big money in those days. It’s huge budget led to studio tampering in an effort to make it accessible and coherent. In the end Lynch took his name off the project. It illustrates my point that accessibility is related to budget and that when directors break out they more often than not gravitate toward more accessible films, at times willingly, but in Lynch’s case, perhaps unwillingly.

    As far as the Twin Peaks influence on X-files, you’re absolutely right.

  93. Clark and Brian:
    How does Lynch’s “Straight Story” fit into your schema? It is extremely accessible but I’d hesitate to call it “mainstream.”

  94. Justin: I’ll always remember when my Stake President told me to go see STRAIGHT STORY. He thought it was great, but did mention there was some consumption of beer. It’s a good film. It doesn’t really fit into my schema, but it illustrates that even a director with as rarified a sensibility as Lynch can be accessible if he or she chooses to be.

    Once when I was struggling to appreciate modern art, it was pointed out to me that the great modern painters could all paint in a more conventional fashion if they wanted to–they’ve just mastered that and moved on. Like a lot of talented directors, Lynch was trained as a painter and I think STRAIGHT STORY shows he can work in a traditional structure if he wishes. I agree, it’s not mainstream–mainly, I think, because of casting and a delightfully small and limited scope. The more I think about it, the more I think a lot of my personal fascination with Lynch’s work is the way he repeatedly places these weird and freaky stories in mainstream, or at least commonplace, locales like small town, rural America.

    An interesting side note is the fact Lynch is an Eagle Scout. Also an Eagle Scout, Steven Spielberg. I think this conclusively proves that there’s no relation between success in Scouting and accessibility as a filmmaker.

  95. LOL–Thanks, Brian. (Incidentally, I wasn’t trying to be perverse with my question. I just wondered what you thought.)

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