Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Xenophobia

There is a trend in recent American movies that I find very disturbing. That tend is, of course, foreigner bashing.

Now, when I say “foreigner,” I am not using the word in the Hollywood sense (“person not represented by an agent”) but in the more general American sense (“person who does not hold U.S. citizenship”). It just seems to me that lately people who fall into this category are getting a lot of abuse. This seems strange to me since, judging from the credits on a lot of movies, a lot of the people working in and for Hollywood qualify as foreigners themselves.

Before proceeding, allow me to establish my credentials to speak on this topic. Since I started doing this web page, I have managed to alienate (no pun intended) no small number of people outside of the United States myself. This stems from the fact that the audience for my movie comments has grown over the years to be larger and more far-flung than I could ever have imagined. The genesis of this web page began in 1987 when I was told by my employer that I could cut my hours in half for a month in order to see every movie at the Seattle International Film Festival. But I was told that, in exchange, I would have to write a summary of every film I saw and circulate them each day around the office. The result was my very first film festival journal, which consisted of a few hastily dashed lines on each of the 65 movies I saw.

Eight years later, by popular demand, I resumed the practice, but this time the evolution of technology had replaced photocopies with an email list. Consequently, my audience grew. And it continued to grow until HTML somehow took over the world and I dropped the emails and simply posted the comments on a web page. With the growth of the World Wide Web (and its incredible potential to put people who have nothing better to do than read in touch with people who have nothing better to do than write), the growth in my audience accelerated. At some point along the way, it came to my attention that people outside the United States were reading my stuff. Awkwardly, people on five other continents were now able to read not only what I wrote this morning but also all those hastily dashed notes from the beginning which were aimed squarely at the employees of one small company in Seattle, Washington.

This helps explain how I have managed to insult everyone in Finland, as well as everyone in Denmark. More than one Finn has sent me email to take me to task for my review of the 1985 version of Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier), in which I declared that World War II “was not Finland’s finest hour.” My correspondents have also pointed out that a much better adaptation of the novel by Väinö Linna was made in 1955 by Edwin Laine. The Danes’ quarrel with me is more current. They were upset by my cavalier description of the Dogma 95 film movement in my review of The King Is Alive, mostly by the fact that I called it “a bunch of European filmmakers,” rather than saying, more precisely, a bunch of Danish filmmakers.

But my occasional obliviousness to non-American sensitivities is nothing compared to what I have been seeing in Hollywood movies lately. Of course, foreigners have never fared very well in major American movies. A non-American accent usually relegates an actor to a stereotyped character role or the villain. Even British accents. That’s why the villains, for example, in the Die Hard movies always seem to be Euro-trash.

The trend, however, seems to be accelerating. The chief case in point this summer is Austin Powers in Goldmember. This satiric series has always been rough on the English, whether it’s the sight gags about bad teeth or the jokes about London in the Swinging Sixties. But this latest installment has branched out in its venom. The Belgians and the Dutch come in for specific slander. Dr. Evil’s Belgian adoptive parents are blamed for his twisted personality. And in one of the film’s more memorable lines, Michael Caine proclaims emphatically, “There are only two things I hate; those who are intolerant of other people’s cultures……..and the Dutch!”

But the most flagrant example of the summer is likely to be a flick for which I saw a trailer recently. It looks like one of the creepiest movies to come out in a long time. No, I don’t mean One Hour Photo, although that does look pretty creepy. After all the media focus on child abductions this summer, what better way to escape at the movies than to watch a weirdo stalk a family? But the creepiest thing about the movie is the way Robin Williams looks. He seems to have stolen Michael Douglas’s look from Falling Down (which was parodied so humorously by Andrew Dice Clay in One Night at McCool’s). The creepiest thing about that is that it makes him look strangely like Buck Henry.

No, the most flagrant example of a foreigner-bashing flick this summer looks to be one that opens this week. The title says it all: Slap Her She’s French.

-S.L., 29 August 2002


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