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READING THE MOVIES

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Americans notoriously reject foreign-language films with subtitles, although around the rest of the world that’s often the norm. But I’ve always loved foreign films and subtitles are fine with me. Here’s a column about my introduction to international cinema, published in the Deseret News under the headline ‘My first subtitles … ’ on June 13, 1980.

I went to my first foreign film when I was 16.

That’s not entirely true, but I’m not sure I should count such Japanese epics as “Rodan” and “Godzilla” or the Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness comedy festivals on TV or the silent horror classics, such as “Metropolis” and “Nosferatu.”

Those films didn’t seem foreign to me as a youngster. The first two were dubbed in English (who cared if it was Tokyo instead of New York that was being destroyed?), the second group was comedy and my laughter seemed to drown out the British accents, and the latter category had English intertitles, of course.

There may have been others, but to the best of my memory it was 1965 when I went with my parents to a downtown Los Angeles theater and saw my first honest-to-goodness foreign foreign film, a French co-feature with a first-run American movie.

Jacques Demy’s modern jazz operetta (no spoken dialogue), “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” was sung entirely in French. I experienced subtitles for the first time.

It wasn’t such a tough task to read them, however — I thought of it as a silent film in the sense that reading was necessary — but the sound, and particularly the French language, added immensely to the experience.

   

Kittenish Catherine Deneuve, early in 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.'

The first film, Sidney Lumet’s superb “The Pawnbroker,” which made a star of Rod Steiger, was also an introduction — to the kind of soul-searching, thought-provoking drama that only the movies can make so deeply affecting. “Umbrellas” was no more upbeat, but I sat entranced at the beauty of it all, especially in contrast to the ugliness of “Pawnbroker.”

These two movies, back to back (we only stayed for “Umbrellas” because we happened to be there when the first film got over), made me realize how much more there was to film than I had experienced so far.

It must not have meant too much at the time, though, since I went home that night and watched “The House on Haunted Hill” on TV for the fifth time and enjoyed it as well.

Now I had a taste, though, and little by little Truffaut, Bergman and Fellini became as important to me as Hitchcock, Capra and Allen (Woody, of course).

The wonderful aspect is that they never go away but always come back.

    

Older and wiser Deneuve at the end of 'Umbrellas of Cherbourg.'

I saw “The Pawnbroker” (somewhat edited) on TV again last year. It was every bit as powerful as when I saw it in 1965. A couple of months ago “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” was shown in a college film class, and despite two intermissions due to its being shown on one projector, it, too, was as good as I remembered it — and my affection for it has improved with age.

It’s always nice to welcome old friends home again, but it’s even nicer to find that the affection for them hasn’t faded in the least.