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Monday, Aug. 27, 2012

French never blase about the American arts


By JOHN J. METZLER

PARIS — One of the more instinctive knee-jerk comments in trans-Atlantic relations is that the "French don't like Americans."

Proof that this is a common misperception is in the American music heard on French radio, the American programs found on a considerable segment of prime-time French television, and France's box-office movie hits, the majority of which are produced in Hollywood — ranging from Batman to Lorax.

Many French have long decried the Americanization of France and ever potent challenge the English-language poses to the language of Moliere. "Franglais," the mix of English words with French, has been the bane of the self-appointed literary guardians for generations, but when it comes to pure entertainment, Hollywood holds its ground.

Stroll past any of the cinemas on the Champs-Elysses, Montparnase or any of the grand boulevards and it becomes stunningly obvious that "The Dark Night Rises" over the "City of Light." Take a look at the train station platforms and see advertisements for the Schwarzenegger- Stallone thriller "The Expendables."

For example, during the last week of July, of the top 10 box office hits across France, fully six of them were American movies. "The Dark Knight Rises" surged ahead of the list followed by "Ice Age 4," "The Amazing Spider Man" and "Lorax." A few French-produced comedies followed, and then there's "Madagascar 3" and "Trespass."

Opening anew are "Abraham Lincoln," "Vampire Hunter," "Lady Vegas" and "Step Up 4 (Sexy Dance: Miami Heat)."

Taking a wider view of box office hits over the past year, we find a strong Hollywood presence too, although some top attractions such as the French made comedy "The Intouchables" leads the list.

The still heavily state-subsidized French film industry without question turns out some impressive films. "The Artist," the nostalgic silent black and white film after all won five Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor and Best Director.

Indeed the French are a cinema-oriented people with high rates of movie attendance.

According to France's National Cinema Center, 2011 was "the best performance for local pictures since 1984. The market share for French films increased to 41.6 percent in 2011 against 35.7 percent in 2010."

Interestingly "The market share for American pictures fell, to 46 percent, against 47.6 percent in 2010."

And TV stations too reflect the very strong appeal of American-dubbed programming from reruns of "House" and the newly popular "Bones" and "Body of Proof." Just about every police and "NCIS"-type show so familiar to American audiences are popular too.

Though the French traditionally loved the "Policier" (detective) stories, now everything seems to be set in Miami, Malibu or Manhattan. Come to think of it, that's where large numbers of French tourists go too.

Across the wide spectrum of French radio stations, there's a constant beat of American music from nostalgia to jazz to hip hop. Add French rap and you see the copycat effect.

The philosophers and the political doyens of the Rive Gauche will drone on about the French language and culture being under assault by the Americans: In one way it certainly is.

But let's not forget that in a free society, selections — be they at the box office or the channel changer — cannot be pre-programmed but are reflected by personal choice.

In the midst of a melancholy summer buffeted by both a stagnant economy and the uncertainty of the new Socialist administration's direction, there's always the escapist element offered by the cinema. It's not the first time that Hollywood offers such a choice.

John J. Metzler, a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues, is the author of "Transatlantic Divide: USA/Euroland Rift?" Contact: jjmcolumn@earthlink.net


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