Robert McKee on the difference between English and Foreign Language films


Via e-mail I received an interview with Robert McKee. The whole interview should also be found at The Writer’s Store, though when I went to the website, I couldn’t find it. But I was especially struck by the following question and answer. I thought this was perhaps the most insightful analysis of the difference, often exaggerated, of films made in the U.S. (and other English speaking countries) and Europe and other non-English speaking countries, especially the conclusion that one is no better than the other, just different.
Q: Quentin Tarantino once said, “The thing that distinguishes an American artist is his capacity to tell a good story.” Would you agree?
Robert McKee: I generally would agree with Tarantino, but only in a limited way. First of all, it isn’t just Americans; it’s the whole English language tradition. Anywhere that English is the dominant language, from America to Britain, Australia to India, the English language has a grand tradition of storytelling that is very rich, and a world view, as a result of this tradition, that inspires stories that we consider are well told. On the other hand, I would argue that the most impressive and creative film culture in the world right now is in Asia, and they are telling stories out of their great traditions and cultures that are just as compelling, comic and/or tragic, as anything coming out of the English-speaking world. But Quentin Tarantino is overstating it, because every great language tradition, certainly the Spanish language, has magnificent storytellers, but there is a tendency outside of the English language, especially in the romance languages, the cultures rooted in the romance languages, to put more emphasis on mood than emotion. Or they put more emphasis on static moments of life rather than dynamic moments of life, and consequently the storytelling on the continent of Europe is often more open, more moody, more contemplative, more intellectual perhaps, than the stories that are told in the Anglo-American tradition. But those are broad generalities, and one could argue that many writers outside of the English language tradition are trying to use story to explore aspects of life that the English language tradition tends to ignore, and those aspects of life are more static and more contemplative, more mood than emotion. But no matter what, the tradition of every great culture in the world produces master works. So Tarantino’s statement tends to imply that stories told in the English-language tradition are better than stories told outside of that tradition, and that’s simply not true. They’re just different, not necessarily better.
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