Monday, June 24, 2013

Microreview [film]: The Foreigner

The then-brand-new World Trade Center.
The Meat

The Foreigner is a movie so obscure it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Not even a stub. Shot in New York in 1978 by a handful of people with seemingly a nickle and length of rope between them, there's really not much to recommend the film either narratively or technically. There's not really a story, so much as a vague idea being played out very slowly across its running time, the sound is so bad that long stretches of dialogue are totally incomprehensible, and no one in it, no matter how much responsibility they seem to have in the world of the story, looks any more than about 24 years old.

But The Foreigner is one of those odd gems that makes a fascination with cult cinema so rewarding. If you can soldier past the (very significant) problems with it, the movie offers its own set of rewards that are pretty much distinct from the experience you get watching a normal movie where you hope to get caught up in the human struggle of made-up characters. Shot over the course of one week by Amos Poe, who a couple of years earlier made what is considered the first documentary about punk music (The Blank Generation), you could argue that The Foreigner is the first punk feature film. It's rough, intentionally ugly in parts, transgressive, and was clearly done for the sake of doing it. Like punk music.

There's a fine line here, of course, between "rugged DIY experiment" and "who cares?" but the film's immediate impact on the small circle of artists involved in the scene that produced it (called No Wave Cinema at the time) was significant and lasting. I could describe the movie as some kids attempting to do their impersonation of Godard's Alphaville, which is accurate but also makes it sound like something your pretentious high school neighbor did last weekend. So instead, I'll describe this movie about a secret agent who is so secret neither he nor anybody else knows what his mission is as the filmic contemporary and equivalent of Blondie's self-titled 1976 debut album -- more memorable for what it started than for its own content. And Debbie Harry has a small part in The Foreigner, which is neat to see. The movie, its filmmakers, and others all revolved around CBGB's, and so the result is sort of an insider-outsider film, a film about outsiders made by a trusted member within that group.

The Math

Objective Quality: 2/10

Bounses: +1 for providing a DIY model and sense of what was possible to people like Jim Jarmusch, who was also in the scene at the time but not yet making films; +1 for achieving an evocative atmosphere unhindered by the movie's own technical shortcomings; +1 for the present-at-the-creation view of the late-70s NYC punk scene

Penalties: None, it would just feel like piling on.

Cult Film Coefficient: 5/10
This is how we make DIY title-cards.

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]