By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
EAST MEETS WES
In "The Connections" [January 8], Ed Park cleverly elucidates the yin-yangish complementarity of Jonathan Franzen's novel The Corrections and Wes Anderson's film The Royal Tenenbaums. Missing from his analysis, however, is one of the odder connections between the two artists: their puzzling use of South Asian characters.
Franzen's first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City, featured S. Jammu, a Bombay émigré police chief who heads a cabal of Indians that conspires to seize control of St. Louis. In Anderson's film, we have Pagoda, the Tenenbaums' factotum and Royal's partner in cancer fraud; an M.D. who looks like Harold Ramis's subcontinental cousin; a tennist named Gandhi who destroys Richie Tenenbaum in his final pro match; and a turbaned Sikh who appears in the background as Richie sits at a bus stop. While Franzen's choice of an Indian woman as his criminal mastermind inspired comment when his book was published, Anderson's use of South Asian characters has not.
With an interracial couple included in each of his three movies, it is safe to say that race is a leitmotif in Anderson's work. Anderson is expert at weaving these relationships into his plots without undue sanctimony. Likewise, one South Asian character after another slips seamlessly into the plot of The Royal Tenenbaums until one has to wonder, just what is Anderson up to?
Ed Park replies: We hail a new branch in Anderson/Franzen studies. It's fitting that South Asia should play a cameo in these meticulous registers of the American grain (whither was Columbus bound?), though Dr. Sanjay Mathew, who grew up with Anderson in Houston and plays the victorious racketeer, told me the director simply "cast friends from his past and Texas." Still, Weiss proves my piece but a tentative preface to further research.
J. Hoberman ["Fight Songs," January 1] all but accuses director Ridley Scott of racism for casting few African Americans as members of the Ranger assault team in the movie Black Hawk Down. If Hoberman had done cursory research, he'd have known there were only two African American soldiers in the 140-man Ranger unit. One can find that information in the meticulously researched book Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, on which the movie is based. The film is about as faithful to the book as one can get (except for a name change that the military requested), and possibly the most realistic depiction of men in combat ever filmed.
Los Angeles, California
J. Hoberman replies: Had Johnson been a less cursory reader, he would have grasped my point that the actual composition of the American unit suited Scott's overall aestheticism: "The racial color-coding feels like just another design element." In short, the movie plays as a race war.
Kyle Gann's review ripping up Billy Joel's new classical CD was saturated with resentment ["He's Always a Pop Star to Me," January 15]. As a songwriter, I can appreciate the need to release the music in your soul, and I enjoy listening to Joel's Fantasies & Delusions because I can picture an entire story in my head (which is Joel's gift to begin with). I can even hear some of his tune "Honesty" in his "Opus 1 Soliloquy."
In addition, I am glad to see, through Joel's work, some well-deserved attention brought to the classical genre. Many pop songs have classical music laced throughout, and there is no imitation of Chopin and Rachmaninoff here.
I am influenced by many sources, and if it trickles into my songwriting, it is a reflection of the impact that music has had on my being. I appreciate what Billy Joel has shared with the world, but I do not appreciate a review such as thisas if the integrity of classical music had been compromised.
GIULIANI = JOSEPH? NOT!
Richard Barr ["Giuliani = La Guardia? NOT!" January 8] provides much needed balance to the hype with which the Times and other media said their farewells to Giuliani; his spending priorities and generous tax concessions to large financial firms will severely limit the ability of the Bloomberg administration to ensure basic levels of protection and support for those already damaged by the 9-11 attack, and those facing job and income loss as the recession deepens.
Unlike Joseph, Giuliani failed to use the resources of the good years to provide for the lean years that have now begun. We'll pay a high price for the poor advice he got from the Manhattan Institute and other cheerleaders for lower taxes and less regulation.
Sumner M. Rosen, Chair
Five Borough Institute
I appreciated Carla Spartos's article "Ecstasy Therapy" [January 15]. Ecstasy was first developed in Europe for therapeutic research, and studies then showed that it was effective in marriage counseling, allowing subjects to make unparalleled breakthroughs in communication and relating.
I have been taking Ecstasy occasionally for six years, and have found the therapeutic benefits to be indeed true, when the drug is taken in the proper dosage in an environment conducive to healing.
As with any drug, MDMA needs to be taken with health precautions in mind, but under very specific conditions it has the potential to be effective as a medicine. I am aware that most people do not know this, but instead use MDMA recreationally, often at dangerously high doses and in unsafe environments. Hopefully, proper research combined with serious media attention will allow people to see MDMA less as a dangerous drug (which it can be) and more as a possible medicine.