Notes On Readers and Reading Comprehension
Being firm believers that a film review should only be the beginning, rather than the end, of the conversation between the critic and the moviegoer, we here at the L.A. Weekly film pages recently launched a special email account, email@example.com, with the intention of facilitating reader feedback about the stories published herein. From the beginning, the idea has been for Ella Taylor and myself to periodically respond to said messages here on this blog, not unlike the "Ask the Critic" columns you'll find in many a newspaper and magazine. Alas, I must report that, one month into its existence, the traffic generated by firstname.lastname@example.org has been less than encouraging.
Several readers, apparently having mistaken the email address for that of Moviefone.com, write to ask which theaters they can find a particular movie showing at — queries made especially puzzling by the fact that the Weekly has, for years, printed theater location info at the end of each and every film review in both our print and online editions. Even more puzzling is the reader who asks when Inland Empire — a film to which we devoted extensive coverage last December, including a review and two long interviews with director David Lynch and star Laura Dern — is going to open in L.A. in the first place. Fortunately, sir, you're in luck: Lynch's film will make a four-night return engagement to the New Beverly Cinema, June 27-30. This time, please don't say we didn't give you fair warning.
As for letters that actually address article content, well, there have been a few. Stephen Conniff, for example, takes me to task over my usage of the word "Frogs" to refer to the French in my May 24 report on Michael Moore's Sicko. His email bears the title "No place for racism in a documentary film review," to which I can only say that, while the French may be many things, they are not a race, unless you mean the human one. Still, at least Mr. Conniff seems to have determined that I did indeed attend the Cannes Film Festival premiere of Sicko, unlike one Brent Buntin, who ends an otherwise favorable message about the same article by asking, "Did you see the film?"
Then there's Jay Blotcher, who reprimands me for using "such an addle-headed term" as "the gay lifestyle" in my discussion of William Friedkin's 1981 film Cruising, from a Friedkin interview also printed in our May 24 issue. Mr. Blotcher points out that "Cruising was about the leather lifestyle — one small segment of the gay experience," about which he is absolutely correct. However, what I stated in the interview was that "At the time [of its initial release], Cruising was widely attacked for its supposed homophobia and unflattering depiction of the gay lifestyle." And indeed, in 1981, much of the controversy surrounding Friedkin's film stemmed from concerns in the gay community that the movie would be misinterpreted by heterosexual audiences as being representative of commonplace gay life.
Recently, a similar case of reading incomprehension sparked a teapot tempest over a review of mine that appeared only in the pages of our sister papers The Village Voice and O.C. Weekly (as the film in question has yet to open in L.A. theaters). Back in March, writing about director Ham Tran's Journey From the Fall, which depicts the exile of Vietnamese "boat people" following the fall of Saigon, I said that while the film was "beautifully made" and "laudable as one of the few movies to depict the Vietnam War and its aftermath through the eyes of the Vietnamese...Tran's reliance on declamatory political dialogue and movie-of-the-week inspirationalism feels decidedly old-fashioned and, finally, even phony." Hundreds of letters, emails and threatened protests from the denizens of the OC's Little Saigon community followed, most of them implying that I had somehow denied the modern history of Vietnam or, at the very least, the harrowing experiences of the boat people themselves, when in fact it was only Tran's artistic approach with which I had voiced any issue.
To conclude: While I remain optimistic about the possibilities of email@example.com, I must confess that sifting through the electronic mailbag on this first go-round reminded me of an exchange from the second act of Tom Stoppard's brilliant 1982 play The Real Thing, in which the playwright (and Stoppard surrogate) Henry is attempting to explain to his girlfriend Annie why he won't cave into her demands to polish a didactic, poorly written play by an imprisoned Scottish soldier. After a memorable monologue in which Henry compares careful writing to cricket bats and crude writing to cudgels, he concludes, "I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect." So, dear readers, while I do hope very much that you will continue to write, please try to send more cricket bats and fewer cudgels.