Letters to the Editor

Who's afraid of "The Blair Witch Project"? Plus: Making money with open source; did all the candidates shirk Vietnam service?

By Letters to the Editor

Published July 21, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

"The Blair Witch Project"

Ever since "The Blair Witch Project" was screened at Sundance, I've been reading notices at Internet
fan sites describing it as the scariest flick ever made. But the curtain is
coming up on their product, and "The Blair Witch Project" doesn't even
come close to living up to its hype.

Two weeks ago I attended a preview screening in a packed theater. When
the lights came up, people actually chuckled. There was a palpable sense
of "That's it? That's all?" in the air. Somebody came down to the front
row and asked, "Gee, was it scarier down here?"

I understand the film was conceived as a spoof of the old "In Search
Of..." TV series, with interviews and video clips detailing the story of
the witch and the search for the missing filmmakers. Somewhere along the
way, the directors decided to drop all that good stuff and stick with
the footage showing the filmmakers lost in the woods. This was a
disastrous mistake. There are a couple of mildly creepy episodes at
night, but the film loses what little steam it has when the audience
figures out that nothing bad is going to happen during daylight. The
bulk of the film is dull improv -- think of a John Cassavetes sleepaway
camp -- with variations on twentysomethings yelling, "We're in the
middle of the woods!" The conclusion is supremely unsatisfying.

The result is a mildly clever student film that simply
doesn't stand up as a feature release. The most frightening film ever
made? I've made sandwiches that are scarier than this flick! Anybody who
claims to have been spooked by "The Blair Witch Project" must be a very
nervous and fretful individual.

-- Steven Hart

Highland Park, N.J.

In answer to Williams' question, "Why does Heather pack a book
called 'How to Stay Alive in the Woods' and then never use it?"-- I
simply assumed it was because her edition did not contain a chapter on
how to survive attacks by an unknown and possibly supernatural
assailant. A foolish oversight by an amateur camper.

-- Michael Clausen

Method madness

Why wouldn't Salon's reviewer have a difficulty with the mistreatment of actors? Isn't it
part of a critic's job to question this sort of unethical trend in
filmmaking? I recall a friend refusing to see "9 1/2 Weeks" years ago
after he'd heard about Kim Basinger's mistreatment on the set
(presumably to help her get into the mind-set of the film's sexual power
plays). Hasn't "The Blair Witch Project" simply traveled further down
the same troublesome route? Yes, it's terrible to watch someone else be
genuinely scared on film. And it was fun to scare the shit out of our
little brothers by creeping up behind them when we were 10. But is
there anything transcendent or artistic about this?

I'm not going to say that it's indicative of problems in our culture
that we increasingly trust "reality" as a form of entertainment -- this
sort of waxing nostalgic reeks of neo-con posturing. Nonetheless, there
is something troubling when we vicariously enjoy others' misfortune and
mistake it for entertainment. Films that use "extreme" methods to evoke
real reactions on screen seem to me filmmaking's answer to prime time's
"Cops." Perhaps there's a larger point to be made about the increasing
public demand for art that blurs fiction with reality, but I leave this
for another issue of Salon. But this blurring for its own sake simply
patronizes the viewer and diminishes the potential of art to move and

-- Paul Zakrzewski

Is Red Hat becoming Linux's Microsoft?

The idea that competition means "loss of innocence" shows a
misunderstanding about the "open source" community. Before open source,
the Free Software Foundation had the goal of keeping software free for
use and modification, and not much else. This goal grew partially from
the loss of community that was felt when programmers at universities
went on to private companies (where they were not permitted to share
their work), but the main purpose was to keep software evolving freely.

One idea often missed behind licensing source code as "permanently
open," as GNU licenses do, is that people can still make money -- for
example, through support or distribution. Other models don't demand that
you open your alterations to the code, just that you acknowledge the
original copyright. The possibility of making
a good living, or even a huge pile of cash, appears to me to have been
purposefully and carefully included even in the most restrictive GNU
model. I've made good money supporting GNU
software, and like any business it's competitive; I have to offer better
service and expertise for the same money as the other consultants, or
underbid them.

There should be no surprise that there is competition among Linux
companies. They're all selling something, and they all hope that their
way is best, or at least best suited to making money. The fact that
they're competing for dollars is a healthy sign of growing acceptance of
the software and licensing models that they support.

-- Joseph Balsama

Selective service

While it is true that George W. Bush and Dan Quayle "avoided" going to
Vietnam by joining the National Guard, and that they probably had help in
getting appointed, Joe Conason's characterization of Clinton as a
"fatherless young man from a poor family ... who didn't want to fight in a war
he believed was terribly wrong" is misleading.

Clinton, while not rich, was not without influence. He got accepted to and
managed to afford both Georgetown and Yale. In addition, he fondly lists
Sen. Fulbright, from whom he received a Fulbright scholarship, as a mentor.
While in England, he managed to afford trips abroad (to Russia et al.) and
to various anti-war protests.

When Clinton returned from Oxford, the "fatherless young man from a poor
family" was offered Conason's "honorable method of evading Vietnam" reserved
for fortunate sons in the ROTC. Clinton accepted this politically brokered
appointment rather than be sent to Vietnam -- an acceptance for which
Conason derides both Bush and Quayle.

The difference between these three men lies in the fact that when the roll
was called for the Texas Air National Guard, George W. Bush was there to
answer it. When the roll was called for the Indiana National Guard, Dan
Quayle was there to answer it. When the roll was called for the University
of Arkansas ROTC, William Jefferson Clinton, who had promised to report for
duty, was off somewhere not inhaling.

As Conason points out, Al Gore did enlist in the Army and did go to Vietnam.
But, according to Salon, "Gore served as an Army journalist assigned to an
engineering brigade near Saigon. In seven months' duty he never saw one
American casualty." Conason never subjects Gore to the same speculation to
which he subjects Bush and Quayle. Did the powerful Sen. Albert Gore
Sr. exert any influence to make sure that Al Jr. was stationed well away
from danger?

Only Bob Smith and John McCain have room to make an issue of any other
candidate's Vietnam record.

-- Robert Smyre

San Francisco

For any person who followed the Vietnam War, it is clear that the majority of
those who went, fought and died came from the wrong side of town. It is clear that
all those rich boys used their families' influence to enjoy safe and cushy
jobs in their states' National Guards. Did they receive preferential
treatment? Yes. Was George W. qualified to be accepted to the officers
school? No. Was it right that he jumped over other 100,000 young man with
better qualifications than his? No.

I would be happier and more confident in his character if he
admitted to the special treatment he received, a form of affirmative
action that I doubt voters will reverse. I would be happier if he could come
clean and declare "There is no difference between me and Bill Clinton. I am
a draft dodger, too." What a bunch of hypocrites.

-- Maria J. Swanson

To Paris Las Vegas, with love

I was raised in the United States and France by an American father and
French mother, and for all my life, I've tried to explain each country to the people I know in
the other, a task all-too-frequently complicated by blinkered "journalism"
on both sides of the Atlantic. But Salon is the last place I would expect to find as dismal a piece as
"To Paris Las Vegas, with love."

Part press release (Vowell even included the phone number), part juvenile "what
I did on my summer vacation," part catalogue of standard anti-French jibes
apparently culled from the nation's playgrounds (she really told those
Nazi-occupied frogs! the French are so rude!) the article is packed with
"observations" that reveal only the author's ignorance and her terrific
satisfaction with it. The city of pointlessly rude shopkeepers, unreliable technology and filthy
streets she describes bears little resemblance to the Paris I know.

-- Olivier Knox

City slickers

Why are cities that are suing gun manufacturers and also selling
guns any more hypocritical than cities that are suing gun manufacturers
and also buying guns?

I know what you'll say: Cops have special training that render guns safe
in their hands. But I've already completed police
firearms training and know that it is minimal and not up to the
standards of civilian classes I've taken. Cops have a universal
reputation at public shooting ranges for being unsafe, poor marksmen
when compared to their civilian counterparts; stories appear
almost daily describing police officers' unintentional discharges, mistaken
targets or missed targets.

Differentiating between police firearms and civilian weapons makes the implicit admission
that it is not the gun that determines safety, but rather the character
of the person who wields it. It directly contradicts the suit's premise
that it is the presence of guns that causes crime, discounting the
intentions of the people (including criminals) who buy them.

Cities that buy guns for their officers with one hand, while suing
manufacturers for selling them with the other, are saying in effect
"Guns are dangerous and cause crime ... unless they're our guns." If that
isn't hypocritical, what is?

-- Eric Williams

Richmond, Calif.

I was stunned to read of a California official explaining in all
seriousness that he was destroying valuable firearms because "if a gun's
been used to kill someone, they don't want it out there where it could kill
someone else."

But that is precisely what we do with the people who actually use them to
commit violent crimes, is it not? We seem to be more intent on punishing
their guns than on punishing them. Why shouldn't the police melt down all of their own guns before
they "go bad" and "kill someone"? We seem to lack any prima facie way to
distinguish a "good gun" from a "bad gun."

This is nothing short of cultural insanity. If gun control dogma promotes
this kind of degenerate animism, we need to pause and consider if we all
really want to go where this bandwagon is headed.

-- C.D. Tavares

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