Readers respond to the most mean-spirited and unkind piece of film criticism ever, another U2 gaffe and Greil "Dawg" Marcus.

By Salon Staff
Published November 27, 2002 2:00PM (UTC)
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[Read Cintra Wilson's "Robby Benson's Clean White Underpants."]

Cintra Wilson must have read my junior high school diary from 1978.

I clearly remember watching both "One on One" and "Ice Castles" in the movie theater with my girlfriends and finding Robby Benson the most dreamy leading man. As Wilson hilariously points out, his complete lack of sex appeal, his cloying girliness and unthreatening demeanor made him the perfect leading man for pre-adolescent girls who still sleep with their teddy bears.

A few years ago I rediscovered one of my old Shaun Cassidy albums (Shaun was second to none back then) and I was taken aback when I saw with adult eyes how completely babyish and feminine he was in every respect -- from his gauzy cover photo to his chirpy singing.

By high school, I had learned to love the bad boys, but I still have a special place in my heart for Robby and Shaun and their goofy grins.

-- Patty Payette

The recent piece on the film career of Robby Benson is the most mean-spirited and unkind piece of film criticism I have ever read, and I thoroughly enjoyed every last nasty word of it.

-- Daniel Marco Summaria

Cintra Wilson's retrospective of Robby Benson's film career is nothing more than unvarnished homophobia. Light in the loafers? Twee-spirited? He didn't have testicles? You've got to be kidding!

Robby was, God forbid, effeminate. He was a softy, New Age sorta guy, just like Alan Alda, only without Alda's redemptive sardonic humor. He was sentimentality without bite.

The uptight ones hated it then and Cintra Wilson hates it now. Robby wasn't being a man, dammit. Unless he was gay, of course. That would have made it different. That would have made it OK. That would have made it understandable.


I think you should hand over film reviews to Eminem. I'd rather him call me a flat out faggot than listen to Cintra Wilson belittle a straight man for seeming faggotty.

Sign me "totally agog ..."

-- Richard P. Jasper

Cintra Wilson's searing, eloquent analyses of pop culture icons are unparalleled, but I must take exception to her dismissal of Paul Newman as a worthy film director. Although "Harry and Son" was an undeniable turkey, and he floundered with "Sometimes a Great Notion," both "Rachel, Rachel" and "The Effect of Gamma-Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" reveal a deft and sensitive director's touch that the ham-handed Robert Redford, deemed the superior filmmaker, could never aspire to.

-- Bruce LaBruce

[Read Annie Zaleski's "All That You Want to Leave Behind."]

Thanks to Annie Zaleski for her assessment of U2's 1990-2000 output. Anyone who grew up as a fan of the band had to do a lot of soul-searching to come to terms with their '90s work.

My personal conclusion was this: Sometime after the release of "Achtung Baby," the members of U2 were kidnapped by aliens and replaced by poorly constructed clones. Fortunately, in 1999 the aliens finished their research and returned the true band to us. Let's hope we never hear from those flawed imitations again.

-- Jim Kasprzak

Article after article has been written on Bono and U2 on such topics as their politics to record reviews. Annie Zaleski's review falls in the same trap as numerous writers from Time magazine to People, etc. The review misses the Christian message at the heart of U2's lyrics. For example, "Until the End of the World" is not an "apocalyptic come-on" as the reviewer stated. It is in fact a narration by Judas, the Apostle who betrays Jesus as anyone with any basic understanding of the Gosepl ("In the garden, I was playing the tart, I kissed your lips and broke your heart"). If Ms. Zaleski truly wants to capture U2, and what motivates Bono to wipe out third-world debt, I suggest she look a little higher.

Annie Zaleski finally gives us '90s U2 fanatics an honest take on the bald-faced revisionism of the band's current hits package. It is a disappointing, needless and ultimately futile apology for supposedly wayward behavior, but we'll take it anyway. Why? This music itself is much better than the band that made it, but no one else could have made this music sound so good. The collected '90s material is first rate, of course (with a few notable omissions, as always), and shows how dull U2's recent reretreat into bland AOR boredom really is. Still, like all compilations, "The Best of 1990-2000" is an album that is ultimately a cash-cow release for casual fans (despite being largely material ignored or reviled by the mainstream) with a few bones thrown at the die-hards who have all this stuff anyway and could burn a CD-R at least as comprehensive.

-- Keir DuBois

[Read Charles Taylor's "Will the DVD Save Movies?"]

In my personal experience, the DVD is killing movies, because it allows directors to endlessly tinker with their films, and encourages studios to release DVD after DVD of the same movie.

Why should I pay 10 bucks to sit with talking cretins with cellphones, in order to see "Version 1.0" of a film that will never be exactly the same again?

Why should I then purchase the "Version 2.0" DVD, when the four-disc director's cut with deleted scenes is coming out months later?

Then do I have to purchase the 10th, 20th, 30th anniversary editions, with new, unearthed footage?

It seems the industry is killing the idea of a movie as a complete work of art. Meanwhile, I'll go back to reading books, at least until Kurt Vonnegut comes out with "Cat's Cradle -- The Version You've Never Seen"

-- Andrew Bongiorno

DVDs have changed our lives! We live high in the French Pyrenees and until this year the only way we could see a decent, English-language film undubbed was to drive two hours to Toulouse. Consequently we only managed to see about two movies a year.

Now we can rent a DVD from town for 3 Euros a night and play it on the PowerMac while lying in bed. We can see it in the original language and our kids can watch it again in French if it's a film their friends have seen and they want to be able to talk about it with them.

DVDs are the second biggest improvement in our quality of life in rural France. The most important of all? The Internet.

-- Kim Chevalier

God bless the Criterion Collection and Robert Harris! I live in NYC, and as Mr. Taylor mentions, though there are many repertory theaters, the prints, projectors and screening rooms tend to be pretty poor. Not to mention that most of these houses are dedicated to recent (and often mediocre) independent features and rarely show classics, let alone forgotten gems. DVD, and particularly outfits like Criterion and restoration specialists like Harris, have given many films new life. As a young man who never had (and likely never will have) the opportunity to see such great works as "The Third Man," "Notorious," "8 1/2," "Sullivan's Travels" and "Rashomon" in the theater, I am delighted to have these films available again and in such wonderful condition. It reminds me of the infancy of CDs when many great artists had their entire catalogs rereleased and with remastered sound. Out with the beat-up tapes and scratched records. Sure, some of the aesthetic (or at least, nostalgic) value is gone, but "the way it is meant to be seen" is restored.

-- Todd Merriman

The problem with watching movies in a theater is not only a matter of poor sound and picture quality. Every time I have gone to see a movie in a theater I have had to put up with people talking, often loudly and often not even about the movie. Cellphones that go off all the time or people making calls on them. Kids crying or screaming out of sheer boredom in a movie not intended for them. Kids running up and down the aisle while the movie is playing ... and so on. At home, I can enjoy a nice surround system, turn off the phone, make popcorn for a lot less than it costs at the theater and relax. Heck, I can even pause it and take a break and not lose a frame of the movie.

If people were not so rude, it would be nice to have others around me sharing a good laugh at a comedy or the emotions of a good movie.

-- Tim R.

As a film student in New York City (could you ask for a better reader?) I have to say I would be thrilled if DVD all but replaced the multiplex. I'm interested in movies, not in the products sold at the concession stand, not in the commercials for cars or Web sites or stores frequently played before the movie begins. It's actually quite alarming the minuscule selection of films here. Those I'm most interested in seeing have such a limited release that if I don't drop everything I'm doing and go see them, they're gone. And what of documentaries and short films? It's nearly impossible to catch the former in the big theaters (or even smaller) and it's a joke if you think you can catch a short film anywhere but film class or by paying over $100 for membership to a film festivals. And as a student, I like multiple viewings. I love the feeling of watching the movie straight through, but I thrive on watching certain scenes over and over again. People I know majoring in political science or English or mathematics also do this. We like to see how things work, and what better way than to physically (well, close to physically) deconstruct the movie and see how it builds and why it makes us feel the way we feel?

The reaction of disdain to the DVD is precisely the same that greeted the concept of solitary reading. St. Augustine was shocked to find someone reading alone and not out loud. But reading has become the most personal of experiences, a special relationship between writer and reader. Take music, for instance. In the 17th century it was highly unlikely anyone imagined hearing an entire concert with headphones, but alas, if I want to hear Steve Reich, that's precisely what I must do. Laurence Sterne had it right when he argued that literature ought to be a conversation. We all can't hop a Concorde to France to see Picasso. Slides in art history will have to do. Thankfully, I'm spending the most important intellectual years of my life in New York, but for my friends in Missouri or in southern Virginia, it's quite difficult to catch the latest gay and lesbian film festival, or a Richard Linklater retrospective. We make do with what we can. And DVD is the best we've got right now.

This is due, in a large part, to technological innovation. Film is a medium that has matured (at least in technique) along with the developments of lenses, of camera size, CGI, etc. One ought not look down on the possibilities of a medium whose vitality is linked inextricably to progress and change.

On another note, DVDs present the possibility of subverting the wretched Hollywood system that seems, with each successive year, to turn out more and more drivel. The Todd Hayneses and the Mike Figgises have large followings, but when their work is more available, they will grow considerably in stature. I can sing "Far From Heaven's" praises all I wish, but if no one can see it, the whole thing's moot. If anything, DVD will help to uncover those artists buried in obscurity, to force us to challenge that ever changing "canon," and ultimately give us a better understanding of a medium that we all love.

-- Lloyd Miner

"Will DVDs Save Movies?" started out as an encouraging democratic-sounding inquiry: Is what was for one now for all? But it descended into rote fetishization and elitism, as I find all film criticisms of style tend to. This is why I cannot stand film. But I love movies.

Under the guise of talking about the spread of DVDs, Mr. Taylor lays out the score, which would be that form trumps content, silver screen trumps little screen, and the old favorite, "Things ain't just what they used to be." Forgive us for our sins for not being alive when "Lawrence of Arabia" was released to theaters.

What he forgets in this article is the miracle of repetition. Unless you write about movies for a living, there's no way you could see an independent (oh, and the fetish of the obscure! I digress) film more than 14 times. But with DVD or video (choose your poison) you can watch the subtitles, the acting, the meaning, the themes (none of which any film scholar worth his salt gives a shit about) as much as your heart desires. It's intimate and at your fingertips.

Declaring that there is One Right Way to view a movie is a move by the Cultural Nazis of the world to make us plebes feel bad. After all, isn't the real right way to view Fellini to speak, read and grow up Italian and see it in a clean, well-ratioed manner in a theater? Spare me. (What about the blind? They'll never see "Rashomon" the way it was intended!) I mean, did anyone ever tell van Gogh that his stuff wasn't good enough because he didn't use high-quality oil pastels? Does it make any difference to the audience? Big fat no.

Art is in the eye of the beholder, and I wish the anal-retentive purveyors of the Film Elite would just stop telling me that film is art and just really watch it.

Nobody ever cried about an aspect ratio.

-- Sherry Kuroda

This is an observation, perhaps a question, or maybe just a plea, directed to Charles Taylor and inspired by his article, "Will the DVD Save Movies?"

Taylor notes how many of today's movies are released both in the "real" letterbox format as well as the "pan and scan" format that chops off bits of the image to fit it to the TV screen. However, I'm not sure the choice is so obvious for recent films. I get the impression that some directors and studios have discarded "pan and scan" conversions; instead, the director simultaneously shoots footage to fit both the full-screen and widescreen formats.

Over the past few years, glimpses given by studio documentaries seem to show a director working from a viewfinder whose mask is clearly cut into a peculiar crossed shape that encompasses extra space on the sides (for widescreen) as well as on the top and bottom for "full-screen" format. In other words, a full-screen edition actually contains scenery that was omitted from the widescreen version. On occasion, I've noticed such differences in films I've watched in both full-screen and widescreen formats.

This puts a completely different complexion on the notion of what the "real" film really is, especially when watching it on a TV. If a director has taken the care to compose a video-formatted version of the film, then perhaps that's the one we should be watching on the small screen.

This isn't a subject I've seen discussed at any length. It seems like sacrilege to question the primacy of the letterboxed image, but in some cases the full-screen composition may actually work better.

-- Rick Smith

[Read Greil Marcus's "Real Life Rock Top 10."]

Yo, Greil, dawg: a humble suggestion. The next time you find yourself being blown away by an end-credits soundtrack ditty that's pounding you slickly from a $100,000 sound-system as you sit cradled in a comfy theater seat in the afterglow of a diverting cinematic experience, wait a few days before writing about it.

Your hyperbolic paean to Eminem's "Lose Yourself," name checking Olympian standards of comparison from Aretha's "Never Loved a Man," to Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" (defiling "Gimme Shelter" along the way), was so "ill" (as the kiddies once put it) as to be surreal.

Unimaginatively arranged, thin on hooks, thin in tone (which necessitates the double-tracked lead vocal, which in addition suffers the middling rapper's curse of being way ahead of the beat), this throwaway track is a film-specific number that invokes nothing so much as the spirit of Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero."

I bet that one blew you away, too!

-- Steven Augustine

Salon Staff

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