Dodgeball, "the most egalitarian of games"? Tim Russert, underappreciated? Salon readers come to their defense -- and pipe up in favor of Bollywood and Steven Spielberg, too.

Published June 22, 2004 8:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Hooray for Bollywood!" by Charles Taylor.]

In his review of the Indian film "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge," Charles Taylor writes, "The largely white, presumably liberal audience hooted at those scenes. It was as blatant an example of Ugly Americanism as I've ever encountered at the movies."

Contrast that relatively restrained ugliness with recent news that "hardline Hindus hurled stones and damaged cinema halls in India Monday to stop the screening of a Bollywood film about a relationship between two women, saying it violated Indian culture."

One way we are exposed to other cultures is through movies. This unmediated exposure can be surprising at times. The audience with whom I saw Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" audibly scoffed at the (un)realism of the hero running across rooftops, which demonstrated that they fundamentally misunderstood the movie and the genre. The same audience would not have had the same reaction to the American equivalent: Ang Lee's Hulk leaping across the countryside (if they had deigned to see such a lowbrow movie).

Mr. Taylor does accurately identify the problem, I think: art-house crowds have an unrealistic expectation of foreign films. Perhaps the white liberal audience was expecting "Salaam Bombay!" or "Fire" (or maybe even "Lagaan")?

There are many fun Indian films, and the recent improvement in the production values makes these pictures much more accessible to American audiences. Most of these films are romantic comedy musicals, and if you'd normally scoff during a Julia Roberts vehicle or if you find "Anchors Aweigh" to be too cheesy and nostalgic (as most white liberal audiences would), then stay away. It is OK to smirk occasionally at some silliness, such as the jet-engine noises from the prop planes in "Andaaz" or the over-the-top melodrama of "Devdas" or the poor fight choreography in "Ashoka" (especially from a Hong Kong perspective) or the seemingly randomly inserted musical numbers in many Indian movies. That doesn't mean you aren't enjoying the movie.

The misunderstanding of foreign films cuts both ways, as Mr. Taylor demonstrates. There is a certain reluctance to criticize foreign films in the United States, probably for fear of being accused of being illiterate. In fact, white liberal audiences (and reviewers) frequently have strangely low expectations of foreign films, cutting them critical slack that they would not give to an American film. Remember the Spanish film "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down"? Stalking, kidnapping, plenty of full-frontal nudity (for the woman, anyhow), rape, and a woman who eventually falls in love with her assailant: White liberals would have protested an American film with that plot. You have to learn to watch out for adjectives that might indicate a foreign film is boring, such as: majestic, artfully paced, wise, delicate, impeccably performed, placid and filled with sweetness. Or it might not be boring at all. The problem is, you can't tell from the review.

-- Eric Franks

The analogy on the first page of Charles Taylor's "Hooray for Bollywood!" was flawed: "...but it took the paper a week and a half to acknowledge the death of Hong Kong pop star and actress Anita Mui. Try to imagine the Hong Kong press waiting that long to acknowledge the passing of Madonna -- because that's the equivalent."

Sorry, Mr. Taylor, it's not. You can reasonably expect a resident of Hong Kong to know of Madonna, and even to have had a chance to attend a local Madonna concert. Where was the equivalent exposure for Ms. Mui? Concerts? Appearances on national television shows? Madonna is one of the shrewdest marketing people in the world and never fails to create publicity in each country she visits. Anita Mui hardly had the same resources.

-- S.M. Thomas

Thanks, Charles Taylor. I watched "Dilwale" as part of an "Indian festival" on Bravo/IFC/Sundance, I forget which, and tried to get my sister to see it. She ignored my recommendation, but now that I have your review to send her, maybe I'll get some results.

-- Liz Logan

Charles Taylor has written a thoughtful and welcome review of "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge," but he speaks in error when he says that Bollywood movies don't get theatrically released in the U.S. The movies are quite regularly released on up to 80 screens a week, in both ethnic and mainstream theaters. These days around half of the films are even subtitled too! Interested viewers can check their local city listings on IndiaFM.com or Sulekha.com.

-- Lisa Tsering, author of "Bollywood Confidential," a 2003 Salon article about Bollywood movies

[Read Charles Taylor's review of "The Terminal."]

Charles Taylor's review of Steven Spielberg's "Terminal" suggests that this could never happen in a modern Western country. I have not yet seen the movie, but the story appears to be based on the true story of Merhan Nasseri, who has been stuck, under similar circumstances, in the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris since 1988. You can read about him here.

-- Samuel Pozel

Charles Taylor writes, in his review of "The Terminal": "Viktor is the man she's able to pour out her heart to. Doesn't Spielberg know that when a woman puts a man in that position, she's implicitly or explicitly telling him she isn't interested in him romantically?"

In the paragraph from which this quote is taken, Taylor's premise is that director Spielberg knows nothing about male-female relationships. But if Taylor really believes a woman isn't interested romantically in a man to whom she pours out her heart, I'd say he's the one who needs a few lessons in male-female dynamics. An informal poll among my female friends confirms that it's quite common for a woman to try to generate more closeness with a man in whom she has a romantic interest by telling him about her social/personal life, both to gauge his response and to measure his corresponding level of interest (or lack thereof).

-- Grace Dahl

[Read Stephanie Zacharek's review of "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story."]

I don't know where all this anti-dodgeball sentiment comes from. When I was in high school in the late '60s and early '70s, dodgeball (which we called "bombardment") was enjoyed by almost everyone. Even the wimps and the "little guys" enjoyed it. It was the most egalitarian of games. Everyone got to play all the time, no one ever got seriously hurt, and everyone was equal on the playing field -- quite unlike games like football and baseball, which consist primarily of complex and arbitrary rules and which are rigidly hierarchical. Dodgeball is, quite simply, a "blast."

-- Robert Pulciani

[Read "'You're the Best!' 'No, YOU'RE the Best!!'" by Scott Lamb.]

Scott Lamb has some good examples, but he only tells half the story. Matthews, Russert, O'Reilly, et al., are usually just trying to be polite to one another. They do the same with most other guests who come on their shows to promote books, especially those from within the same network.

Lamb neglects to mention how Matthews routinely belittles Fox News, O'Reilly, and Hannity and Colmes. Just the other night, Matthews and Al Franken both scoffed at the thought that Hannity and Colmes was our contemporary version of the Buckley-Vidal debates.

Lamb would have done better to draw distinctions between Russert (though ridiculously overexposed with that book, I agree) and Matthews, who in fact are tough and fair interviewers, and the crowd at Fox. Even a more thoughtful examination of the Fox team is in order. O'Reilly and Hannity may be asses, but they are good debaters.

Matthews, who now loves fellow MSNBC guy Pat Buchanan and constantly throws compliments at his feet, was brutal with Pat as soon as Pat decided to enter the public square. Matthews is professional enough to know when to turn it on or off.

-- Mark Grueter

Reading that article just confirms my conviction that I am better off without having TV. Haven't missed it a bit and we've lived without it for almost 30 years now. There are some good programs, I'll admit, but not enough of them to warrant our having to put up something drastic to get TV down here in our valley. Thank goodness for public radio, though, and for the fact that I can get Wisconsin Public Radio, if not Minnesota Public Radio (which I'd prefer since I have lived in Minnesota all my 81 years).

-- Marilynn Ford

Did the author actually read Tim Russert's book? I know what he's trying to say in the article, but I'm wondering if he disagrees with the praise it's gotten. He gets on his soapbox and cites some promotional appearances (the excerpts of interviews look pretty darn benign... where's the controversy?), but where is the evidence that any of the books is praised solely because TV people support each other?

-- Walt Miller

I never thought I'd see it -- a journalist saying funny things about other journalists.

I was a reporter for 10 years and, thanks to the reputation the press has that was built by my predecessors, I was always more proud of having been a reporter than the other things I did later.

Until now, with so-called journalists falling all over themselves bragging about each other.

It makes me sick to see the press acting like a bunch of P.R. hacks, and poor hacks at that.

I'm sorry I was ever a reporter.

Thanks for your story.

-- Dick Taylor

Sometimes the truth gets in the way of these conspiracy theories. Russert's book is, in fact, a wonderful, touching memoir that even a right-wing nut like O'Reilly or Hannity could enjoy.

I see the point of your article, but I think there is a distinction between the way Russert is handled for a book about his father and the blatant rectal canoodling given to Hannity for his rant against the liberals.

-- Doug Wamble

By Salon Staff

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