Letters from our readers.
March 13 1998 3:30 AM

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NOPE Sesame

I am an artist, and my medium of choice is neon. I just read Michael Dolan's "Sign o' the Times," which was very informative and accurate.

As someone working in neon, I have made a couple of OPEN signs. As an artist, though, with a thing for language and how it is transformed by how it is represented, I had been thinking about the power that the blazing OPEN sign has in our culture. To that end, I made an OPEN sign sculpture in which the letter "N" swings from one end of "OPE" to the other, alternately spelling OPEN or NOPE. I only made one because I had to engineer the mechanical arm to swing that "N"--plus, I had a small microprocessor designed and programmed to control the swing over when a gear motor turns on and switches the letter position.

The whole idea comes from the OPEN sign phenomenon where one might be rushing to the store just before closing time, or maybe during imagined weekend hours, only to find, upon arrival, that one is too late or too early. NOPE!


--Michael R. Flechtner

Boogie Man

For the most part, I have to agree with Alex Ross' contention in "Bogus Nights" that indie films have been overpraised by critics. Deconstructing Harry was one of the most joyless, excruciating moviegoing experiences I've ever had, and I'm glad to know I'm not the only person who thought Boogie Nights was wildly overhyped (for a movie that was declared "brilliantly original," it sure looked derivative to me--there was hardly a shot or sequence in the film that didn't echo a similar, usually superior, shot or sequence in another film). And while I enjoyed Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men for its amazing trio of performances, it's true that the film itself was little more than a rigged stunt--David Mamet Lite.

However, Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter does not, I feel, belong in this group. Though it has flaws (Egoyan's decision to romanticize the father-daughter incest blunted the force of the ending), The Sweet Hereafter has none of the insufferable smugness found in so much indie film in this Sundance era. The ambiguity in this case is necessary, and the fact that we are never given a final solution to the mystery of what happened to the bus is central to Russell Banks' and Egoyan's premise that it is the nature of some tragedies to be incomprehensible--better to spend our energies fighting the evils we ourselves make than to rail at the unfeeling universe.


As for the Coens: Yes, it's true, their movies have no third acts. But I can't help it, I'm a fan of their hyperliterate, "look what I can do with a movie camera" show-offiness. They may never be great film artists (but then, how many great American film artists have there been, other than Griffith and Welles?), but they are reliable entertainers. Sometimes that's enough.

--Russ EvansenMadison, Wis.


In his review of The Big Lebowski, Alex Ross shows himself to be a true spokesman for the film establishment. The Coens have "reserved an independence they haven't earned"? I'm sorry, but the only earnings that count come from the audience. As long as the Coen brothers continue to please their audience, they have earned the right to be free of the discipline Ross imagines will spring from having studio executives second-guess their every move.


Instead of lambasting studios for abandoning artistic principles in favor of the almighty dollar, Ross attacks the Coens for abandoning film school principles in favor of their own. He doesn't quite have the courage to say The Big Lebowski isn't a good film, so he's reduced to saying it could have been a better film. Please, Mr. Ross, take a job with a studio so the Coens and we don't have to listen to you.

--Bob FosterMinneapolis


Regarding Franklin Foer's "Gist" on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes: What hasn't quite been picked up by reviewers and critics is the extent to which Hughes' rewriting of Plath in Birthday Letters--even the less allusive poems--takes on the voice of its subject. A poetic homage, for sure, since the two writers exemplify the stylistic divide between the confessional poets of the postwar United States (count Lowell, Berryman, Jarrell, Sexton, and others) and their more objective British counterparts (think of Hughes, Geoffrey Hill, etc.).


So, for Hughes, this volume is a deliberate suppression of his natural voice. Writing of his dead wife, he writes under her stylistic regime. And that makes sense.

--Nick SweeneyOxford, England

If It Doesn't Fit, You Must Omit

Knock off the cheap O.J. jokes ("Today's Papers," March 6). It comes across as an attempt to build camaraderie on the assumption that we're all in the 80 percent of white Americans who think O.J. got away with murder, when in fact some of us are in the 50 percent of African-Americans who believe that reasonable doubt was established. In any case, why use any divisive devices at all--would the editor use sexist anecdotes these days? Surely you can find alternatives to being too PC on one hand and going for easy O.J. laughs on the other.

--Hillard Pouncy

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