THE RALPH NADER OF FILM CRITICS
In reference to Armond’s predictable review of Bill Maher’s Religulous (“The Gospel According to Maher,” Sept. 24- 30), I wonder how in the age of Sarah Palin, Islamic fundamentalism, the Blackwater Corporation(a private army owned by a Christian fundamentalist and used in the crusade in Iraq) and the Religious Right in general (and how they have aggressively sought to either change American policies in order to suit their own theocratic agenda and further breakdown the separation of Church and State or plain kill the nonbelievers), Armond could actually take Bill Maher to task for either his criticisms of religion in this day and age or the form in which he does it? Armond is so terrified now of reversing his own anti-hipster, anti-cynic, anti-nihilist selfserving mythos, he has to now knock Maher and essentially “shoot the messenger” for things he knows and feels to be true himself. I call bullshit on Armond yet again. He has turned into the Ralph Nader of film critics.
It’s not an “anti-Christian kook”—as Armond puts it—that Maher is talking to outside the Vatican, but a Catholic priest. And I’ve seen Andrew Newberg on other shows and, even though they call him a neuro-theologist, he is in fact a neurologist who has shown that on a map of the mind, religious ecstasy is neuro-chemically akin to a drug high. I think Maher makes a great case that if you want to be intellectually honest in any respect, you simply can’t subscribe to organized religion and you certainly can’t cherry pick the Bible and say,“Gays bad” goes, and “love thy neighbor” stays. It’s a package deal; you take the good with the bad. Problem is, once you start discrediting Jonah and the Whale or the Virgin Birth, the rest of it comes down like a house of cards.
[That’s] why fundamentalists—[who are] Maher’s targets—cling to these irrational beliefs. Armond is perhaps hinting at the idea that people need spirituality, and I don’t disagree.
But the institutions that have sold it to us and claim to give us the answers—which is what Maher is showcasing—are all but dried-up and intellectually dead.This should come as no surprise to either Armond or anyone else. Religion has been unraveling since the mid-1800s with Nietzsche and Marx, and then later Freud, and through the postmodernists. And rightly so, because there is no answer or certainty about the divine; and all that one can really do is live with the question and find meaning elsewhere.
—Mike in NYC
COUNTERWEIGHT Armond White writes in his Ballast review (“Killer of Dreams,” Sept. 24-30), “But you have to see through these ludicrous black phantoms to the actual white middle-class fantasies at the film’s core.” Is it because the film wasn’t directed by a black filmmaker? Pity you revel in a narrow vision of whom is allowed to film whomever’s stories. I forgive your ignorance and hope you expand your film vocabulary.
Write editorials if you have an agenda against the color of the filmmaker’s skin. I was at a screening of Ballast with director Lance Hammer last week, and he was asked this question by Sarah Jones. His response was elegant and true. Please contact him and start a valid dialogue to enlighten yourself. Miracle of St. Anna (an all-black production), now there’s a masterpiece!
Armond White has a point when he compares Ballast to “a Fannie Hurst Tale (like Imitation of Life, So Big, Showboat).” The only problem is that only the first work listed was actually written by Hurst; the other two were by Edna Ferber. Ferber is another writer who doesn’t age well with her unfashionable sentimentality and once-progressive views on social issues that have long since been talked to death if not actually solved. But she did sometimes (as in Giant) show a breadth of style and depth of characterization that puts her best stuff on a level closer to the (sentimental, politically dated) work of John Steinbeck than the pure schmaltz churned out by Hurst.
—Wayne Hepner, Staten Island
Thanks for this article [on bottle service] (“Message in a Bottle,” Sept. 24-30). It seems that a $200 guaranteed tab opens the door for a lot more people to have fun depending on how it’s allocated. Do you think this will be $200-per-person or $200 for a small group? Also, do you think that clubs will have a problem switching to fewer bottles and more dancing in light of the cabaret law that’s still on the books? I’m going to try and ask Mr. Lewis the same questions. I try to comment on his blog regularly, but I wanted to get your perspective as well. Thank you for your time.
—Gamal Hennessy, President, Nightlife Publishing LLC
WHITER SHADE OF PALIN
The vice-presidential debate showed clearly both that Sen. Biden would make an excellent veep and that Gov. Palin would not. All of Gov. Palin’s answers were rote recitations of canned responses, and when a question did not fit her prepared list, she responded with an answer on another topic. For a self-proclaimed “maverick,” it is surprising that she apparently was not allowed to express any thoughts that were not given to her by the Republican campaign establishment.
—Branden W. Joseph, East Village
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Kurt Cobain as realized by Elizabeth Peyton. Read more on page 20.