“The Prophet said, ‘Keep my temple doors open, and I will drive them in.’ I intend to hold my end of that bargain, and he will keep his.” —Reuben Johnson-Bey, November 15

The Coen Brothers’ Editing Machine

I agree with Jonathan Rosenbaum’s astute analysis of No Country for Old Men. I also agree with the reader who recently described the film in a letter as a well-made B movie. Both takes are correct.

If I may be so bold as to speak for Mr. Rosenbaum: his main objection, I think, is how other critics tend to treat the Coen brothers (and their films) as top-of-the-line art/artists... when, in fact, they remain clever film school students who use technique—chiefly, the palette of a great cinematographer, Roger Deakins—to disguise their lack of depth.

Something is really off when filmmakers identify more with a psychopath’s crazy skills than with what makes such a person tick. Substitute the Coen brothers’ editing machine with Javier Bardem’s retractable stun gun and you’ll see what I mean.

In a genuine masterpiece like M (1931), director Fritz Lang not only constructs a classic, edge-of-your-seat thriller but also, at the end, engages the audience both emotionally and psychologically. We may not completely identify with Peter Lorre’s child murderer, but we certainly have to grapple with his torments and demons. He doesn’t just represent an evil life force; he is a human being gone awry.

Closer to our era, Tommy Lee Jones also recently appeared in another role as a straight-shooter-trying-to-survive-in-a-crazy-modern-society. It was in In the Valley of Elah, a film about the Iraq war which far too few people have seen. How sad that more people will end up watching the Coen brothers’ cinematic equivalent of a violent video game than Elah, a film which actually tries to make sense out of violent behavior, not aestheticize it.

Bill Dal Cerro

Edison Park

That’s Two Million Good Reasons Right There

I agree with Deanna Isaacs [The Business, November 15] that open books at the Art Institute would engender public confidence in their fiscal policy and perhaps even the onslaught of well-intentioned members of the press, the art community, and the public in scrutinizing, nit-picking, and second-guessing their every decision could eventually be weathered by the decision makers themselves. However, I don’t understand that string of questions in the last paragraph—is Ms. Isaacs trying to lend weight to her fiscal argument by feigning outrage over noncontroversial issues?

I mean, really, questioning the shipping of the art to Texas—do you think they ship it UPS? Or is she worried that Kimbell won’t protect the paintings from terrorists? There is a constant rearranging of collections around the world as exhibitions are mounted at various venues. It’s what allows someone in Chicago to see a collection of 17th-century landscape paintings by taking the Metra or the CTA instead of doing a big carbon burn on Air France. The Art Institute’s been around for a dozen decades, and they probably know a thing or two about shipping paintings.

If the Art Institute says they are going to rearrange the galleries, then given the choice between putting the art in storage and lending it out for $2 million, well, to me that’s a no-brainer. What’s the alternative? Hang them in the halls? The bathrooms? If you’re talking about temporarily replacing an existing exhibit, then which one? Just because the impressionists are popular with you (and probably most of the public as well) I personally would be very upset if they were to replace the Japanese print collection.

As for cutting the wisest deal, what’s the connection with that and the price of works sold at Christie’s? If all you’re talking about is money, then the “best deal” would be to sell off the whole collection. I’d like to see reciprocation when we share what we have, but barring that, money to pay for acquisitions or new gallery space will do nicely.

Jim Angrabright


Yesterday’s Papers

Thank you for the article and accompanying photographs that feature the fabulous collection of Chicago Daily News glass plate negatives that are available through the Library of Congress/Chicago History Museum American Memory project [“Window on a Lost World” by Michael Miner, November 8]. We hope that Mr. Miner and Chicago Reader readers will be relieved to know that the history and legacy of the Chicago Daily News have also been preserved and are available for people to peruse at the Newberry Library.

The Newberry Library’s Special Collections Department is halfway through a preservation and access grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to organize and provide access to manuscript collections relating to Chicago newspaper journalism. Manuscript collections consist of a variety of research materials including correspondence between journalists, fan mail, letters to the editor, early drafts of newspaper articles, subject and research files, personal and autobiographical material, and even photographs and personal effects (typewriters, pencils, favorite hats, etc). Journalism-related manuscript collections at the Newberry include the administrative archives of the Chicago Daily News and early records of the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as the personal papers of Daily News founders, publishers, editors, columnists, editorial cartoonists, critics, foreign correspondents, and reporters. To view a list of 70 distinct collections relating to journalism, including the materials of Ben Hecht, Mike Royko, and others, please visit our Web site at newberry.org/collections/journalismabstracts.html.

Martha Briggs, Alison Hinderliter, Lisa Janssen, Kelly Kress, and Shannon Yule

Newberry Library’s NEH Grant Archives Team

Leave Your Assumptions at the Door

Kerry Reid’s review of Tesla’s Letters [November 15] is yet another entrant in the “I wasn’t really paying attention to the play and I’m only doing this to make a quick 50 bucks and add it to my resumé” genre of theater criticism. If the reviewer can’t separate the play’s ultimate statement with the momentary conclusion of the character Daisy, he needs to take a class in basic playwriting fundamentals. Daisy is indeed smug, like most Americans with short historical memories; that’s the playwright’s very point. Dragan calls her on it up one side and down the other throughout the play, including specifically her defensive claim that atrocities have never happened in the U.S. He alludes not only to your Civil War but reaches even further back to your genocide against the Native Americans and the Europeans’ ongoing, centuries-long “occupation” of North America. Apparently the reviewer’s own recollection of U.S. history stops at 1861. Perhaps he is more like Daisy than he realizes: ignorant of his own history, defensive about Tesla, and possessed of a smug, self-righteous refusal to observe and listen. The only difference is, Daisy is willing to try to change.

Alice Cooper

Kerry Reid replies:

I’m not a man.