I appreciate Tim Lucas' kind remarks about my talents as a "stylist" but feel he misrepresented my book ("Pomp and Controversy," issue of Aug. 1).
Lucas gives those who've yet to read the book the impression that I write almost incessantly about penises and nothing else — that I don't address what he calls "matters of Catholicism, war, pop culture, relationships, dance and turpentining the whitewash of accepted history." But this simply isn't true. The book is loaded with all of these themes, from chapter to chapter.
Right in my introduction, I assert that film director Ken Russell's "willie" is "the thematic maypole" around which "he has wrapped stories of love, hate, death, religion, politics and the fragile role of art in a world where commerce and mass media co-opt and castrate the creative spirit at every juncture." I also admit right away that my book is an impressionistic approach full of author biases, but rarely if ever do I think I go against what Lucas calls my "subject's own express intentions."
Just as Russell got closer to the heart of Mahler by projecting his personal thoughts on the composer — even if going against decorum — so do I attempt to get closer to Russell by doing the same. I also use Russell's quotes to corroborate many of my claims.
My chapter on Women in Love, with which Lucas is especially unfair, refers to the story's backdrop of the post-World War atmosphere and the economic politics that the Crich family plays with its workers. Besides, Russell was apparently more interested in stressing the four major characters' relationships and their erotic angst.
I chide those "homo-hostile" critics for denying the gay implications of Crich and Birkin's "friendship" because I think these critics are averse to the subject and seem in denial. (There are some critics out there who say that Brokeback Mountain isn't about homosexuality.) And when Russell joked about the censored scenes in the Argentine print, when the wrestling was removed altogether, he was merely pointing out the irony of how even more gay the movie seemed when the homosexual associations got deleted.
Those elaborate descriptions of Reed fluffing himself before filming the wrestling match apply directly to one of the movie's vital themes: the way these two men have a sensual bond that at least one cannot face. Talking about circumstances behind the camera can illuminate a movie more than discussing such academic niceties as "mise en scene," which don't often translate well in words. And if these anecdotes are scandalous and racy, why would they be out of place in a book about Ken Russell?
Through the years, Russell has gotten much more forthright in acknowledging that Women in Love could also be called "Men in Love." If you have any doubts that he intended the wrestling sequence as a homoerotic scene, please consider a priceless line he recently wrote in his Times (London) column on July 12: "When Gerald uses his little finger to make an imaginary incision in Rupert's bare biceps, as they lie panting and sweating, the sexual frisson is so palpable that it's painful."
Wow! I'm moist, and I would have included this in my book had I seen it in time.
Most, if not all, authors would love to see nothing but accolades for their work, yet I acknowledge that constructive criticism is inevitable and often necessary. But, especially since Lucas seems to be a Russell fan, I'm very disappointed that he didn't give my book a better chance; he ended up focusing on phalluses even more than I did and denied readers the bigger themes I supply.
And if, as Lucas contends, I'm writing about Russell with "his well-known ways of rollicking, bollocking overstatement," how could I be "underestimating" him? Lucas seems to be contradicting himself. I intended to celebrate Russell' s excesses by using a writing style that mirrors them.
— Joseph Lanza, Jersey City. N.J.
Pick up That Phone
I read "The Thunder Rolls" three times before I sat it down (Living Out Loud, issue of Aug. 8). A dark story in so many ways. The thunder outside, the thunder inside that bar and the thunder inside your head. I could relate to it all so well.
I have a 30-year-old son I haven't seen in over two years. We're not in a battle with each other but both busy and maybe both not wanting to express that need to really want to get together. What do they call that, foolish pride? Men are good at that, are they not?
Larry Gross' column made my "heart hurt" — I liked the way he phrased that. It makes me know that my heart is also hurting. I'm going to be picking up that phone this weekend.
— William Robertson, Florence
I Was There
I read Larry Gross' "The Thunder Rolls" column (issue of Aug. 8) with much interest as I happened to be in Madonna's the night he wrote about, mainly to get out of the rain. I watched from afar as Gross and barmaid Laura got things under control with that girl. She was wild!
I didn't know who Gross was, but I do now! You got all the facts right. A good read.
— Dan Allen, Downtown