January 13, 2006

Published January 13, 2006, issue of January 13, 2006.
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Russian Films Capture Complexity of Novels

Arts and culture writer Thane Rosenbaum claims that the “dark psychological complexity is not particularly well suited to cinema, which is why Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels have not been successfully adapted” (“Yeah, but the Book Is Better,” December 23).

I am originally from Russia, and I know of at least two Russian movies based on novels by Dostoevsky — “Brothers Karamazov” by Ivan Pyriev, and “Crime and Punishment” by Lev Kulidzhanov — that are very good in displaying those novels’ psychological complexity on screen.

It is unfortunate that American movie-

goers did not have a chance to see them on the big screen, and that they are not available on DVD.

As for Chekhov’s famous quote, he said that the gun should be fired in the last act, not in Act II. Most plays he wrote are in four acts; only earlier ones are shorter.

Lev Radin

Riverdale, N.Y.

Vladimir Nabokov did indeed write a screenplay for “Lolita,” as Thane Rosenbaum writes, but not the screenplay that Stanley Kubrick eventually used. Yes, Nabokov is credited with the screenplay, but reading that screenplay as he later published it, and comparing it to the film, you can see that the screenwriter is really Kubrick.

Ultimately, Nabokov rather liked it. Even with his large ego, he published his complete version, as he said in the introduction, “not in pettish refutation of a munificent film but purely as a vivacious variant of an old novel.”

It’s hard to imagine two bigger artistic control freaks collaborating, but it seemed to go rather well. After he praises Kubrick as a great director, Nabokov says in the same introduction, “only ragged odds and ends of my script had been used. The modifications, the garbling of my best little finds, the omission of entire scenes, the addition of new ones, and all sorts of other changes may not have been sufficient to erase my name from the credit titles but they certainly made the picture as unfaithful to the original script as an American poet’s translation from Rimbaud or Pasternak.”

He also wrote that Kubrick “saw my novel in one way, I saw it in another — that’s all, nor can one deny that infinite fidelity may be an author’s ideal but can prove a producer’s ruin.”

George Nicholas

Washington, D.C.

Recognize Hometown Boys’ Return to Prairie

My husband, Rabbi Scott White, commuted to St. Joseph, Mo., every other Sabbath to lead services at Bnai Sholem (“Little Houses of Worship on the Prairie, Dwindling and Divided,” December 30).

He was the congregation’s part-time rabbi from 1995 to 2005, when he took a full-time position at Congregation Ohev Sholom in Prairie Village, Kan. (part of the Kansas City metro area). It was very difficult to leave that position knowing that there would be a hole left in the Jewish life of folks in St. Joseph. We think of them often and have invited them down to our congregation for services.

While the article on St. Joseph focused on Jews leaving small towns, I suggest the Forward offer a follow-up report on Jews returning to and enriching Jewish life “on the prairie.”

My husband grew up less than a mile from the synagogue in Prairie Village, where he is now the rabbi. He was turned on to Judaism while checking out the services there, and is now taking the synagogue in exciting new directions.

There is also Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, senior rabbi of Temple B’nai Jehudah, who was raised attending that very synagogue. And there’s Danny Zeldin, who graduated from the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and is now the chair of its Judaics department.

Civia Ainspan White

Kansas City, Mo.

Let History Be Judge Of Neocons’ Record

Arts and culture writer Gal Beckerman concedes far too much when he writes that “History has proved the neoconservatives largely right on the Cold War” (“The Neoconservative Persuasion,” January 6).

In the neoconservative theory of the 1970s and early ’80s, communism was a totalitarian system in which the rulers had total control of society. Unlike traditional authoritarianism, which left some room for independent social forces to organize themselves, communism could not be reformed from within and only could be overthrown from without. This theory, articulated most famously by Jeanne Kirkpatrick, was the rationale for the neoconservative rejection of detente.

Liberal and socialist anti-communists of the same period, by contrast, perceived the internal rot in the communist world. They welcomed detente as a means to open more space for dissident voices. The neoconservative theory that internal forces cannot overthrow communism was, of course, proved false by events.

How much credit for the fall of the Soviet Union should be assigned to the economic strain created by the Reagan arms buildup and how much to the openings for free thought created by detente is a legitimate topic for research and debate. But to the extent that the arms buildup contributed, it was an unintended consequence of policies whose premise was that communism never could collapse from within. When neoconservatives claim that the end of communism validates their theories, they are falsifying history.

Benjamin Ross

Bethesda, Md.

Gal Beckerman criticizes neoconservatives for being idealistic dogmatists who are deluded in fearing that 2006 is 1939 all over again. Of course, it isn’t.

But unless we take dramatic, effectual action — and while the war in Iraq was dramatic, it has not been effectual — 2006 may be the prelude to something much worse. Islamofascism, as Bernard Lewis has argued, may prove a greater threat to Western civilization than either fascism or communism.

If so, it will be the paralyzed, do little-or-nothing persuasion, and not the neoconservative one, that will be revealed as wishful and fatally naive. The neoconservatives have understood that fear is the beginning, but not the end, of wisdom. The realism in Beckerman’s critique amounts to little more than whistling past the graveyard.

Harold Brackman

San Diego, Calif.

Bush Wisely Silent on Ahmadinejad’s Hatred

Opinion writer Teresa Heinz Kerry would play right into the hands of Iran’s Holocaust-denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (“The Outrageous Silence of George W. Bush,” December 23). He would like nothing better than a one-on-one shouting match with America’s president. That would unite all the world’s Bush-haters behind the Iranian leader, making effective response to his nuclear ambitions more difficult.

The Holocaust is not seriously contested in American politics. By staying in the background, Bush has allowed more scope for foreign politicians like British Prime Minister Tony Blair to challenge the appeasers in their own country.

Heinz Kerry would be on stronger ground if she were to argue that Bush’s blunders in Iraq have reduced our leverage in challenging Holocaust denial.

Hugo Cunningham

Boston, Mass.

Don’t Provide Solace To Holocaust Deniers

David Klinghoffer’s December 30 opinion column is in itself a form of denial (“Our Role in Promoting Holocaust Denial”). He correctly points to the widespread misuse of the Holocaust in the Jewish community, terming it “rhetorical overreach.”

But then Klinghoffer uses this as a springboard to improbably blame the victim for the crime. Jew haters need no help from the Jewish people. Holocaust denial arose in France long before the appearance of alleged Jewish “rhetorical overreach.”

Klinghoffer should know better than to provide solace, even of the rhetorical variety, to Holocaust deniers.

Alan Berger

Professor of Holocaust Studies

Florida Atlantic University

Boca Raton, Fla.

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