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Ghost Dog, The Way of the Modem

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Dear Mr. Rosenbaum,

First I'd like to say that I very much enjoyed your "Top 40 Films of 2000" article [January 5]--very intelligent and insightful. Reading your comments on Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, I was slightly puzzled and then anxious for elaboration. In the second paragraph you write:

"It's my impression that Jarmusch doesn't spend much, if any, time on the Internet, yet I can't think of another contemporary film that better conveys metaphorically what E-mail does to people's grasp of their own identity. (Forest Whitaker, in one of his noblest performances, uses this sort of insight to make his implausible character live.) Which is another way of saying that Jarmusch is just as plugged into what's happening globally as Kiarostami and the Dardenne brothers."

So, I was wondering:

In your opinion,

1. What does E-mail do to people's grasp of their own identity?

2. How does Ghost Dog convey this metaphorically?

I'm not sure about the first question, but with respect to the second one, I was thinking you might be referring to the pigeon delivery of messages in the film. Like E-mail, it is a form of often anonymous communication. Perhaps this is too literal a reading, though. Maybe, in the general sense, Ghost Dog's self-image and identity, an amalgam of African-American, Italian-American, and Asian culture, reflects globalization's beneficial aspects. The Internet (E-mail among other things) possibly facilitates these positive aspects.

Paul Fileri

Rochester, New York

Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:

The isolationism and naivete cited above by Campbell, which seems to me an unfortunate result of living in a big country--I suspect that China and Russia suffer from the same sort of limitations--is being challenged in many ways by the global interconnectedness made possible by the Internet. The Internet also makes certain kinds of egregious lying about other countries--such as George Bush the Elder maintaining that "everyone" knew that national health care in Canada was a flop, or the conceit of some American reviewers and publicists that everything originates in Hollywood--almost impossible to sustain.

This interconnectedness includes the cultural mixes cited in the second letter, by Fileri (which I compared to musical "sampling" in my original review of Ghost Dog). For me, sending an E-mail message is a bit like whispering, and the name "Ghost Dog" is reminiscent of the on-line names people use. The notion that a black man can become a samurai, or a Japanese person can identify with a black samurai, suggests a multiculturalism that would make a nationally based marketplace obsolete.

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