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It is understandable that film critic Joel Siegel needs material to fill the space allotted to him in your arts section. Still, I wonder why, in what was purported to be a review of You’ve Got Mail (“Cybersnooze,” 12/18), he felt compelled to dredge up, to the tune of 800 words, a rehash of a 60-year-old romantic comedy by Ernst Lubitsch, The Shop Around the Corner, which is the “source” of Nora Ephron’s remake.
Siegel bases his displeasure with You’ve Got Mail on the false premise that an updated version of an old film classic should replicate precisely the style, substance, and milieu of the original. Thus, in his review, Mail would have probably been acceptable if Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had been penniless street people living in cheap furnished rooms rather than as yuppies with lots of disposable income; and the street scenes should have been bleak and fashionable noir. The obvious point here is that Lubitsch was making romantic comedies at a time when the prevailing cinematic aesthetic and the Zeitgeist in the Budapest of 1940 were another planet compared with the Disneyfied, conglomeratized West Side of New York in the 1990s.
As a number of your readers have pointed out, Siegel has the unfortunate habit of overloading his reviews with interminable allusions to old film classics. In fact, he seems to have seen and absorbed every film since The Great Train Robbery. While all this display of erudition is impressive, one wonders what it has to do with the worth of contemporary movies, except to state the obviousthat they aren’t as good as they used to be.
Nora Ephron’s oozing tribute to yuppiedom and the entrepreneurs of designer coffee is so godawful that one can only ask why Mr. Siegel would dignify it with a 1,500-word review, half of which is devoted to a dissection of a 1940 comedy that surely is of interest only to film historians.