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SATURDAY LETTERS : 'Aladdin' Lyrics: Barbaric, but Hey, It's Art

July 17, 1993

So Albert Mokhiber and Don Bustany of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee object to both the original lyrics of "Arabian Nights" and to Disney's amended version ("Disney Will Alter Song in 'Aladdin,' " July 10). The term barbaric , they feel, is, well, barbaric and not to be tolerated.

I was under the impression that "Aladdin" was based, if ever so loosely, on the tales as related by Scheherazade during her "One-Thousand-and-One-Night" "trial run" as King Shahryar's bride. Shahryar, in a daily ritual spanning three years, wedded a maiden, bedded her at night, then beheaded her in the morning--his method for assuring that his wives remained forever faithful.

Scheherazade, through her extraordinary storytelling abilities as well as her prudent interruptions of these stories (she wouldn't give away the ending until the next night), managed to outlast her hapless predecessors. After a thousand and one nights of his hearing the most extraordinary recitations, Shahryar decided that he wouldn't lop off her head. Scheherazade moved from a temporary to a permanent position.

This envelope story enclosing the tale is hardly benign, but it is positively meek in comparison to the tales themselves. In "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," for example, Ali Baba's luckless brother, having been discovered in the robbers' cave (of "Open Sesame" fame), is cut into serving-size pieces by the thieves and nailed in strategic places to deter other amateurs from entering their stronghold.

Let's face it, these tales were as joyously gruesome as any written by the Brothers Grimm. They were composed and transcribed during the medieval era, a time not noted for its civility (in any corner of the world). Disney's "Aladdin" is quite tame compared to the original collection, which is considered by many (myself included) as a singularly fascinating, profoundly gorgeous work of literature. In other words, it's barbaric, but hey, it's art.



* I found it very disheartening that the Walt Disney Co. caved in to pressure from Arab-American groups and is changing the lyrics of one of the songs in "Aladdin" so that the word barbaric will refer to landscape instead of people.

Now I am offended.

According to my dictionary (Webster's Ninth new Collegiate Dictionary), barbaric means: "of, relating to, or characteristic of barbarians; possessing or characteristic of a cultural level more complex than primitive savagery but less sophisticated than advanced civilization; marked by lack of restraint; having a bizarre, primitive or unsophisticated quality."

If this definition is to be accepted, then barbaric can not refer to "the land and the heat" except in the most tortured metaphoric sense.


Los Angeles

'Dennis': A Walkout

I recently took my 6-year-old son to see "Dennis the Menace." We walked out for three reasons:

* My son was scared by the Christopher Lloyd character, a transient, mud-covered thief.

* The film was boring, not funny, and the children were obnoxious.

* The complete irresponsibility on the part of John Hughes and his writers in a scene where Dennis transfers a poisonous substance into Mr. Wilson's mouthwash bottle.

How can Hughes pass this off as family entertainment? It will only take one 10-year-old as precocious and "cute" as Dennis to follow his antics and cause a lot of damage.



'Lady' and the Coach

I have not yet verified Sylvie Drake's negative opinions of this current production of "My Fair Lady" ("Difficulties Make for Just a Fair 'Lady,' " July 9), but I do know that Drake is in error in ascribing the cockney dialect problems to the vocal coach, Jack Lee.

The vocal coach in any musical handles the principal and chorus singing, as well as the conducting of the show, although these jobs may be separated. The director, actors and dialogue coach handle the book lines.

Second, Lee is one of the two or three best Broadway conductors and has been so since before "Funny Girl" and "Billy Budd" through "Nick and Nora" to this revival of "My Fair Lady." I doubt seriously if his work can be faulted.


North Hollywood

Facing Oneself

I was deeply moved by director Terence Davies' reflections on the difficulties of coming to terms with his homosexuality ("A Director's Struggle With Art and His Beginnings," July 2).

In an industry where it is politically incorrect to do anything but rhapsodize over gays and their liberation, Davies points to the "very, very powerful myth of strength and beauty" inherent in gay culture that discriminates against those waning in either category.

Is there a brokenness intrinsic to gay culture that wars against factors basic to relational wholeness--like fidelity, sacrifice and love?

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