American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Q: I had to laugh at elements of your review of "Friday Night Lights." You wrote: "Certainly there are countless citizens in that Texas town who lead happy and productive lives and are fulfilled without depending on high school football." Obviously you've never lived in Texas. I've lived here for five years now and I can attest that in a small town like Odessa, high school football IS everything. You mention that the Odessa stadium is "larger than those at many colleges." True. Our high school north of Austin recently completed a $20 million, 11,000-seat capacity stadium complete with AstroPlay synthetic turf and a Daktronics Prostar scoreboard. In Texas, the school funding debate rages on like it does everywhere, but they can't let the kids play on a shabby field, can they? Doug Matheson, Austin, Texas
A: And Glen Gummess of Joliet, writes: "I lived in Odessa's sphere of influence for nearly 20 years; in Hobbs, N.M., where I lived as a newsman, I covered our teams basketball games against Odessa Permian and others. Basketball is to Hobbs what football is to Odessa. You are absolutely right about the 'nationalistic' loyalty of local fans, and their indignation when teams go sour.
"About Odessa, you're right. To be sure there are citizens who live happy and fulfilling lives without football, but I've seen the all-consuming mania when the season rolls around. I don't know if it's morally right or wrong that whole towns get so soaked up in the success or failure of their teams. I do know it's highly dysfunctional, and it leads to emotionally charged situations and plenty of grief."
Q. I wrote you once before about the Motion Picture Academy refusing to admit Rodney Dangerfield to membership. Now that Rodney has died, does he still get no respect? Charlene Smith, Dubuque, Iowa
A. Dangerfield told me in 1995 he had applied for membership in the actors' branch of the Academy: "I got a letter from Roddy McDowall, the head of the actors' branch. He wrote that I should 'improve my craft,' and apply again later. Hey, I'm 73 years old. What am I gonna do? Apply again when I'm 104?"
Q. In your obituary of Janet Leigh, you write that her character's conversation with the Frank Sinatra character in "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962), when they meet on the train, is "beyond peculiar," and you wonder if they are exchanging coded messages, and if she is perhaps his controlling agent. What you and several other critics don't seem to realize is that this dialogue wasn't written especially for the movie -- it's in the book! Why didn't you all go and ask author Richard Condon himself while he was alive? Mel Narunsky
A. Because it hadn't occurred to me. I've just listened to director John Frankenheimer's commentary track, in which he notes it's "very weird dialogue -- very strange." But instead of speculating about the dialogue, he talks about how quickly the scene was shot. Looking at the scene again, I'm struck by the moment when the Sinatra character says, "I'm in the railroad business," and Leigh replies: "If you'll permit me to point out -- when you ask that question, you really should say, 'I'm in the railroad line.'" I'm convinced they are both on a hypnotically induced script, and that in some way, she plays another of his controllers.
Q. I have a question about a moment in "The Manchurian Candidate." It's in the scene where Janet Leigh's character comes to the police station to pick up Maj. Ben Marco (Sinatra). Just before Leigh enters, at the far left of the frame, deep in the background, there is a policeman who has his pants down, and is ... well, I'm not sure WHAT he's doing.
As Leigh enters, the camera moves right, following her, and the pantsless policeman appears to hitch his pants up and shuffle behind a door. What do you think this character is doing? Is it just a sort of sight gag, designed to slip past pre-freeze-frame audiences? Did Frankenheimer ever comment on it? Chris Labarthe, San Francisco
A. The scene is exactly as you describe it. Frankenheimer doesn't mention it in his commentary. My best guess: The cop is getting into uniform and is standing outside a locker room; when a woman enters the station, he moves out of sight. What's nice about the moment is that it is entirely gratuitous, put in for no better reason than the amusement of Frankenheimer, and us.
Q. In response to last week's etiquette question: I believe that a couple who refuses to move over one measly seat so that you can sit with the person with whom you came to the theater is extremely rude. I have a suggestion to solve such a dilemma. Next time that scenario occurs, you and your friend or wife should sit on each side of the couple. Then, during the movie, feel free to lean over them and discuss the film. You still get to enjoy the movie with the person you came with, and you get to ruin the movie-going experience of two rude people. Daniel Brody, North Woodmere, N.Y.
A. Of course, it is also rude to discuss a film in an audible tone. On the earlier question, the Answer Man consulted his friend Dear Prudence, of Slate.com, who said that the couple who sits down first need not feel obligated to move in order to let another couple sit together.
Several readers were outraged by Prudie. Here is Sean Blythe, of Los Angeles: "How petty and mean-spirited does one have to be to refuse to move two feet to allow a couple to sit together at the movies? I mean, what's the rationale? Sound and picture quality? It's a movie theater, kids, not the freaking promised land. Lighten up, come to grips with the idea that you're not the only people in the world, and move the hell over. Geez."
On the other hand, I get really unhappy when somebody with dozens of seats to choose from sits directly in front of me.
Q. I am surprised by your acceptance of director Kerry Conran's grave-robbing use of archival footage of Laurence Olivier in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." As someone who (like me) objected to the use of footage of Fred Astaire in TV ads, how can you possibly countenance the cheap and disrespectful depiction that Olivier receives in this film?
Your assertion that "surely every actor on his deathbed, entering the great unknown, hopes he has not given his last performance" is cheap and unworthy. Olivier did not choose to give this performance. And surely as a mark of respect to a man who is generally considered to be the greatest actor of his generation, we can let his amazing body of work stand. In a film which has demonstrated that we don't actually need sets or location shots, can we at least allow that we need actors? Or at the very least the consent of the actors to use their talents? Matthew Weedman, Van Nuys, Calif.
A. We are in deep philosophical waters here. I disapprove of the unworthy use of the images of dead actors, as when Fred Astaire was shown dancing with a dust-buster and John Wayne was shilling for a savings and loan. But certain kinds of re-use make artistic sense, as in the case of "Sky Captain," where (spoiler warning!) the whole point is that the character had been dead for years, and to use a dead actor to portray him underlines the point. I presume they had the permission of the Olivier estate, which must have agreed.
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