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Bowling for 'Fahrenheit': The 411

Q. Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is designed to promote his personal political agenda. On CNN, he said he hoped the movie would get out the anti-Bush vote. Did Moore give even lip service to views opposite his own?

You reported on the reception his film received in Cannes. Given the location, France, and the crowd, journalists, Hollywood movie types and Frenchmen mostly, what did you expect? By praising an obviously politically motivated film, are you simply being a pawn of Moore's own political agenda? Mark Pachankis, Shreveport, La.

A. Well of course it's a politically motivated film. That's allowed. President Bush's speeches are politically motivated, and he doesn't give lip service to views opposite his own. That's allowed, too.

I must decide if a movie is good or bad, despite whether I agree or disagree with its politics. I oppose the death penalty, but gave "The Life of David Gale" zero stars. "Birth of a Nation" is in my next book, The Great Movies II, even though it reeks of racism. Many film historians rank Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" as a cinematic milestone, although it glorifies the Third Reich.

Q. In Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft is shown performing a song he composed, "Let the Eagle Soar." Does this mean Ashcroft will earning songwriting royalties and indirectly profit from the film? Jonathan Young,Tampa, Fla.

A. Michael Moore tells the Answer Man: "Could be. Warner Records wants to release the soundtrack. I told the lawyers if he wants his fee, we should give it to him."

Q. Regarding your article about "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Bush's dawdling" in the classroom after the attacks, I'm sorry, but that just isn't right. I asked friends in the news business about Bush's actions that day. They said he didn't go anywhere after finding out about the first plane, because everybody thought it was just a horrible accident.

If he didn't get up immediately and run screaming from the room the way some people think he should have, Moore needs to remember Bush was in front of a bunch of little kids. How would it look to them if suddenly the president started panicking and running from the room?

Bush did exactly the right thing, but I wouldn't expect Moore to understand that. He makes it sound like Bush didn't care about what he had been told and had to be forced to react. Just look at Bush's face when Card whispers in his ear. You can almost see the blood drain from his face. It was quite obvious that the reading session was the last thing on Bush's mind at that point. Daniel Young, Bensalem, Pa.

A. I can't find the phrase "Bush's dawdling" in my coverage from Cannes, but I'm sure the president could have managed a calm exit without "panicking and running from the room."

I asked Moore about your points. He replies: "It should have occurred to Bush after the first attack that it involved the same building where the only previous foreign attack on America occurred. He was told about the second attack, went ahead with his photo op, and reporters clocked him at 6 to 10 minutes reading My Pet Goat before leaving the classroom, posing for more photos, and going to another room for a meeting before holding a press conference and leaving the building. Since he should have considered himself a target, wasn't he endangering those children by staying in their school?"

Moore says he is considering streaming video of the classroom incident on the Web.

Q. Isn't it less than cricket for Cannes to award the Palme d'Or to a film financed by the company that has financed all of the films produced by the head of the jury? Of course, the other jury members had their say as well (and having met Tilda Swinton, I would bet on her in any verbal brawl with Tarantino), but isn't there a conflict of interest?

If anyone wanted to launch a conspiracy-based complaint, that would be the way to go. I'm a fan of Tarantino, I'm a fan of Michael Moore and hell, I even like the French. I ask only out of curiosity. Peter Sobczynski, Chicago

A. It is assumed that a director distinguished enough to head the Cannes jury is above such conflicts. I attended the jury's press conference, heard all nine jurors praise the award, and got the unmistakable impression that Tarantino personally would have been equally content if the Korean revenge epic "Old Boy" had won.

Q. I saw "The Saddest Music in the World" recently, and was struck by how murky the print appeared. It was a considerable strain to watch. It distracted from my ability to absorb the considerable volume of visual information in this highly unusual movie.

Did the copy you viewed appear similarly dark and muddy? I suppose the theater here may have under-illuminated the print they had. Ken Neely, Pomona, Calif.

A. As I wrote in my review, Guy Maddin's film "looks like a long-lost classic from decades ago, grainy and sometimes faded; he shoots on 8mm film and video and blows it up to look like a memory from cinema's distant past." So the look was deliberate, but the print I saw had a unique beauty and its own kind of clarity.

Many theater chains persist in showing films at less than the recommended light level, in the mistaken belief that they can prolong the life of their expensive bulbs; perhaps that was a factor in your experience. I've quoted experts who say turning down the power has no effect on the life of the bulb, but as Louis Armstrong once said, "There are some folks that, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em."

Q. I noticed your diatribe on ClearPlay. The idea of ClearPlay (a system allowing DVD players to skip moments of sex, violence or language in movies) is that some people don't want to see all the gory stuff (or nudity, etc.). So the suggestion that they just watch it and judge for themselves misses the point.

Do you have to look at the centerfold to know you don't like pornography? You write, "Imagine watching 'The Passion of the Christ' with an hour skipped because of violence! Imagine 'Kill Bill Vol. 2' as a 25-minute short subject! Imagine 'Taxi Driver' without most of the dialogue!"

Now, Roger, do you really think we're that stupid? If you tried our product, you would know that never happens. Generally, total events are only a few minutes or less per movie -- virtually always less than would be edited out of a TV version, for censorship, timing, etc. In the spirit of fair play, you should also rail against TV and airline versions, and of course the directors that allow them for a few extra bucks.

You write, "Why not just rent films appropriate for your kids?" Why should those be the only choices for parents, or for anyone? I just watched "The Last Samurai" with my 12-year-old with ClearPlay. Thematically, it was fine -- "Dances with Wolves" goes Far East. And with ClearPlay, we were both comfortable. It's about the same thing I'd see on TV in a year or two, but instead I get to see it now, without commercials. Bill Aho, ClearPlay, Inc.

A. ClearPlay is not for me, but you're right that by authorizing bowdlerized airline versions of their movies, directors lose the moral high ground. The difference is, the directors at least theoretically control the airline edits of their films, while ClearPlay is an outside contractor, which, they feel, is making money off the unauthorized alteration of their work. By the way, how many minutes of violence did you cut from "The Passion"?

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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