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Movie Answer Man (01/26/2003)

Q. Kenneth Anger's appearance at the Siskel Film Center prompted me to browse through my copy of his book, Hollywood Babylon. I was surprised to see that Anger's chapter on the mysterious death of Thomas Ince is virtually identical to the version related in Peter Bogdanovich's film "The Cat's Meow"--including the suggestion that Louella Parsons was given a lifetime contract in return for her silence. I was under the impression that film's depiction of Parsons as an eyewitness was an original idea, but obviously that is not the case. (Rich Gallagher, Fishkill NY)

A. The Anger version is the one most commonly told, but in making the film, Bogdanovich told me, he also relied on another source:

"Orson Welles had a fascinating version of that story. According to him, Willie (Hearst) was convinced Marion (Davies, his mistress) was having an affair with Charlie Chaplin. During a cruise on Hearst's yacht, Hearst was overcome with jealousy and took a shot at a man he thought was Chaplin. It was a case of mistaken identity, and Thomas Ince was killed. The true story of the death never came out. In fact, despite his fame at the time, the cause of Ince's death was never established, there was never an investigation, and no one on the yacht was ever questioned."

Q. My husband and I have always been avid moviegoers, but since we have two young children and babysitters are not in the budget, opportunities to go to films together are rare. While I absolutely love going to movies alone, my husband refuses to do so. He seems to be phobic about going alone, and at age 34, has never done so, not once! I have tried to describe the enjoyment to be had (I have just sneaked away to see "Nicholas Nickleby "and "Gangs of New York" all by myself) but have been unable to assuage his fears that he won't be able to enjoy the experience without someone he knows sitting right next to him. (Barbara Diamond, New York NY)

A. When a movie is really working, we are always alone, because we are within the reverie it creates. Tell him that one of the reasons we go to the movies is to leave ourselves behind for two hours and identify with the characters--so if it's a good movie he won't be alone for long.

Q. I've noticed that films are often changed for their release in England. When there are scenes of people using nunchakus, or head-butting other people, those scenes are deleted in the U.K. release. Why? I know they have more strict laws governing guns, but nunchakus and headbutts? (Randall Poblete, Hercules CA)

A. The British film critic Ian Waldron-Mantgani replies: "The British Board of Film Classification had a long-standing policy of removing shots of swinging nunchucks and connecting headbutts, possibly because of legal restrictions (weapons such as nunchucks and starknives are banned in the UK, after they became popular hoodlum weapons when the kung-fu craze hit Britain hard in the '70s and early '80s.) 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' was a famous example of both headbutts and nunchucks being cut from a UK release. The BBFC may have relaxed its guidelines after longtime chairman James Ferman retired and Robin Duval took over. I know that the recent cinema and video releases of 'A Clockwork Orange' were passed uncut, and if I'm not mistaken that movie features shots of both nunchucks and headbutts. Undoubtedly the gateway is now open for Droogs vs. Donatello, the movie we've all been waiting for."

Q. Having read the book that "Antwone Fisher" is based on, I was quite surprised to find that the Japanese woman who was the first girlfriend of the real Antwone Fisher was omitted and replaced by an African-American woman in the film. Why is this so? (James Edwards, Chicago IL)

A. A Fox Searchlight rep says that while "Antwone Fisher" is inspired by a true story, "not everything in the film is fact. Antwone had several women in his life and the character of Cheryl is a composite of those women."

Q. More about Blockbuster's refusal to stock widescreen formats: Earlier this week, I considered renting 'Unfaithful' at a Blockbuster and decided against it because, out of the 40 DVDs available, all copies were full-screen. When I complained to the high-school kid checking me out, he actually said that Blockbuster had no control over that because "they buy what the director wants the audience to see." I looked at him dumbfounded. Later, after I was able to rent the widescreen version from a local video store, I realized that I should have said, "If the director wants the audience to see a movie that is the shape of my TV screen, why on earth would he make it in the widescreen aspect ratio?" (Katie Dahlquist, Austin TX)

A. Blockbuster's policy is okay for people with small-screen TVs, but as screens grow larger and home theater systems more popular, it is lingering in the dark ages.

Q. Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy ("Blue," "White" and "Red") is still not out on DVD. Who can I lobby? (Rick Derevan, Irvine CA)

A. Miramax president Harvey Weinstein says: "We're bring it out in March."

Q. Peter Bart, the editor of Variety, recently wrote a column attacking film critics and their Top Ten lists, calling them elitist, obscurantist and brain-damaged. Then Michael Medved echoed Bart's compaint in USA Today, adding that endorsing obscure non-hits "not only enhances a critic's conviction that he serves some important purpose, but also strengthens his sense of superiority, suggesting that the reviewer possesses knowledge, refinement and sophistication that set him apart from ordinary moviegoers." Your opinion? (Susan Lake, Urbana, IL)

A. Peter Bart usually writes a well-informed column, but every six months or so he is overtaken by an embarrassing fit of lunacy and writes a silly know-nothing column that his editor should spike. Whoops, he's the editor. His column complains that critics do not reflect mass market tastes, and list too many small films. But surely that is the function of the critic? "Best 10" lists are not a science, anyway. Their greatest usefulness is for readers looking for rental ideas. On my own list, I included both the "obscurantist" film "Invincible," by Werner Herzog, and Steven Spielberg's box office hit "Minority Report." I hope Bart's head doesn't explode as he ponders this.

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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