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Movie Answer Man (02/09/2003)

Q. I enjoyed your Answerman response to the question about ads before movies. I always wonder how much the theatre gets paid. I mean, I pay $9.50 to get in. I can't imagine that all of the ads bring in more than a quarter per person. Is it really worth alienating your customer for a quarter? I don't think marketing people realize a lot of folks hate ads. The McDonald's across the street from Wrigley field has flat screen LCD monitors, flashing ads at you while you wait in line. How much could they possibly earn from those monitors? Does it offset the negative reaction it creates in some people? I enjoy the Century theatres in Evanston. But I went in to buy a Coke, paid them something like $4, and they handed me a cup for self-serve. The soda dispenser was filthy, and I couldn't tell which kind of lid was the right size. Buying a movie Coke it always grates me that the price was out of line. But there was something about having to fill it up myself, the dirty station, and having to hassle with the lid that did me in. I haven't bought a Coke since. I go to the convenience store and buy a 20 oz bottle, and sneak it in. They've pushed me over to the wrong side of the law. What do they pay the people behind the counter? $6 an hour, with no benefits? How many Cokes per hour can one person serve? What's the difference in profits between a self-serve Coke and one that their person makes? It doesn't make business sense. These guys are trying to squeeze more money out of people in lots of little ways, making the experience of going to the movies that much more unpleasant. At some point they will cross over a line, and people will stop going. I don't know where that point is, but I know it exists. (Alex Strasheim. Chicago)

A. Theater chains obsessed with the bottom line should realize that the real bottom line is their customers.

Q. In your review of "Russian Ark," you mentioned that it is one continuous shot throughout the entire film. Apart from this film and Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," I can't think of any other time this has been done. Has this technique been used before? (Wes R. Benash, Marlton NJ)

A. Not to my knowledge. Hitchcock's shot was only apparently unbroken; each magazine held only 10 minutes of film, so the camera had to move behind something to mask the reloading. "Ark" really one was take. So was "Time Code," a 2000 film directed by Mike Figgis. In fact, it was four takes, using four simultaneous continuous shots, 93 minutes apiece.

Q. "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," the fantasy-biography of TV producer Chuck Barris, revives an old debate surrounding "The Newlywed Game." In the film, we see a clip from the game show in which host Bob Eubanks asks a young wife named Olga, "Where is the oddest place you have ever had the urge to make whoopee?" After some bashful hemming and hawing, the woman answers, "In the ---." Her husband laughs heartily while Eubanks, stunned, tries to rephrase the question. Now, it was my understanding that this "Newlywed Game" moment was an urban legend, and that Eubanks had denied that such an exchange ever took place. Did the creators of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" unearth the original risque footage, or did they simply fabricate the clip in imitation of the legend? (Maureen Stabile, Streamwood IL)

A. Director George Clooney tells me he thought it was an urban legend, too, until Barris produced the actual footage.

Q. I was surprised by your comments about ClearPlay in your article from Sundance. Your main argument is that "filmmakers have a right for their films to be presented as they made them." This is an example of your personal bias in favor of filmmaker over viewers. I'm a father with small children, and I hope you would not oppose my "right" to manually use the remote control to skip over one or more parts of a film that have content that I feel is inappropriate. As a practical matter in a busy family, a parent does not have the time to preview every film they might want to share with their children, so it's quite possible to bring home a film with one or more scenes that are inappropriate. ClearPlay may or may not help with this problem, but certainly you shouldn't discount its fundamental function, which is to filter out content that might be too difficult for a younger viewer to absorb. (Allen Broadman, Montvale, NJ)

A. The responsibility of parents does not stop at, or even include, editing out parts of movies that were not meant for children in the first place. It begins with the positive decision to offer the children appropriate entertainment. Sites such as provide in-depth, objective information about the suitability of films for various age groups. What purpose does it serve for a child to see "8 Mile" after the ClearPlay software has cleaned it up? What are they left with? What do they get from it? As for adults, they must be big boys and girls and decide for themselves. The idea that software would stand between me and a movie is sad and insulting.

Q. I seem to recall that other print references to the Hitchcockian term "MacGuffin" (used in your review of "Die Another Day") spell it "McGuffin". Is there a hard and fast rule on this? (Terry Davidson, Lakewood CA)

A. The Oxford English Dictionary specifies MacGuffin. Usage is divided; Google shows 1,920 hits for "MacGuffin & Hitchcock," 1,150 for "McGuffin & Hitchcock." In Hitchcock's book-length interview with Francois Truffaut, it is spelled MacGuffin. That's the winner.

Q. Of late I've had the notion that DVDs have been coming down in price. To see whether this is correct, I crunched a lot of numbers, and found that between 1998 and this year my average DVD purchase went down from $22.85 to $14.25. Up to now I have crossed my fingers. The DVD seemed too good to be true. I was expecting the industry to realize their mistake and triple or quadruple the price, explaining it was too good for the likes of me! But to my joy, the DVD format has increased in strength, and competition has driven down the prices instead. (Chuck Kuenneth, Chicago)

A. Prices of VHS tapes were often in the $89 range, because studios made most of their money selling them to video stores for subsequent rental. The business strategy for DVDs was to make them a "sell-through" medium, like CDs and paperback books. The format has been successful beyond the industry's wildest dreams. Recently some big consumer electronics chains have stopped selling VHS tapes altogether to make more room for the discs.

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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