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Movie Answer Man (02/13/2000)

Q. Given that Ed Harris spends much of "The Third Miracle" looking for the titular third miracle, a remarkable feat that would guarantee Helen O'Regan sainthood, I find it extraordinary that he overlooks what seems to me to be her most amazing accomplishment: Having herself videotaped at a first-communion party in 1970, long before the advent of camcorders. (Tim Carvell, Los Angeles)

A. Where are the digital amenders when you need them?

Q. Harvey Karten, one of my favorite online critics, recently wrote: "The state of Wisconsin has not fared well in the movies lately. Richard Farnsworth gets laughed at for being from 'Wisconsin: the Party State,' in 'The Straight Story.' Susan Sarandon can't wait to get away from Bay City in 'Anywhere But Here.' Matt Damon as a fallen angel is exiled to the Dairy State in 'Dogma.' And in 'Wisconsin Death Trip,' James Marsh exposes multiple cases of murder, madness and mayhem in the Black River Falls, Wisconsin of the 1890s. Now, in Scott Elliott's 'A Map Of The World,' the townsfolk in a rural Wisconsin burg misinterpret the words and gestures of one of its outspoken residents, as Sigourney Weaver, the urban transplant to a farm near Racine, makes a painful transition from alien to outcast." Why do you suppose Wisconsin is suddenly movie shorthand for hell? (Harris Allsworth, Chicago)

A. Search me. Karten could also have cited "American Movie," Chris Smith's wonderful new documentary about Mark Borchardt, a never-say-die horror auteur from Menomonee Falls. I've always thought of Wisconsin as one of our more enlightened states. To be sure, it gave the world Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Ed Gein (the inspiration for Norman Bates), but it also gave us Houdini, Orson Welles, Frank Lloyd Wright and Liberace. Not to mention "On, Wisconsin!," the greatest of all fight songs.

Q. Martin Scorsese is regarded as one of the great directors of our time. He was ranked as the 5th best director in the AFI's list of greatest directors. However, Scorsese has not been able to win a best director Oscar. Do you believe that he should have been awarded for "Goodfellas" and do you believe that he still has a chance of gaining this award in the next few years? (Matthew Pippia, Bundaberg, Queensland)

A. Yes, he should have won for "Goodfellas"--and for "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver," too. Some say the California-centric Academy has a prejudice against New York-based directors. Another theory is that the Academy is seized by a fit of public-spirited humbuggery at Oscar time and likes to reward more uplifting films. Scorsese joins me on "Roger Ebert & the Movies" the weekend of Feb 27-27, and we discuss our lists of the 10 best movies of the 1990s. This plug is especially shameless since you cannot get our show in Queensland.

Q. One of your colleagues on a recent TV show suggested that the Disney film "Song of the South" be re-released on home video, based on its artistic value. When you accurately pointed out the racist elements of the work, he suggested that the film would foster useful discussions about intolerance. In his view, the hateful elements in "Song of the South" were not worth keeping it off the video shelves. As a black man and father I must say that no movie, no matter how ground-breaking, that contains the poisonous symbols of hatred, should be encouraged for widespread distribution. If one wants to study those film innovations, let it be done in film school. If you are black in America, and you attempt to find films that depict the spectrum of black culture, you are hard-pressed. If you are looking for something positive you end up with an even shorter list. I cannot easily explain away racism to my 6-year-old son. Is your colleague going to be available to undo the damage that would be done to my kid by images contained in "Song of the South?" How about damage control for a world of kids? Believe me, there are enough racist movies available at video stores already. We don't need any more. (Truth Thomas)

A. I am against censorship and believe that no films or books should be burned or banned, but film school study is one thing and a general release is another. Any new Disney film immediately becomes part of the consciousness of almost every child in America, and I would not want to be a black child going to school in the weeks after "Song of the South" was first seen by my classmates. Peter Schneider, chairman of the Disney Studios, tells me that the studio has decided to continue to hold the film out of release.

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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