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Movie Answer Man (02/27/2000)

Q. Several of the best-reviewed documentaries of 1999, including "American Movie" and "Mr. Death," were not nominated for Oscars. Given your outrage in the past over such omissions as "Hoop Dreams" and "Roger & Me," how do you feel? (Susan Lake, Urbana, IL)

A. This year's finalists were chosen in a reformed process that used documentarians as pre-screeners. I haven't seen two of the five nominees, so can't fairly say how good a job they did. But when it comes to documentaries, the Academy seems reluctant to nominate two kinds: (1) any film that was funny, successful and got rave reviews; and (2) any film directed by Errol Morris. Whether that would account for the absence of those two titles, I sayeth not.

Q. What's this? The music on the trailers for Hitchcock's "Rear Window" seems to come from Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space." One reason may be because the Hitchcock picture never had much of a score to begin with. The sounds and images dominate. (Paul West, Seattle, WA)

A. I queried Robert Harris, who with James Katz restored the superb print now in re-release around the country. He replies: "I have the trailer and just checked out the DVD of 'Plan 9,' but can't locate the exact piece of music. It certainly does sound like same type of music, if not exactly the same."

Q. In your review of "Pitch Black," you hypothesize oceans on the Jovian moon Io. Europa is the ice-covered moon with a hypothesized ocean. Io is all volcanoes. But you're right that Europa, as we currently understand it, would make a whopper of a location for a sci-fi story. (Chris Rowland, Plainsboro, N.J.)

A. Here's how I got the wrong moon. At, I read an article about how sulfur from Io's volcanos might have drifted into space and been captured by Europa, contributing to the possibility of life in Europa's hypothetical oceans. My eye went straight from Io to oceans and missed Europa.

Q. I've heard rumors that Robert Powell, the incredibly dead-on actor who portrayed Jesus in Franco Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth," was so influenced by the part of Christ that it affected him for years. In fact, some have suggested that he virtually dropped out of films and then out of sight, being so moved by the role and its influences. Whatever happened to Powell? (James Merolla, Barrington RI)

A. The Internet Movie Database lists 24 credits for Powell since he played Jesus in 1977. One of his roles: Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

Q. I wanted to update you on the current status of Tyrene Manson, the main character of "On the Ropes," which has just been nominated for an Oscar as best documentary. Tyrene was transferred from Beacon Correctional Facility during September of 1999 with the understanding that she would only serve 30 days at the Bayview Correctional Facility in New York City. After she reached Bayview she was informed that she would not be eligible for parole until October of 2000. Evidently, some of the women at this facility ended up breaking their probation soon after leaving Bayview. Therefore, the rules changed at this facility for all incarcerated females. Tyrene is a dynamic, hardworking, intelligent, focused, Christian woman, who has endured many difficult and unfair situations. Although she has been an exemplary prisoner from the time she reached Albion Correctional Facility to the present, she is still incarcerated. Since the film was nominated for an Academy Award, Tyrene was asked to meet with the press in Los Angeles to discuss the film. She was not allowed to attend this press conference, nor is she allowed to have television interviews, or to pursue her love of boxing. (Diane Mellen, Park City, Utah)

A. When we talked at this year's Sundance Film Festival, you told me that "On the Ropes" moved you so deeply you got involved in Manson's defense efforts. My hope is that the film's nomination will create even more outrage over the apparently unjust way in which she was tried and convicted. If Denzel Washington wins an Oscar as best actor for portraying Hurricane Carter, another black boxer who was framed into a prison sentence, I hope his acceptance speech ends with, "Free Tyrene Manson!"

Q. I read that New York Daily News film critic Jack Mathews has deleted "The Hurricane" from his 1999 Top 10 list. His reasoning? According to the story, he "objects to the film's claim that three Canadians were responsible for digging up the information that eventually cleared Carter, insisting that the real heroes in the case were in fact Carter's lawyers." There are two reasons I am baffled by Mathews' comments. First, I read the exact opposite information in the "Calgary Sun." That article claims that 'Hurricane' actually downplayed the roles of the Canadians, while pushing the Americans into the limelight. Second, although some of the facts of the story may have been altered, the story was still realistic and the movie was wonderful. What's the deal? (Leigh Emshey, Innisfail, Alberta)

A. A biopic is the last place to go for factual information about a person. Movies, even those "based on fact," are parables that alter and simplify stories for greater dramatic impact. Would we enjoy the story of Carter's pro bono lawyers more than the story of a 15-year-old kid whose life is redeemed after he reads Carter's book? Not likely. "The Hurricane" reportedly failed to get more Oscar nominations because of negative publicity about how it dealt with the facts. But if factual accuracy is involved, the Academy might also reconsider its recognition this year of "The Insider" (Mike Wallace feels misrepresented), "The Straight Story" (I hear Alvin Straight was really one mean SOB), "Music Of The Heart" (Roberta Guaspari's story has been charged with wholesale revisionism), "Boys Don't Cry" (one woman named in the film is suing), and "Being John Malkovich" (John Malkovich's real middle name is Gavin, not Horatio).

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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