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Movie Answer Man (03/05/1995)

Q. In the history of the Oscars, which movie nominated for best picture has received your lowest rating? (Paul Mayes, Austin, Texas)

A. Ha! "The Towering Inferno" (1974).

Q. While in Puerto Rico recently I went to see "The Shawshank Redemption." It featured subtitles in Spanish, and I know enough Spanish to tell that the profanity spoken in English was muted to the point of nonexistence in the subtitles. In fact, while the movie was rated R in English, it could easily have been downgraded to PG-13 in Spanish. Does this kind of language-cleansing happen commonly? (Dave Blanchard, Kent, Ohio).

A. "The common industry practice on subtitling," according to a source at Castle Rock Foreign Distribution, "is to use what is called 'neutral language,' intended to impart a 'sense' of the original dialogue while avoiding certain phrases that could prove more shocking when read than heard." And in answer to what would probably be your next question--is the same process used when foreign films are subtitled in English?--the answer is "no," possibly because in America these days there are no phrases that prove more shocking when read than heard.

Q. Why do people clap at the end of a movie? A play, I could understand, they can hear you. Do people really think anyone that has anything to do with the movie is going to hear them clap? (Bacel Lewis, Baltimore, Md.)

A. All noise in a movie theater is a form of communication, in which the audience tells itself what it thinks of a movie. The audience laughs, for example, to confirm that something is funny; if you were watching the same movie alone, you might not laugh aloud, because there would be no one to hear you. Applause, likewise, is a way to tell others what you think. People who talk inappropriately in movies are telling others that the movie is not worth paying attention to, and in my experience noisy talkers tend to shut up during a movie that is really working.

Q. My wife and I were listening to the radio when you offered five bucks to anybody who could show you a movie where a woman noticed things first and got to point them out to a man. My wife pointed out (no pun intended) that this happens quite a bit in "The Pellican Brief," (cq) where Darcy Shaw continually has to point things out to various men in the movie. My wife says you owe her five dollars. (Bob Pardee, Columbus, Ohio)

A. You are referring to the "Seeing Eye Man" rule in Ebert's Little Movie Glossary , which states that in almost all movies where something is spotted, it is the man who spots it, and points it out to the woman. But there is no movie named "The Pellican Brief." (cq) Perhaps you meant "The Pelican Brief." Unfortunately, I can only process one request from any individual reader.

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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