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Movie Answer Man (03/09/1997)

Q. Went to see Howard Stern's "Private Parts." Can't tell you how pleased I was to see scenes featuring "Kenny," the program director teaching Howard to pronounce "W-NNNN-BC!" I was an intern at WNBC during my senior year in college in 1980, and while there I gave a demo tape to "Kenny," whose real name was Kevin Metheny. He listened to it and trashed it, which would've been OK, except he did it in a hallway in front of my girlfriend (who despite this became my wife). Despite his predictions, I went on to have a pretty good on-air career, including doing morning radio with my wife. My question: Since Howard mentions people like Don Imus in his movie by name, and has already referred to Metheny as "Pig Virus" on the air, why couldn't he use the guy's actual name in the movie? (Jim Crossan, Columbia, S.C.)

A. It is permissible to mention a real person in the context of commentary, but when a person is represented in a work of fiction and the depiction is negative, that person can sue. Imus is not really trashed in "Private Parts" (and besides, the chances are zero that he would sue). "Kenny" is one of the movie's major targets. And isn't it possible that the movie Kenny has been exaggerated from his real-life counterpoint, for comic purposes?

Q. In John Gregory Dunne's new book about the screenwriting adventures of he and his wife, Joan Didion, he takes a really nasty crack at you and Siskel. Your response, please? He begins by describing the annual Academy Awards parties held at Spago by the legendary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar and his wife, Mary. He says the earlier part of the evening was a "family party," as the big stars watched the Oscars on TV. After the ceremony was over, he says, "many of the older stars would depart," and people who had been at the Oscars would arrive. Then he writes, "The more presentable press also gained late entry, acting for all the world as if they were members of the community, and not its parasites. I remember Siskel and Ebert late that evening, at the corner window table, greeting and being greeted, with that extravagance of word and gesture affected by public people who know they are the object of attention. What they did not know was that they were seated in places recently vacated by Jim and Gloria Stewart--in the community, real stars." (Andrea Gronvall, Chicago)

A. What Dunne did not know was that Siskel and I were both invited by the Lazars for the earlier dinner. My wife and I arrived late because I covered the Oscars. Gene and his wife arrived for the "family party" and were seated at James and Gloria Stewart's table by Mary Lazar herself. I am surprised Dunne did not see them sitting there all through the dinner. Perhaps his table was not well-placed for observing the main room.

Q. To the best of my knowledge, the telecast of "Schindler's List" was the first TV-M program on the broadcast networks. Personally, I was glad to see it, since it opens the door for more uncut movies (and less-censored original material), but I wonder if NBC has painted themselves into a corner by debuting with such a significant film? I'm sure a lot of people will say that this was OK because of the subject matter, but another R-rated movie of similar length (say, "Pulp Fiction") wouldn't fly. What do you think? (Allen Braunsdorf, Purdue University, Lafayette, IN)

A. By justifying its decision to show the film uncut because of its importance and significance, the network was trying to have it both ways. It should have taken a stand on principle, instead of tacitly arguing that an exception should be made in this particular case. Broadcast standards should be applied consistently. I supported the telecast of "Schindler's List" and I would also support the airing of "Pulp Fiction."

Q. I do not get carsick, seasick or airsick. Am I the only person who suffers from "hand-held camera sickness?" I was forced to sit through Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" back in 1992, in spite of intense nausea. Fortunately, I was able to make it home that night, before having to visit the bathroom. In 1995, I left my husband alone with "Crumb" on three separate occasions for trips to Mr. Toilet. Last night, the coup de grace: "Breaking the Waves." I knew I was in trouble after the opening scene. By the time they rolled Jan into the operating room, I had already lost my dinner and my M & M's, and had to go home. I am curious to know if you have heard of anyone else who suffers from this syndrome. Perhaps a support group could be started. (Denise Leder, Las Vegas, NV)

A. Several people have told me they got "motion sickness" while watching "Breaking the Waves," in which many scenes are shot with a hand-held camera. According to clinical audiologist Marla Lappe, of Audio Vestibular Associates in Evanston, when you're dizzy you get "nystagmus" eye movement, which makes the brain feel like you're on a ship. To fight the illusion, she says, pick a fixed point and stare at it. But since there's no fixed point in a movie, she says Dramamine will help. On television, with its smaller screen size, the effect does not take place, so if you don't want to take Dramamine I advise you to wait for the video.

Q. I recently saw "Shine" and loved it. I noted in the end credits that the "Rach 3" was played by David Helfgott himself. In the London Independent, however, the reviewer noted that the soundtrack music was from Helfgott's 1995 recording, more than a decade after his return to the concert stage. The reviewer said: "His technical control is forever losing ground, the bravura elements massively compromised, not least in the finale where smudged and missing notes (fistfuls of them) fracture and displace Rachmaninov's complete rhythmic configurations." Needless to say this review saddened me. If true, is it possible that the "worst" of his errors were excised from the performance of the adolescent Helfgott, which wins him the medal and precipitates his breakdown, or is it just that the director knew that most of us are not such discerning music critics? (Donna Martin, Kansas City, MO)

A. I referred your question to the expert Wynne Delacoma, music critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, who replies: "The concerto is a sprawling work and director Scott Hicks could easily have chosen only bits and pieces of Helfgott's performance, presumably the most accurate as well as the most exciting, for 'Shine's' final cut. The music is so fast-paced and dramatic, even the best pianists can't guarantee note-perfect playing. Most listeners, caught up in the music's drive, wouldn't catch minor mistakes anyway. Most recordings these days are doctored to repair flubbed notes and other lapses. Audiences come to expert the perfection they hear on CDs from live performances."

Q. Did you know that "That Darn Cat" is known as "That Damn Cat" in the novel by The Gordons on which the movie is based? (W.C. Martell)

A. Funny. That's the same thing we've always called our cat.

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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