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Movie Answer Man (03/09/2003)

Q. What's your reaction to screenwriter William Goldman's article in Variety trashing Martin Scorsese? In the article he calls Scorsese an ape and a lousy storyteller. (Joshua Thompson, Revere MA)

A. Goldman embarrassed himself with the article, which was mean-spirited, green-eyed, and wrong.

Q. I was offended by your remarks about Trent Lott, which were totally unnecessary and irrelevant to a review of "Gods and Generals." Please stick to reviewing movies, not giving political statements. (Susan Bean, Lee's Summit MO)

A. I wrote that "Gods and Generals" was a Civil War movie that Trent Lott might enjoy. So it actually is, in my opinion. The movie embodies a nostalgic view of the war in which whites on both sides are noble, heroic and pious, and African-Americans are all but invisible. That was the vision Lott seemed to be evoking when he said that if the segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected in 1948 "we wouldn't have all these troubles today."

Q. In "Back to the Future" on TNT they showed a scene of Marty writing a letter to Doc Brown, warning him about being shot by terrorists in the future. As Marty reads the letter aloud, I noticed that him saying "by terrorists" had been muted. And when they showed a close-up of the letter, the words "by terrorists" had been digitally erased! (Steven Knauts, Atlanta GA)

A. Bob Gale, the producer of the movie, says he is amazed that TNT would take out "terrorist." He doesn't think director Bob Zemeckis knows about it, and it couldn't have come from the studio, so it must have come from TNT. All of my queries to TNT have gone unanswered. A splendid new DVD edition of the "Future" trilogy provides access to the unedited films.

Q. Re: your item on how a White Stripes song quotes lyrics from a song in "Citizen Kane," and that the Warner Bros. legal department is looking into it. Clearly the Stripes are fans of the film, and their song is part tribute. Jack White is an old soul with interest in roots, musical and otherwise. That the young hipsters might be turned onto "Citizen Kane" via White Stripes is a good thing. (Mike Spearns, St. John's Newfoundland)

A. The usage is homage, not plagiarism. There is no reason to lift those particular lyrics other than to evoke "Citizen Kane." The only astonishment for me is how long it took for the tribute to be noticed. There may be unacknowledged homages and quotations still lurking here and there, in some of the most unlikely songs and films, as prizes for alert audiences. I personally once hid some poetry by H.D., but I won't say where.

Q. I am crushed to read that the shortest movie review ever written was "Me no Leica." For years, I've told everyone that the shortest and funniest movie review was the great James Agee's summing-up of "You Were Meant for Me." He wrote: "That's what you think." (Steve Bailey, Jacksonville Beach, FL)

A. There are many contenders for the crown. Kathleen Davis of Grand Blanc, MI remembers a review of "Ernest Scared Stupid" that said "Ernest doesn't need to be scared to be stupid." Michael LeWitt remembers a review of the play "How Now, Dow Jones?" which read: "Standard and poor." Andrew Feldstein of Brighton, MI thinks one of the Detroit papers reviewed "Casual Sex?" with "No thanks." Matthew Bricker of Iowa City, IA, and a dozen other readers cited Leonard Maltin's review of "Isn't it Romantic" ("No"), and Steve Lipson of Washington, DC says Maltin made the Guinness Book with that review. But there've been other one-word reviews. Bob Cousins of Lethbridge, AB, says the Canadian weekly Macleans reviewed "Orca" with "Ugh." John Hobson of Bolingbrook, IL says Alexander Woolcott's review of the Broadway play "Wham!" was "Ouch!" Alan McDermott of Kansas City, MO says Pauline Kael reviewed "Lipstick" with "smeared." The most minimalist review of all may have been by Gene Siskel; Mitch Derry of Austin, TX recalls that his review of "Rabbit Run" consisted only of blank space.

Q. I was wondering if you've seen the interview with director Spike Jonze on the "Being John Malkovich" DVD. It's very short and consists mostly of him driving a car, answering a few questions incoherently and looking as if he is going to be sick. Suddenly he gets out of the car and vomits. End of interview. (Connie Boyd, Denver CO)

A. Getting back to the previous question, about the shortest movie reviews, Rich Adis of Highland Park, IL remembers a review of mine: "Five minutes into 'Succubus,' the man in front of me stepped into the aisle and threw up. I knew how he felt." Spike Jonze is first choice for the "Succubus" commentary track.

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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