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Movie Answer Man (03/22/1998)

Q. In predicting the Oscar winners, you should take into account Hollywood's bias against blond leading men. Jon Voight is the only blond winner I'm sure of. The debate goes on around here about Lee Marvin (gray), Jimmy Cagney (red) and Paul Newman (auburn), but even if I concede all four of those and throw in Lionel Barrymore (gray) for good measure, that's only 5 out of, what, 69? Not a high percentage (Y/N?). So I, for one, ain't surprised that "Leo" wasn't nominated. And he, or at least his agent shouldn't be surprised either. That's show biz. (Don Howard, San Jose, CA)

A. Yet blonde actresses do much better. I wonder why.

Q. I noticed that the Oscar music categories are now divided into Original Dramatic Score and Original Comedy Score. I think it's totally ridiculous. If music is going to be separated into drama and comedy, why not acting? Or cinematography? Or writing? Or direction? And then why not separate action and horror? Or what about animated films with songs and animated films without, etc.? (Michael Whalen, Lewisville, TX)

A. The Golden Gloves, of course, do separate features into comedies and dramas, and I wouldn't mind the Oscars doing the same--although would everyone understand why "Good Will Hunting" was a comedy and "The Full Monty" was a drama? Re the reasons behind the split in the music category, LA-based music editor David J. Bondelevitch replies: "The category was split in 1995. This is the third year that the awards will be in separate categories. The reason it was split was that between '89 and '94, four of the six awards were given to the Disney animated film of the year (meaning every time Disney released a musical, they got an automatic award). A lot of people thought this was hooey and the Academy changed the rules."

Q. In your opinion, what is the single funniest moment, shot or sequence in motion picture history? For me, it's the opening number of "Springtime for Hitler" from Mel Brooks' "The Producers." (Tim Murphy, Chicago)

A. I laughed more during "The Producers" than any other movie I've seen. Among recent movies, I lost it when the artificial hand got stuck in the bowling ball and rolled down the lane in "Kingpin," and when the blind kid realizes his parakeet's head is Scotch-taped to its body, in "Dumb and Dumber." Both moments are based on personal misfortune. We laugh, that we may not cry.

Q. Plans have been announced to "redevelop" Hollywood's famous Cinerama Dome theater into a multiplex and retail mall. Pacific Theaters wants to gut the interior, alter the slope of the lower and upper levels, and replace the giant "wraparound" Cinerama curved screen with a smaller, flat screen--positioned further back in the auditorium. They also want to cover the currently-visible interior geodesic structure with a dropped ceiling. The Cinerama Dome was the first theater built exclusively to accommodate Cinerama films, and remains the only geodesic dome ever constructed entirely of concrete. Please help to preserve an important part of motion picture history. (Doug Haines, Los Angeles, CA)

A. The Cinerama Dome on Sunset Blvd. is the best place in America to see a movie. During special visits there for revivals of "2001," "Apocalypse Now" and other big-screen films, I realized how much the theater itself enhanced the experience. What you describe is nothing other than vandalism. Pacific Theaters has a masterpiece and should be proud of it. Why can't a mall be added to their big corner lot in such a way that the original theater remains an anchor and an attraction?

Q. Just saw "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The setting is Savannah, Ga., at Christmas time. I question all the fully-leafed trees. I thought trees lost their leaves because of the reduced amount of daylight, not because of the absence of warm weather. The scenic background was a glaring inconsistency for me. (James C. Halas, Park Ridge, IL)

A. Clint Eastwood filmed on location in Savannah in the months of May and June, 1997.

Q. I've noted a recent practice that is perplexing: The use of other earlier film scores in the ads and trailers for new releases. At least three films ("Courage Under Fire," "Rosewood" and "Mercury Rising") have used James Horner's music from "Glory." Even a director as distinguished as Martin Scorsese used Philip Glass's music from "Koyannisqatsi" in his TV ads for "Kundun." If they skimp on such an important production value as the score, where else have they skimped? (Thomas G. Hanson, St. Cloud, MN)

A. You have good ears. It is routine to borrow from older scores for previews and ads, because the new original score for a movie is often not ready when the trailers are prepared. Also, there's an element of subliminal advertising: They want to subtly suggest an earlier movie you may have liked.

Q. Regarding your comments on where the plot of the SF novel and movie "Sphere" was stolen from--"Solaris," hell! As I realized when I read Michael Crichton's novel, the idea of the alien device that brings the human subconscious to life was lifted directly from the classic SF flick "Forbidden Planet," which predates both Lem's novel and Tarkovsky's movie. "Monsters from the id," remember? (Jim Dickey, Alexandria, VA)

A. Of course "Forbidden Planet" was lifted directly from Shakespeare's Tempest. What is past is prologue.

Q. Can you tell me what character in "The Sweet Hereafter" did Russell Banks play? (Joaquin M. Fernandez, Miami)

A. Banks, who wrote the novel the movie is based on, played Doctor Robeson. He's a good-looking middle-aged man with the white beard.

Q. Now that "Titanic" is supposed to be the top-grossing movie of all time, I came across this list of the top 10 films based on inflation-adjusted ticket sales. In other words, recalculated to approximate the number of tickets sold, the top ten list would look like this: 1. Gone with the Wind; 2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; 3. Star Wars; 4. E.T.; 5. 101 Dalmatians; 6. Bambi; 7. Jaws; 8. The Sound of Music; 9. The Ten Commandments; 10. Return of the Jedi. But the film industry doesn't measure success by the number of eyes who see a movie, only by the money earned, and so that's the only statistic we get. Your reaction? (Joseph Holmes, Brooklyn, N.Y.)

A. It is often speculated that the most-watched films should also include "Birth of a Nation," which was sold on a state-by-state basis with no central bookkeeping, and the silent comedy short subjects of Charlie Chaplin, which were played for decades all over the world, in authorized and pirated versions.

Q. Why is it that whenever a long-lost or secret gravesite is discovered and exposed (the final scoops done by hand), the skull is always the first thing uncovered? The most recent example is in "Twilight." Having excavated dozens of burials, and watched hundreds of others, I would say there's about a 1-in-6 chance of exposing any part of the skull first. (Robert Haynes-Peterson, Boise, Idaho)

A. With you as technical advisor, Hamlet would end up addressing poor Yorick's toe.

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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