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Movie Answer Man (04/07/1996)

Q. Re the fact that "Fargo" is not, as it claims, based on a true story: I get a bad taste in my mouth when someone goes out of their way to assure me that something's a true story and it turns out they were just trying to manipulate me. "This is a true story" does absolutely nothing to enhance "Fargo," and only serves to make me insert the phrase "Yeah, but remember that the first thing we see is a lie: None of this happened" somewhere in my mental review. I just don't think that's cricket. Sure, suggest that it really happened. Imply it. But when I'm told right at the top that something's a true story, I involuntarily invest more in the thing, emotionally. When I learn that was a deliberate lie, I felt manipulated to an extent. Still one _hell_ of a movie, of course. (Andy Ihnatko, Westwood, Mass.)

A. I was talking the other day to the director Paul Schrader, the man who wrote "Taxi Driver" and directed "American Gigolo" and "Light Sleeper." He said we have passed from the age of the existential hero to the age of the ironic hero: "The existential hero asks if life is worth living. The irony hero asks, who cares?" In the new ironic movies, he said, everything has quotation marks around it. A person isn't killed, he's "killed." A few years ago, the true story line would have been intended to invest "Fargo" with extra meaning. Now it's just the Coen Brothers cocking an ironic snout at the "true story" gambit.

Q. In the closing credits of "Fargo," the actor who played the dead driver in the field isn't listed by name. Instead, there is a strange symbol in the credits. What does it mean? (Rich Leahy, Oakland, Calif.)

A. Seymour Uranowitz of the CompuServe ShowBiz Forum says Ethan Coen told Premiere: "That was our storyboard artist, who played the guy who drives by in the car with the red parka. He asked us if he could have that credit."

Q. So why is "Fargo" named "Fargo" if, as Time magazine says, it "has not much at all to do with Fargo, North Dakota"? Why didn't they name it "Brainerd"? J. Cole, Bismarck, N.D.

A. Well, the unhappy husband does travel to Fargo to hire the kidnappers, which is sort of an answer. More to the point, the Coens said on the Charlie Rose show that it was a choice between "Fargo" and "Brainerd," and so they chose "Fargo." Are we ready for a movie named "Brainerd?"

Q. I noticed that when the "best actor" nominees were shown on the Oscarcast, they only had a still photo of Sean Penn. Was he too stuck up to attend the ceremony? (Ashley St. Ives, Chicago)

A. Not at all. Penn had every intention of attending, but was called to the hospital when his companion Robin Wright had to have emergency surgery. Penn also attended the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday in Santa Monica, and when he was announced as best actor for "Dead Man Walking," he took Sally Field's famous acceptance speech as his motto. "You tolerate me!" he said. "You really tolerate me!"

Q. Why does Tim Robbins announce in the credits for "Dead Man Walking" that "this movie was edited on good old fashioned editing machines." Do you know if there's some advantage to editing them that way, as opposed to on an Avid system? Michael E. Isbell, Oklahoma City, O.K.

A. Avid systems allow editors to quickly and inexpensively view many different cuts of a scene, without having to physically cut and reassemble the film, as in traditional methods. Some editors and directors are entering only reluctantly into this new computerized video system, preferring the hands on approach of physically manipulating the film.

Q. While watching "Il Postino (The Postman)", I noticed a couple of times that Philippe Noiret's voice had been dubbed. Most people in North America probably wouldn't have noticed this because they were reading the subtitles as he spoke. Surely enough, listed in the credits was "The voice of Mr. Noiret". What is the reason for this? (Rob McKenzie Stratford, Ontario)

A. Noiret spoke in French and was dubbed into Italian.

Q. I love "Pulp Fiction," and have seen it repeatedly. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the great profusion of the number 3 within the film. There are three stories within the movie, three discussions of hamburgers or hamburgers on screen, John Travolta goes to the bathroom three times; the third time he dies. Mia Wallace snorts drugs three times; the third time she overdoses. We have three different cars careening around corners in each story (Travolta's Malibu, Willis' cab and Wolf's Acura). Buddy Holly the waiter is on screen exactly three times, as is Ed Sullivan. Jackson speaks his version of Ezekiel 25:17 three times; the third time he doesn't kill any one. I wonder if it is just the superstition of the number or whether Tarantino had something else on his agenda. You could even go so far as to mention that three actors from "Reservoir Dogs" are in the cast of "Pulp Fiction." I admit, it gets ridiculous, but the more you see the film, the more threes you notice. (Christopher G. Telcont, Columbus, Ohio)

A. If you add in the twos and fours, it gets even more amazing.

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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