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Movie Answer Man (06/04/2000)

Q. I read with great interest the Answer Man's theory about why when only one female breast is shown in a movie, it is usually the left one. I was interested in your response referring to the "strong axis" or harmonious balancing point, etc. I have a question for you. I am left -handed, and I notice how many times TV ads which depict someone eating show the person eating with their left hand. Us lefties are in a minority, so why are lefties so often shown in eating commercials? My only conclusion is that we are a mirror image for the "righties" and therefore it is visually more "balanced" to show what most people would see if they looked at themselves in the mirror. (Karin Fulcher, Tsawwassen, British Columbia)

A. Your guess is correct. Watching the TV screen, we all (lefties and righties) identify more easily with the hand on the right side of the screen (which would be the left hand). Rules involving the "strong axis" and the harmonious balancing point apply, since the left hand of a person facing the camera is on the strong axis (just to the right of center). Of course these rules apply only to the impractical American custom of using the fork in the right hand, putting it down, switching it, etc. In the rest of the world, where the fork usually remains in the left hand during most of the meal, right-handed eaters would be used on TV commercials.

Q. This is something I've always wondered about. How do actors and directors fake cocaine snorting in films? So many movies feature gratuitous shots of characters sniffing up large amounts of white powder, but how is it faked? Are they really snorting something up their noses? What do they use? (Jason Gubbels, Appleton WI)

A. I turned for an answer to director Darren Aronofsky ("Pi"), whose recent Cannes entry "Requiem for a Dream" told a harrowing story of drug addiction. He replied: "I'm sorry to report that I can't be an expert on this question. Because our snorting scenes were extreme close-ups the actors weren't even on set. We used a miniature vacuum cleaner attached to a rolled-up dollar bill. Our vacuum cleaner could snort anything from lye to bleach for all eternity. Personally, I too have always been curious how actors snort line after line. If it was a film from the 70's the answer may be method acting."

Q. After reading your report about "Dancer In The Dark" being roundly booed at its Cannes screening, I read the following Reuters report: "Danish director Lars Von Trier won a wild standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday for his weepy melodrama 'Dancer In The Dark,' emerging as the favorite for the Golden Palm that has eluded him twice." How do you figure a movie goes from being booed by one crowd to receiving a tearful standing ovation from another? Is there that much of a split among Cannes attendees? ( Ron Spiegelhalter, Manchester, NH)

A. It was booed at the press screening, cheered by the black-tie evening crowd in the presence of von Trier and Bjork. The morning crowd consists of critics, film festival programmers, cinematheque operators, cineastes, etc. The evening crowd is buyers and sellers, studio executives, local dignitaries, freebie tickets from distributors, people with clout, hotel executives, real estate developers, arms dealers, etc., including a sizable number of ticket-holders who are guests of the film's distribution company. No surprise that the reactions were different; every evening screening is cheered.

Q. I was just wondering why the devil and vampires are only always battled by Catholics? Where are the movies about Lutheran pastors vs. the devil? Or a Baptist destroying vampires by blessing an entire river? I mean, sure, Catholics have cool rituals and provide romantic tension with that whole celibacy thing, but the Greek Orthodox have cool rituals as well. I want see a rabbi face the devil. I want Buddhist monks and Mormons. I am sick of only Catholics getting to kick Satanic butt for the Lord. (Cort Jensen, Missoula MT)

A. I referred your question to my friend Father Andrew Greeley, who is not only a priest but the author of many best-selling novels that are about conflict with evil. He replies: "Because if its sacramental imagination, which sees goodness and evil lurking everywhere, Catholicism often seems a more mysterious religion and hence one more open to wonder and surprise and perhaps horror. Or to put it another way, where there are vigil lights anything can happen."

Q. As a 3-D animator by profession, I can tell you that the dark and cheap colisseum scenes in "Gladiator" are as you described them in your review. There is a technique that blurs and darkens the image of computer generated animation in order to hide unrealistic detail and the fake look of much computer-generated content. I could even see the patterns of movement on the crowd in the overhead shots. I guess it went cheap out of the lab. (Santiago Batiz-Benet, Seattle WA)

A. Ah, but to be fair, but there is much discussion about whether the movie's quality differs from theater to theater. One of the industry's most respected experts on image quality originally wrote me that he saw "Two and a half hours of out of focus film....half resolution (2K) digital gives me a headache...mighty murky indeed." He later went back and saw it in another theater, and had a much more favorable impression. While at Cannes, I asked two independent observers (producers of our TV show) to re-check the screen where I saw the film and another screen. Their verdict: "It looked exactly the same: Dark, grayish, grimy. In both theaters we remarked what we'd noticed the first time around: that often in interior closeups the side of a face away from the camera is totally in shadow, with virtually no glints from the eye or highlights on the cheekbone, etc. Hard to know if that was deliberate or the result of inadequate light in the projector."

Q. I recall seeing an interview with Steven Spielberg where he said he would like "Jaws" to be re-released in 2000 with a digitally-enhanced shark. Do you think this may happen, and if so, do you think it should happen? (Thomas McGill, Atlanta GA)

A. "Jaws" appears July 11 on DVD, with a new digital transfer and your choice of DVDs with Dolby or DTS 5.1 surround sound. Maria LaMagra of Universal Home Video says the shark has not been altered in any way. The film was simply digitally transferred for the new DVD release.

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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