Q. I ask you to think about one issue with "Star Wars -- Episode I: The Phantom Menace." Look at how George Lucas portrays women in this film. It's pretty backward. The main female character, the Queen, spends the entire film making cumbersome costume changes, even at true heights of danger. Is this a good model for women leaders today, let alone in the future? Her attendants have equally vapid things to do, like walk around with blank stares in orange bathrobes--no weapons allowed. Jabba the Hutt is once again surrounded by his harem of female stereotypes and two other female aliens (blue ones with head appendages) are seen giving a manicure to the kid's opponent in the chariot race. Great role models, eh? Later we briefly see two female fighter pilots, but they come out of nowhere and smack of tokenism. Further, until Lucas actually blows up a female fighter pilot in one of his films, we know he'll never view them as equals. (Dave Monks, San Francisco)
A. Wouldn't blowing up just one female fighter pilot smack of tokenism? Just to be on the safe side, I say blow up a manicurist, too.
Q. In "Phantom Menace," in the Imperial Senate scene, with all the floating podia, just after Queen Amidala gives her speech and calls for a new chancellor, I SWEAR to you that one of the alien races cheering her on is none other than E.T. I wouldn't lie to you, man. (Scot Murphy, Highland Park, IL)
A. I also thought I caught a glimpse of E.T., but to be doubly sure, I consulted Andy Ihnatko, the Answer Man's ultimate authority for all things Starwarian. He replies: "Absolutely. Imagine that the screen image is cut into five equal vertical strips (12345). When the Senate starts chanting "VOTE NOW! VOTE NOW! VOTE NOW!," lock your eyes around the center of Strip Four. There you'll find three ETs. Sharp-eyed viewers -- or dedicated SW fans -- will notice that practically every alien species ever shown in the four movies is present somewhere in that scene. Earlier in the scene (in Strip Two) you'll see a pair of Wookiees, for instance."
Q. I was surprised to hear that a print of Richard Burton's 1964 performance of "Hamlet" has been found. I understand it was shown in movie theatres for just two performances and then all prints were supposed to have been destroyed. A streaming video of the movie is being shown on the www.aentv.com web site. The picture is the size of soda cracker of course, but the sound comes through tolerably well. They have the whole the and half hours. Do you know if there are plans to bring this out on DVD or perhaps even release it to theatres again? (Bruce Worthen, Salt Lake City)
A. Burton's famous stage performance, directed by John Gielgud, was filmed live over several nights, and shown on a roadshow basis in 1964. Then the prints were indeed to be destroyed. After the actors' death, his widow, Sally, found one print in his Switzerland home. It was restored by the British Film Institute and is now being sold on the Web, along with audio cassettes and CDs of the same performance. I saw the film in 1964, and the Web samples bring back the impact of that experience. What a wonderful voice Burton had!
Q. Have you ever read "Flicker" by Theodore Roszak. It is a work of fiction that tells a fascinating story of subliminal images that are incorporated in films to achieve an unconscious reaction. Roszak is a well known social scientist (he coined the term "counter- culture") and at the end of this book, claims that this is a "secret history of movies." Also, I have witnessed the use of subliminal imaging firsthand, in William Friedkin's "Cruising." It is a scene halfway through the movie, where the killer stabs a man he has tied up in the back. By playing this frame-by-frame on my VCR, there is a two-second shot that is clearly pornographic in nature. When the movie is played normally, it cannot be seen. I have heard rumors that "The Exorcist" is drenched in such images as the "death mask" and that sounds of pigs being slaughtered are woven into the soundtrack. I have a sinking feeling that maybe it is not just Mr. Friedkin doing this in his films. I want to assure you I'm not a fanatic that thinks Satan speaks to us via Motley Crue records. (John M. Harrison, Newark, DE)
A. The use of single-frame or superimposed "subliminal" images and (subaural?) sounds is common throughout film history. "The Exorcist" does indeed contain single frames in which a Satanic head is superimposed on Linda Blair's face. There's that brief shot of Norman Bates' desiccated mother at the end of "Psycho." The sound track of Scorsese's "Raging Bull" incorporates animal cries and bird shrieks into the noises of the prizefight crowds. The advent of freeze-frame features makes hidden shots easy to find--and has also, of course, turned up some naughty frames that Disney animators never thought anyone would see.
Q. I realize scenes used in promos are not always in the movie when you see it, but I was surprised that the massage scene wasn't in "Living Out Loud" when I went to see it here in San Antonio. I asked the theatre manager why it wasn't there since they referred to it in what was obviously the following scene. He swears the movie arrived that way. Then People magazine referred to this hot new actor, Eddie Cibrian, who gives Holly Hunter a massage, and how much attention he got at the premiere. Is it usual for scenes to be removed after a show has premiered, or did San Antonio just get a botched copy? (Hollis Osburn, San Antonio, TX).
A. A spokesman for New Line Cinema, replies: "All prints of 'Living Out Loud' were shipped by New Line Cinema with the scene in question. Any subsequent edits were not made with the authorization of the filmmakers or the studio." Perhaps an individual exhibitor found the scene offensive and removed it. Or maybe Eddie Cibrian has a fan in the projection booth who has added the scene to a private collection.