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Movie Answer Man (08/15/1999)

Q. I'm irritated by the hypocrisy of film criticism. Most critics hail "The Blair Witch Project" as genius. The style, acting, and filmmaking of the movie IS genius, but the effect of the movie remains in question. It is creepy in a residual-thought sort of way, but not too scary. Why? Because implied horror can only go so far. Visuals are necessary to a certain degree. Here's where the hypocrisy comes into play. "The Sixth Sense" is a movie that takes a good script and good movie making, and turns it into a very effective horror film. The entire audience seemed to cringe at what was waiting outside the frame. There was a legitimate feeling of horror. The director showed just enough to keep the audience extremely afraid. The ending blew me away. But "Sixth Sense" will take a back seat to "Blair Witch" because it isn't as innovative. I truly feel that most of the critics know "Sixth Sense" is a better film, but refuse to admit it. Do you? (Vincent Santino, Phoenix, AZ)

A. I admired both films, "Blair Witch" more. Audiences for "Blair Witch" are sharply divided between those who admire it and those who don't. Its defenders like the fake-doc style, and, yes, do believe the ending is scary. But it has other qualities, not least the effectiveness and humor of the performances in the first hour, which are so convincing they are almost transparent. Whatever audiences eventually decide, "Blair Witch" will become the most profitable film of all time in relation to its cost ($22,000, before studio post-production) and its projected box office take (some say $150 million).

Q. What do you think about "The Blair Witch Project" having a soundtrack despite not having any songs in the movie? In most Hollywood films, the filmmakers or studios stick popular songs into the movies, even if they don't fit, just so they can have a hip soundtrack. But now Artisan has proven that even a movie with no songs can still have a soundtrack. What is a soundtrack if not songs that are in the movie? Songs with titles that make them sound like they COULD have been in the movie? Songs by artists who WISH they were associated with the movie? I personally find this practice appalling. (Rhys Southan, Austin, Texas)

A. The soundtrack CD allegedly contains songs that were found on a tape in Josh's car after he and his fellow characters disappeared. Titles include "Gloomy Sunday," by Lydia Lunch, "Don't Go To Sleep Without Me," by the Creatures, and "The Cellar," by Antonio Cora. Surely only purists would complain that some of the songs were recorded after the date in 1994 when Josh allegedly died. My opinion? If you like the music on its own merits, then what's the harm? It's less of a scam than movie soundtracks which, because of the high cost of rights, fail to contain songs that actually were in a movie.

Q. "Eyes Wide Shut" is being shown here in Japan without any digital manipulating. The film is rated R-18, which means no one under 18 gets in. Usually, the sight of pubic hair is censored by pixelating or blurring (this even happens in porn films) but "Eyes Wide Shut" wasn't touched at all. I don't understand all the fuss. (Jason Chau, Niigata, Japan)

A. Japan's censors have a long tradition of obscuring pubic hair; that the Kubrick film was shown unaltered suggests, perhaps, that they respect his stature as an artist. Of course it is showing as "adults only," a choice impossible under the MPAA's broken-down rating system. That's why we need the A rating between R and the discredited NC-17.

Q. Here in Australia we have a workable adult rating, the "R" rating; nobody under 18 can be admitted. This rating is completely non-controversial: films that get it are shown in the multiplexes, advertised in newspapers etc. From the point of view of more serious and artistic films this works fine. However, Australian censors are more tolerant of sex and less tolerant of violence than is the case in the US. Often, the ratings board gives 'R' to violent films for which male teenagers are a large part of the intended audience. Therefore, such films are often cut to get a different rating before being released in Australia. Often we are not told about this. You may argue that in many cases the loss of a few seconds of violence is no great loss, but it rather annoys me that I am unable to see a film the way the film-makers intended, whatever the film is. (Michael Jennings, Sydney, Australia)

A. Many Americans believe the MPAA is too strict on sex, too lenient on violence. But we could argue about standards all day. What is needed in the U.S. is a rating like yours, that allows American studios to release films as their directors intended them, without the informal boycott now triggered by NC-17.

Q. Kevin Williamson's "Dawson's Creek" has a teacher in the show named "Mrs. Tingle." As you know, Williamson also has a film coming out titled, "Teaching Mrs. Tingle." What is his fascination with this name? Is this a reference to a real teacher that Kevin disliked when he was in high school? (Chris Regina, Princeton, NJ)

A. That's a pretty good guess. Williamson told Howard Rosenberg in a Movieline interview about a high school English teacher he called "Mrs. Tingle," who cut him off in the middle of a short story reading in front of her class: "She then proceeded to predict that he'd never amount to anything as a writer, and ordered him to go sit down because he had a voice that shouldn't be heard."

Q. The Answer Man recently wrote, "The credits and the end music are included in the admission price; demand a refund if you're shortchanged." What do you say about previews? I attended a late showing of the god-awful Adam Sandler starrer, "The Waterboy," which started 15 minutes late. To compensate, I presume, the movie started up immediately without one preview (which I have come to enjoy as part of my moviegoing experience.) Should I have asked for my money back? (Joshua Rafofsky, Los Angeles)

A. Absolutely! One refund for the trailers you didn't see, and another for the movie you did see.

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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