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Movie Answer Man (09/01/1996)

Q. I was in the U.S. last year, and at every cinema I visited the lights came half-up at the "end" of the movie, but before the credits began. This happened to me once here recently, at the Barbican Arts Centre. Needless to say, I shall not be going back. (Paul Chapman, London, England)

A. This is a barbaric practice encouraged by greedy exhibitors who want to chase the audience out of the theater. Once the lights go up, people stand up, and it is hard to read the credits. It is worth staying. Most closing credit sequences feature one or more songs, sometimes composed especially for the movie; occasionally there are out-takes or epilogue scenes. No self-respecting theater turns on the lights until the final copyright notice and the union labels are displayed.

Q. I am a 16 year old girl and have a passion for writing screenplays. I am currently finishing up the treatment for my first serious one, and am wondering if you could give me some advice on where to send it, if I'll need an agent, or if I'll need to copyright it. (Jen Markowitz, Toronto)

A. I'm not sure about the procedures in Canada, but in the U.S. a writer would want to register it with the Writers' Guild of America, West., Inc. Yes, you will need an agent; no reputable producer will even open the envelope of an unsolicited screenplay, because of the plague of nuisance suits from people claiming to have had their ideas ripped off. Most agents charge a reading fee, because they cannot afford to subsidize the reading of the thousands of free-lance screenplays produced every year. I can't recommend an agent--and, of course, as someone who may be reviewing your screenplay some day, I cannot read it at this stage.

Q. Last week I read Janet Maslin's New York Times review of "Harriet the Spy" (which was more positive than yours) then went out to see the movie. One thing that mystifies me is that neither you nor Janet Maslin mentioned anything about the microphone's almost constant presence in the scenes. Did you see a different version of the film than I did or is this shoddy workmanship OK with you? If anything disrupted the flow of the story and the movie it was this microphone constantly dipping into frame. I know I wasn't hallucinating since I heard others talking about this as we left the theater. (Beverly A. Kelly, Ann Arbor, Mich.)

A. I get similar questions every week, and print an answer about every six months, since this is the Gripe That Will Not Die. When you see a microphone at the top of a shot, it is almost always the fault of the projectionist in the theater you are attending, and not the fault of the filmmakers. Movies are shot with extra "head room" (and bottom and side room) so they will "bleed" over the sides of the visible screen, filling all the intended viewing area. If the projectionist "frames" the film incorrectly, he can include too much head room, and sometimes the mike will be visible. To allow this to continue for an entire movie (or an entire engagement) is a sign that the projectionist and his employers are incompetent and indifferent. Please clip out this item and present it to the management of the theater where you saw "Harriet the Spy," along with my suggestion that you be supplied with two free tickets.

Q. Yours was one of the few positive reviews of "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle," which is just out on video. I also thought it was pretty good. But it raised a question about the Algonquin Round Table. In Harpo Marx's autobiography, Harpo Speaks, the circle plays an important part. Yet in the film, Harpo is reduced to the merest trifle of roles in one of the legendary croquet matches. Did Harpo overstate his position in the circle? (Chris Dunford, Columbia, Md.)

A. Not at all. Harpo and Groucho were both regulars at the Algonquin whenever they were in town, but the movie probably felt that too much Marxism would distract from its focus on Dorothy Parker. When Groucho was 81, I interviewed him for Esquire, and he told many stories about the Round Table, including one about how they got a member drunk, carried him upstairs to a hotel room, pasted feathers on his bottom and called in a doctor. The joke was on the doctor, whose greatest ambition was to be accepted as a member of the circle; he arrived breathless with eagerness to treat their ailing friend.

Q. I wasted $8.50 this weekend on "The Fan". Why? Because you had not reviewed it and I had some free time. This was a major opening and many of us rely upon you. (Mark James, New York, N.Y.)

A. Like many movies that a studio has little faith in, "The Fan" was not previewed for critics before its opening. The obvious answer is to never attend a movie I have not reviewed.

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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