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Movie Answer Man (09/08/2002)

Q. Studios still produce trailers that start with "In a world..." and then gather momentum with quick cuts and explosions, followed by a supposedly cool line by the star. Having just seen the clever trailer for Jerry Seinfeld's new movie "The Comedian," I wonder if you think the days of the mind-numbingly predictable voice-over are numbered? (G. Doig, Glasgow, Scotland)

A. The new Seinfeld trailer may nor may not sell tickets, but it's one of the funniest I've seen. It stars the "in a world..." guy himself, Hal Douglas, described by Miramax publicist Tracy Ury as "perhaps the most recognizable trailer voice in the business." The trailer is a merciless dig at all the weary catch-phrases that trailers recycle over and over again. It's at

Q. Your review of "Auto Focus" from Telluride was the final straw for me. How you can rave about a film that contains "wall-to-wall sex" escapes me. I guess I'm just a fogie about such matters. Films aren't often being made for people like me, and the critics have forgotten that people like me exist. (Paul Montgomery, Chicago)

A. I have not forgotten that people like you exist, but I am not you, just as you are not me, and unless I honestly report my own opinion, I am of no use to you or anyone else. I admire Paul Schrader's new film very much; Greg Kinnear is surprisingly effective in charting Bob Crane's self-destruction. Certainly sexual addiction is a valid subject for a movie, but I didn't "rave" about the sex. I wrote: "Schrader somehow succeeds in making a film with wall-to-wall sex in which sadness and loneliness, not passion, is the subject." There is a difference between a movie that is wall-to-wall sex, and a movie that is about it. Here is a crucial rule for anyone seriously interested in movies: It's not what the movie is about that makes it good or bad, but how it is about it.

Q. Cubby Broccoli produced James Bond movies, as you noted recently, but broccoli isn't named for him, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which says the word is an Italian diminutive for "shoot" or "stalk." Broccoli turned up in English about 1700. One wonders where the New York Times obituary, which you quoted, got the idea the veggie was named for Cubby's ancestors. A PR firm working overtime? (Jim Breig, E. Greenbush NY)

A. Jack Noland of Lisbon, Portugal cites the Random House dictionary and World Book in likewise questioning this factoid, and wonders, "could ol' Cubby be yanking our stalk?"

Q. Re: the AM discussion of the sexual gossip in the beauty parlor in "Never Again": Any woman who grew up in a small town probably knows the toe-curling full voice chat in the local "beauty parlor" (think of "Steel Magnolias"). By definition, it's not a public place, even if it's a place of business. The customers are "regulars," they all know each other, and there are no men present. And yes, what's discussed can be a little startling. Most "stylists" or the Flip 'n' Clip franchise in any larger city would not qualify--I haven't heard any real beauty parlor gossip in 20 years. Don't know if there are any neighborhoods in Chicago where you can find the real everyone-knows-your-name places. (Cathy Pittard, Arlington TX)

A. Oddly enough, I have just seen a preview of the new comedy "Barbershop," which takes place in the mostly but not exclusively male domain of a barber shop on Chicago's South Side. Sexual discussions are not unknown there, with the emphasis on booty--who's got it, who needs it, who wants it.

Q. You noted that you didn't vote for documentaries in the Sight & Sound poll as you felt it would be wasted on them. Did you change your list in any other ways to tailor for the S&S crowd? What documentaries would you have considered for the list? (Rick Pittman, Toronto ON)

A. The "Up" documentaries are a noble use of film, Errol Morris' "Gates of Heaven" continues to amaze me, and there are many others just from recent years, like "Hoop Dreams," "Crumb," and "Paradise Lost." In voting, I specified that I had undiminished affection for the films on my previous list, but did some judicious switching, for example replacing Ozu's "Floating Weeds" with his "Tokyo Story," which I felt had a better chance of getting votes. I was right, and it made the top ten. But making such a list is agonizing. Countless readers have asked me why I left off this or that film, and there is no answer. I wisely refuse to vote in all polls except this one, every ten years.

Q. Yesterday, as I was entering a movie theater, I was invited to a test-screening of the upcoming film "Adaptation." As a movie geek, I accepted excitedly. However, I began to wonder: How can the creators of ostensibly artistic and creative films (as this one seems to be) justify the asking of Joe Six-Pack's opinions? I don't mean to sound insulting, but what the hell does the public know? I'll bet that if "Waking Life" had test-screenings most people would have labeled it a trifle of a film and terribly boring. I say this because when I left the theater after seeing that strangely moving picture most people were saying terrible things about the film. We already have the MPAA, special interest groups, and a myriad of other sources hindering the artistic vision of a filmmaker. It's really disheartening that the creators of "Being John Malkovich" could stoop so low as to ask me my opinions of their movie. I'm 17, what do I know? (Dan Schwartz, Paradise Valley AZ)

A. Many directors find test screenings invaluable; Billy Wilder, for example, killed the first reel of "Sunset Boulevard" after a screening. If the screenings are used by the filmmakers themselves to get feedback on a rough cut, that's valid. Too often, however, studio executives use preview screenings as a weapon to enforce their views on directors, and countless movies have had stupid happy endings tacked on after such screenings. (Classic case, probably apocryphal: The test audiences for "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc," who were unhappy that she had to burn at the stake.) An expose in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago revealed that one marketing company fabricated test results to meet the requirements of the executives.

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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