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Movie Answer Man (10/24/1999)

Q. My friends and I recently attended a sneak preview of "Fight Club." During the first 20 minutes of the film, many of us noticed split-second images of a person standing next to Edward Norton in his scenes. Any idea what it was we saw? (John Kane, Richmond Va)

A. Director David Fincher confirms there are several subliminal images early in "Fight Club," but says identifying them would reveal too much about the film.

Q. Since you gave a negative review to "Fight Club," do you agree with members of Congress who believe movies like this inspire violence in our society? (Casey Anderson, Schaumberg)

A. There is little convincing evidence of direct linkage between violent images and violent actions. Violent people sometimes cite media images, but they may be annexing images which match their inarticulate pre-existing drives and feelings. A new book by Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, cites studies indicating that criminals must pass through four clearly-defined stages before they act out violently, and those stages are defined within the family, not by the media. Brutal families produce brutal children. The spectacle of Congressmen fulminating against violent movies in the week after they voted down the Test Ban Treaty would be funny if it were not sad.

Q. Have heard a lot about this new movie "Being John Malkovich," in which John Cusack finds a portal into the brain of John Malkovich, who plays himself. Why did Malkovich agree to do this? (Baxter Wolfe, Arlington Heights)

A. Maybe because it was a brilliant screenplay. Or maybe because they said if he turned it down, they could always make it "Being Sean Penn."

Q. In the latest Answer Man column, there's the suggestion that "Nashville" in 'Scope might be a lost film. Well, in a word, nonsense. When I was at Paramount in the early 90s, we did a theatrical reissue with first-time Dolby Optical Stereo and the prints looked just fine. And even if that dupe negative were trashed and the camera neg was lost, they'd still have at least one interpositive and the separations. In fact, they'd have two: one each stored at the new state-of-the-art vault on the lot, and the others in the salt mines in Kansas. Plus there'd be at least one dupe negative in London for European use, and possibly one in Asia, too. Plus it's an Academy Award winner and on the National Film Registry, which means both the Academy and Library of Congress would have pristine copies as well. Like I said: nonsense. (Michael Schlesinger, Sony Classics, Culver City, CA)

A. Reports of the death of Altman's masterpiece have been greatly exaggerated. Scott Von Doviak of Austin, TX. reports it played Oct. 9 at the Austin Film Festival, with Altman in attendance. It also played recently at the Brattle in Boston. However, it is not available on DVD and there are no plans for a 25th anniversary letterbox re-issue. Jeff Joseph of Sabucat Productions writes: "This is a special case because 'Nashville' is a 'split rights' situation. Paramount has mostly foreign rights; Disney has domestic rights. Paramount has the negative, but because of the split rights, little economic incentive to do anything with this title. When asking if a film is lost, it's more accurate to ask how much it would cost to print and preserve it. In the case of 'Nashville,' probably in the mid five to low six figures. Nobody wants to spend the money."

Q. We just returned from attempting to watch the film "Double Jeopardy." I say attempting because there was a person behind us who talked in a regular voice throughout the entire film. After about an hour of this my girlfriend told the person to shut up. The other person shouted, "I can talk as much as I want!" As I was involved in the film and didn't want the movie totally ruined, I said, "Stop it. Don't be an ass," or words to that effect. Ten minutes later we were both escorted out by the police, charged with disorderly conduct, and told we were banned from the theater for sixty days. The other person told the police we used obscene language in her presence, which we didn't. It is a interesting point as the movie was liberally laced with the f-word. I am in my middle fifties and not given to scream obscenities at people in a movie theater. (Hal G. Scheie, LaCrosse, Wi)

A. People who talk during movies may have rabies and should be approached cautiously. Since the link between their eyes and tongue bypasses the brain, it is effective to simply stand up, blocking their view of the screen. Deprived of inspiration for their running commentary, they fall silent, or revert to soft animal snuffling noises as they root in their popcorn.

Q. Your review of "Three Kings" incorrectly identified George Clooney's character as a "sgt. major" (which is a non-commissioned officer). He was actually a "Major" (a commissioned officer). This is important as it is the officer, who is supposed to know better, that leads the group of NCO's into harm's way. (Aaron Lipple, Allen TX)

A. Much confusion here. The movie's press kit names Clooney as a sergeant major, but later refers to him as a captain. Bob Yates of Warrensburg, Mo., was so frustrated he did some research: The movie's web site, he says, lists Clooney as a major, but the New York Times and USA Today say he is a captain, Le Press from Montreal makes him le capitaine. The Boston Globe plays it safe with "an officer," and Time makes no mention of rank. The New York Post got it right. A major he is.

Q. I am a 12-year-old movie lover who feels gypped by adults who try to regulate my movie watching habits. Why do parents feel it is fine for children to watch profanity ("Cop Land," "Blue Thunder") and movies with excessive gore and violence ("Natural Born Killers," "Scream"), but clam up when a movie includes sexually explicit content? I have been prohibited from seeing such powerful films such as "American Beauty" and "Leaving Las Vegas" solely because of the sexual aspect. What do you think is more damaging to a young person, seeing a girl hanging dead from a tree, or Gwyneth Paltrow's breasts? (Pat Gustini, Washington D.C.)

A. The MPAA Code and Ratings Administration has consistently ruled over the years against Gwyneth Paltrow's breasts. However, you little Dickens, I should point out that all of the titles you mention are R-rated, so not everyone thinks it is fine for you to see them.

Q. The Answer Man discussed the meaning of the title "North by Northwest." Hint: The story begins in New York City, and ends at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. What direction is that journey? (Steve Dhuey, Madison WI)

A. West by Northwest.

Q. There was an item that one of the characters in "Boys Don't Cry" is based on a real person, who now wants her name taken out of the film. Your comment? (Emerson Thorne, Chicago)

A. I wonder if future generations of her family will thank her for removing their name from one of the best films of the year. I'm still mad at my grandfather for suing MGM to change the name of Rhett Ebert.

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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