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Movie Answer Man (11/12/1995)

Q. "Seven," like many other films of the serial killer genre, has been awarded high marks by you and other critics. Do you enjoy movies about depraved weirdoes, or is it simply the craftsmanship you find so worthy of mention? Personally, I am dismayed by this type of film, if for no other reason but that to make an entertainment of torture cultivates the worst we have within us, resonating perhaps to some effect within our society. (Andrew Paquette, Portland, Maine)

A. The art of all civilizations deals obsessively with the themes of violence and tragedy. One of the functions of art is to help us process the dismay we feel while regarding the hard realities of the world. A society that did not produce art dealing with such subjects would, possibly, be one that did not produce worthy art at all--a dead society. The purpose of such art is not only entertainment but catharsis; it provides a means of vicariously dealing with our fear. I can enjoy the craftsmanship alongside the purpose, while not forgetting they are two different things.

Q. In the Answer Man recently, you discussed scenes in previews that differ from the same scenes in the final movie print, and whether studios deliberately shoot scenes for a trailer that aren't intended for the film. In the original "Home Alone," I had a brief role as a grocery store manager. I was in the background at a computer while the cashier spoke to Macauley Culkin. Then the scene was reshot with me standing next to the cashier and speaking the lines. The latter version was used in the movie's trailers, and as a lead-in for TV interviews with cast members. It was even shown on the Academy Awards, as a lead-in to Culkin as a presenter. But it was not in the movie. Whatever their reasons for doing this, I am grateful to the producer and director; the speaking part enabled me to join the Screen Actor's Guild. (Richard J. Firfer, Chicago). A. I suppose this is a reflection of the larger tendency of studios to make previews reflect the movie they wish they had made, rather than the one they actually did make. Remember the ads for the Richard Gere movie about "Mr. Jones," which was a tragedy about mental illness? The previews and the TV ads made it look like an upbeat comedy.

Q. I recently bought "Clerks" on laserdisc, and was shocked at the original ending, which was included among the bonus outtakes. The movie continues after the ending of the theatrical release. Dante is behind the counter, doing the day's books, when a robber enters the store, surprises him, pulls out a gun, and without a word, blows him away. After the assailant empties the register and leaves, the film ends with a couple of long shots of Dante's bloody body crumpled behind the counter. During the credits, instead of music, all we hear is the very faint beep of the cash register. How would this film have been received had Kevin Smith not made the cut, and where would his movie career be today? (Dominic Armato, Burbank, Calif.)

A. I checked out the scene myself. It's as you described it. On the laserdisc's parallel soundtrack, Smith credits one of the movie's producers with talking him out of the fatal ending, and says that was probably the right thing to do. I agree. The death would have been gratuitous, and in violation of the tone of the rest the movie. And Kevin Smith would still be clerking.

Q. You wrote in a recent Answer Man, "I have never or rarely seen anyone in a movie objecting to anyone else's smoking." Have you forgotten that scene from "RoboCop 2" where the hero goes haywire and nearly blasts an innocent bystander for lighting up? Our local theater used the scene as a "No Smoking" announcement for a (blessedly) brief time. (Lucius P. Cook, Chicago)

A. Before he aims his death ray, does RoboCop say "Thank you for not smoking?"

Q. Gene Hackman has an uncanny resemblance to author Elmore Leonard in "Get Shorty", with the hair and the goatee. Coincidence or inside humor? (Eric M. Davitt, Toronto)

A. Not a coincidence, I suspect. I've met them both and was also struck by the similarity. For another inside joke, check out Alan Parker's "Angel Heart" (1987), where Robert De Niro, playing the devil, does a wicked impersonation of his friend Martin Scorsese.

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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