Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Q. When it comes to titles for sequels, Hollywood loses count. The first "Rambo" film was "First Blood." Then followed "Rambo: First Blood II." But next came "Rambo III." What happened to "Rambo II?" Then there was "Mad Max," followed by "The Road Warrior," followed by "Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdrome." What happened to "Mad Max II?" Or why wasn't the third film "Road Warrior II: Beyond Thunderdrome?" Then came "Alien," "Aliens," and "Alien 3." "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" was followed by "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan," which was followed by "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock." The "Godfather" series is also not without its problems. The second film tells of the events leading up to the first film, as well as the events that happened after the first film. So should "The Godfather" have been "Godfather, Part II," and should "Godfather, Part II" have been "The Godfather, Parts I & III?" And then of course "The Godfather, Part III" would have been "Part IV." (Bruce Totten, Chardon, Ohio)
Q. Why can't a cable channel show the Oscar-nominated documentaries every year? (Scott Bevan Ford, Corvallis, OR)
A. Each documentary is produced by different people, with their own hopes for distribution and exhibition deals. Typically they went broke making it, and are in no mood to give it away just at the point when interest is running highest.
Q. In your new Roger Ebert's Book of Film there is a selection by Janet Leigh in which she denies reports that the title designer Saul Bass actually directed the famous shower scene in Hitchcock's "Psycho." This has sparked several letters to my Film 100 web site. I wrote that Hitchcock used Bass as a visual consultant on "Vertigo" and "North by Northwest" and that Bass so impressed the Master of Suspense with the storyboards for "Psycho's" shower sequence, that Hitchcock rewarded him by allowing Bass take the director's seat during the famous scene. Scouring through Bass obituaries, Hitchcock books, and Los Angeles Times archives, I found dozens of articles where crew members working the scene claimed Bass' account was correct. In your book, you leave the issue to Ms. Leigh, who was obviously there. But I wonder if her deference to the director has clouded her recollection. (Scott Smith, www.film100.com)
A. It seems unlikely that a perfectionist with an ego like Hitchcock's would let someone else direct such a scene. Janet Leigh was there every day and she is adamant, indeed furious, about Bass's claims to have directed it. "Absolutely not!" she writes. "I've said it in his (Bass's) face in front of other people....I was in that shower for seven days, and, believe you me, Alfred Hitchcock was right next to his camera for every one of those seventy-odd shots." And here is Hilton Green, the assistant director and cameraman: "There is not a shot in that movie that I didn't roll the camera for. And I can tell you I never rolled the camera for Mr. Bass." Also check out pages 100-110 of the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, by Stephen Rebello, in which he quotes numerous people who were on the set, and are certain Bass did not direct a single frame of the final film. Bass's participation may be one of those urban legends that gains credence because of the number of times it is repeated by people who learned it from each other.
Q. There are far too many theaters which, in trying to cut down their overhead, show films with the projection bulbs running at 50% to 75% of their intended strength--greatly increasing the life of the expensive bulb, but at the expense of the moviegoer, who DOES NOT SEE the film that was made, but a darker, murkier version. This is rampant. While working on a movie location here in Memphis, we have already found two theaters, comprising 16 screens, that do this routinely. Infuriating! Fraud! Moviegoers should first notify the Theater Manager, and ask for the Regional Manager's name and number and tell him too. At $5 to $9 a ticket, the moviegoer deserves to get to see the movie the producer intended they should. (Barry A. Toll, St. Petersburg, FL)
Q. Today's film credits include such banal things as: * who did the travel arrangements * who did the catering * who signed the film completion bond My question is, why does this appear in the film credits? Does it help to round out the soundtrack with enough time to play one more song? (Rob Rosenberger, O'Fallon, IL)
A. Everybody wants a little reflected glory. You somehow overlooked my favorite credit, for the "trout wrangler' in "A River Runs Through It."
Q. I am a fan of the letter-box format on video. I went all over town tonight to get a copy of "Independence Day" in letterbox and found none. With this movie, it's not the story, it's the special effects! The "pan and scan" version is missing a lot of neat stuff, chopped off of each shot. Is the general public so uneducated that it doesn't understand what they are missing? Am I alone out here? 20th Century fox just lost a sale. (Brett Peters, Tallahassee, FL)
A. Major video rental chains don't like letterboxing because, as I was told once, it's too difficult to educate the clerks to explain it to customers. Steve Feldstein of Fox Video says the widescreen version of "Independence Day" will probably be released in March of 1997. Strange, since it takes more time to pan-and-scan a movie than to simply transfer the existing widescreen version.
Q. You once wrote that you ''hated, hated, hated, hated, hated'' the zero-star movie "North." Has the zero-star "Mad Dog Time" eclipsed even that high standard? (Please Withhold My Name and Supply a Creative Pseudonym, Because I Work for the Chicago Tribune)
A. Dear Mark: When it comes to comparing zero-star movies, I am reminded of the Billy Preston song lyrics, "nothing from nothing leaves nothing." The Internet Movie Database, which catalogues some 25,000 films, asks its users to vote on the quality of each one. The IMDb recently released its "Bottom 100" of the worst movies of all time, of which the lowest-scoring ten were: "Manos, the Hands of Fate" (1966), "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (1964), "As Summers Die" (made for TV, 1986), "Leonard Part 6" (1987), "Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach" (1988), "Police Academy 6: City Under Siege" (1989), "Shadowhunter" (TV, 1993), "Slaughter of the Innocents" (1994), "Highlander II: The Quickening" (1991) and "Jaws: The Revenge" (1987). To put this into context, NONE of these films scored zero; the lowest score, on a 1-to-10 scale, was 2.1
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.