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The 'Confederacy' conspiracy

Q: I recently found out that David Gordon Green's film "A Confederacy of Dunces," with Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore, has been canceled. Green is one of my favorite directors and I have high hopes for his career. What is the story behind the cancellation and what will this do to his career? Jonathan Warner, Evanston

A: At 30, David Gordon Green is one of the brightest talents of his generation, and the maker of three wonderful films ("George Washington," "All the Real Girls, "Undertow"). "A Confederacy of Dunces" would have been based on the cult novel by John Kennedy Toole about a quixotic New Orleans character. He responds:

"To the disappointment of many of us, 'Dunces' was put on hold last year. We had assembled the cast of my dreams (Will Ferrell, Lily Tomlin, Mos Def, Drew Barrymore, Olympia Dukakis, etc.) and I adopted New Orleans as my new home, but politics over the property rights -- torn between Miramax, Paramount, and various camps of producers -- put a weight on the project that wasn't creatively healthy to work within.

"The draft of the script by Scott Kramer and Steven Soderbergh did the novel justice, and also provided a healthy cinematic spotlight for these eccentric characters, but it didn't cater to a lot of the cliches or conditioning of contemporary American studio sensibilities. So I suppose the difficulty was even beyond the political baggage and paperwork, and stemmed in many ways from the manner in which I wanted the film to be executed.

"I believe in the dramatic foundation and comedic highlights of these characters and am not interested in the cartoon version of obvious comedy that has often been pushed for. I have yet to develop a project within the studio system that has been made, for whatever stubborn resistance to compromise on my part with the machine.

"That being said, many of the rights issues have since expired and from what I am told, Paramount holds all consideration on their own shoulders. That at least simplifies the objective. I am hopeful, with the new names and faces over there under Brad Grey, that Kramer, Soderbergh and I can again arm-wrestle some enthusiasm. Scott Kramer is the die-hard producer who has been with the project since before the book's publication.

"The history of the book and various efforts for a filmed version make an epic of their own. (I would have loved to see the Harold Ramis-directed early '80s take with John Belushi, Ruth Gordon and Richard Pryor). My hope is that we get our paws on the flick, and Kramer writes his memoirs of the whole deal."

Q. A recent question about George Lucas' revisions on the "Star Wars" DVDs has me wondering: What would Andrew Sarris say? Lucas' constant tinkering (or tampering) with the original trilogy prompts some interesting questions about the auteur theory; can an auteur be faulted for violating his own work?

If a director claims authorship of a film as stridently as Lucas has, why shouldn't he be allowed to refine it? I don't mean to champion Lucas' changes to Episodes IV-VI, some of which I find harmless and others distracting, but I see in his continuing changes an exciting example of the auteur theory being put to the test. How much of the film can Lucas still claim as his own after the original release? Many fans scorn his updated versions as travesties, and although I sympathize, I think they tread a fine line. Michael McGinnis, Warren, Mich.

A. I forwarded your question to Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who is America's foremost advocate of the auteur theory. He replies: "I have not yet seen the latest 'Star Wars,' but I doubt that it will shake the auteurist credit George Lucas deserves for the entire series. The idea that an auteur can be disqualified by the changes that are made in his work, whatever that means, strikes me as bizarre. My own feeling -- and this I have felt from the beginning of the 'Star Wars' series -- is that the genre itself leaves something to be desired. I have never been taken with Mr. Lucas' later conceits, but I did have a favorable reaction to 'American Graffiti.' I simply haven't thought about the 'Star Wars' phenomenon for a long time. It's a fact of life and business, and I don't see any point in arguing with the man who's made billions in the industry. I just find so many more things in the cinema more interesting."

Q. In your review of "House of D," you made fun of a conversation taking place at the Women's House of Detention in Greenwich Village, between an inmate and someone on the sidewalk. When I arrived in the Village in 1963, I was surprised to see conversations regularly taking place between inmates on upper floors and, usually, husbands and children on the street. It is unlikely I will ever see this film, but I think on this score you owe the writer-director an apology. Michael Levin, New Mexico

A. So I do, although the distance from the upper floor to the street looks too far for voices to carry.

Q. Either someone at your Web site has a great sense of humor or the automated Google ads are programmed to create creepy coincidences from time to time. In your review of "House of Wax," you wrote, "There is an eerie sequence in which a living victim is sprayed with hot wax and ends up with a finish you'd have to pay an extra four bucks for at the car wash." Below your review one of the ads offered "Wholesale Candle Wax." Joel Meza, Mexicali, Mexico

A. I searched other promising titles for strange ad combos, but the Google software seems to do a fairly good job of matching appropriate ads to the reviews. Below "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," however, was an ad asking "Was Apollo 11 real?"

Q. I am a liberal Democrat but am bothered by what appears to be a bias in your reviews of some films by African Americans. I think you are being more generous because the filmmaker is black. Spike Lee's "She Hate Me" is an example. Very few reviewers liked it, you had tons of criticisms of it in your quite negative review, yet in the end, you gave it a positive rating. Now I find myself prone to look at additional reviews of movies by African Americans to judge whether or not you appear to be demonstrating this bias. Ward Reynolds, Mount Pleasant, S.C.

A. My review of "She Hate Me" is not negative at all, although it predicted most other reviews would be, and listed the reasons. I am proud of that review because I wasn't content with level-one criticism of obvious "faults," but assumed that Spike Lee made the film he wanted to make, and tried to figure out what that film was, and why.

Most critics just dismissed it as implausible or idiotic; I anticipated it would get a 20 on the Tomatometer, and I was right on the money. But the movie was also provocative and deliberately non-PC. I believe Lee made his points in an indirect and daring way. As for whether I'm too easy on African-American films, may I forward your words to those who accused me of being a racist after my review of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"?

Q. Re the discussion of "Down and Derby" and dads helping their children build Pinewood Derby entries: When my son was a Scout, the local organization had two divisions, one for the Scouts and one for the parents. That way, the Scouts could learn the value of competition and the fun of building the car, and the dads (myself included) could have some fun, too. One dad designed his car in the local Lockheed wind tunnel, but the winner of the division was a car with a plastic Kermit sticking up out of the cockpit. It was built by one of the moms. Ralph Burkey, Fort Worth, Texas

A. Case closed.

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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