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Tinseltown author gets 'Down and Dirty,' indeed

Q. In the most recent Answer Man, you discussed the fact that Jennifer Connelly is photographed at the end of a dock or pier in "Dark City," "Requiem for a Dream" and "House of Sand and Fog." In a deleted scene on the DVD of "A Beautiful Mind," there is a sequence where Russell Crowe dreams of Jennifer Connelly running toward a dock on a lake. Dave Jacoby, Lafayette, Ind.

A. I'm beginning to have the same dream.

Q. I've been attending a series of silent films by the German director G.W. Pabst. While watching "Diary of a Lost Girl" (1929), I recognized a camera shot that is most often attributed to Conrad Hall (that of a face next to a window during rain, making it appear as if the raindrops are tears). Hall's use of that shot in "In Cold Blood" is certainly amazing, but it seems that the origin of that shot should be credited to the cinematographers Sepp Allgeier and Fritz Arno Wagner. I was amazed to find such a shot in a German film from the '20s. Charles Modica Jr., Los Angeles

A. There are more amazing shots in German films from the 1920s than in most new releases. That film and "Pandora's Box" made Louise Brooks a movie immortal. Thanks for the insight; Bertolucci's new "The Dreamers" quotes the shot, and I credited Hall.

Q. In your review of the mountain-climbing movie "Touching the Void," you mentioned that Joe Simpson recovered from his horrific injuries and began to climb again, and you hoped he would not have the experience of Citizen Kane, who "is going to need more than one lesson ... and is going to get more than one lesson." Simpson, in fact, did require further lessons. Subsequently, while climbing in the Dru, his ledge literally disintegrated beneath him, leaving him dangling in the void again with but shreds of gear. And a fall in the Himalayas left him again severely injured and needing rescue. Although his adventures after "Touching the Void" never quite reached the same level of desperation, his life has been in danger many times, as he recounts in his book, This Game of Ghosts. It is, however, a testament to the enduring spirit that lives in nearly all mountaineers that Simpson refused to let his experiences cow him off the vertical plane. Joe Lindsey, Boulder, Colo.

A. I have never seen a more horrifying experience on film than what his character undergoes in "Touching the Void." He must be equipped with parts that, in my case, are still on order.

Q. What was "Rosebud" in "Citizen Kane"? Gail Lehmann, Millbrook, Ala.

A. The sled that Charles Foster Kane left behind when, as a child, he was taken from parents and sent to a boarding school in the East. But why did Herman Mankiewicz, co-author of the screenplay, choose that particular word? He was at one time a confidant of Marion Davies, the mistress of William Randolph Hearst; their relationship is fictionalized in "Citizen Kane." And she told him that "Rosebud" was Willie's pet name for ... well, you know. Hearst was outraged when he saw the film, but how could he go public with his complaint?

Q. Regarding the remark that "Whale Rider" did not play in South Carolina, that is false. It may not have played at the main venues like you mentioned, but it did play at many smaller theaters in the Spartanburg/Greenville area, which is near Rock Hill. I saw it with my family and thought it was quite remarkable. I agree that we do not get many of the smaller movies at our major theaters, but they are trying. Recently "Monster" and "Lost in Translation" were playing right alongside mainstream fluff like "My Baby's Daddy" and "Catch That Kid." But, then you said "if Krispy Kreme refused to sell hot doughnuts in South Carolina, the populace would rise up in protest." Sure, there are many Krispy Kremes down here, one in every major city, if I had to guess, but there are a dozen McDonald's and Steak 'n Shakes in Chicago. Is there an explanation for the doughnut remark? Is this some bizarre implication that we're all doughnut-eating morons who don't appreciate quality films? Angela Bryant, Spartanburg, S.C.

A. I did not in any way mean to insult the citizens of the great state of South Carolina, many of whom wrote to inform me that "Whale Rider" did play in their areas. I was simply suggesting that when movie distributors red-line some markets and never open certain kinds of films there, moviegoers should protest as vigorously as if denied their Krispies. As for Steak 'n Shake -- no, there is not a single outlet in Chicago, but I have driven to the suburbs and as far as Kankakee, Champaign-Urbana, Michigan City, Ind., and Benton Harbor, Mich., to dine in the finest fast-food restaurant in the world. Their motto has a universal profundity: "In Sight, It Must Be Right!" You know how on the Letterman show, Dave sometimes whispers in a guest's ear at the end of a segment? Whenever I'm on the show, he recites Steak 'n Shake's "four ways to enjoy," which are, of course, Car, Table, Counter and (their spelling) Takhomasak.

Q. I've been reading Peter Biskind's latest book, Down and Dirty Pictures, about the rise of Miramax and Sundance. He details an alleged encounter between you and Todd Haynes at a film festival where he presented his movie "Poison." The book quotes Christine Vachon (an independent producer) giving her recollection. Apparently, Haynes introduced himself to you, saying, "Hi, I'm Todd Haynes." You said, "Who the hell is Todd Haynes?" at which point he said that he had directed "Poison."

The book quotes Vachon as saying that upon hearing that "Ebert literally snatched his hand back." The thing is, I know that, you liked Haynes' "Safe," and I thought you were a Haynes fan. What's the story here? Nicholas Jarecki, New York City

A. Biskind has a way of massaging his stories to suit his agenda. Regarding his previous book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Steven Spielberg told me, "Every single word in that book about me is either erroneous, or a lie."

I contacted Biskind's source, Christine Vachon, for her memory of that meeting with Todd Haynes. She writes me: "At those Independent Spirit Awards (a million years ago it seems like) we had been told that you were not a fan of the film. Todd did introduce himself to you. I remember you appeared a bit flustered. I did not say that you said 'who the hell is Todd Haynes.' And I certainly do not remember saying 'you pulled your hand away.' I told the story -- innocently, I thought -- in the context of how far Todd and I had come with our little film. We'd heard you didn't like it, so it was an uncomfortable encounter -- but absolutely not in the mean-spirited context Biskind put it in.

"I have not talked to Peter Biskind since the publication of the book. He has not returned my calls. There were several things he quoted me as saying that I felt were taken out of context, like calling my longtime partner Ted Hope a 'thuggish frat boy' -- yikes!

"My biggest disappointment in the book (besides the tedium of one Bad Harvey story after another) was that there was absolutely no sense of the pleasure of seeing the films themselves. I remember seeing some movies at Sundance (like "The Hours and the Times") and being stunned and excited. Seems that the book should have had you rooting for Miramax at least half of the time."

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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