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Film . . . Naw! : Movie Audiences Add to a List of Reasons Not to Believe Jean-Luc Godard's Statement, 'Cinema Is Truth 24 Times a Second'

November 08, 1987|JACK SMITH

IN WRITING RECENTLY of what I call "improbable conveniences" in movies--scenes that skip through the tedious details of real life--I overlooked a few.

I mentioned actors who always pull a couple of loose bills from a pocket to pay their restaurant or bar bills, never wait for the check, never wait for change; fares who pay off cabs with loose bills, without asking the fare, counting their own money or waiting for change.

"Add to your list," writes Ken Robinson, "those scenes where the actor must look up a word in the dictionary or a number in the phone book.

"The book always opens to not more than one page away from the required one. The searching finger moves smoothly, swiftly and surely to the desired information; no back-and-forth, no zigzagging . . . ."

Dick Anderson of Oxnard notes a cliche of cop-show chases: "El Stupido is the cretin who, being chased by the evil guys in their evil car, lets them pull alongside him and either shotgun him to death or run his car off the highest cliff in California. Never once does it occur to him that a quick slam of the brakes, a U-turn, and he's off the hook. Not once . . . ."

Rosalie Shenfield of Inglewood observes that "nobody ever has to use the toilet. A man comes home drunk and they put him right into bed." (Isn't that poetic license?)

People who are being held at gunpoint always ask to use the bathroom so they can escape through a window, but it never works.

Rose Van Dyke recalls another of the most common of improbable conveniences: "No matter what the movie or who the character may be, if they're in an automobile there is always a parking place right in front of their destination . . . . Talk about suspended credibility. In this town more than any other, that does it!"

I also complained about scenes in which cops leave their ignition keys in squad cars so crooks can make off in them. "I cannot believe," I said, "that any policeman would walk away from a police car with the ignition key in it."

I am corrected by Gloria Rundle, who also questions my use of the word policeman . "I've been a deputy sheriff in San Diego County for almost nine years," she says, "and have trained patrol officers . . . ."

Her explanation: "It is common for police officers to leave the ignition key in their cars with the motors running, especially on traffic stops. The police radio, the emergency overhead lights and the headlights all drain the car battery. It is really embarrassing to return to a patrol car to find a dead battery, and it is potentially dangerous if the traffic stop deteriorates and the officer needs the radio to request assistance or needs to move the car."

What I had in mind was the patrol car left parked in front of the station or some other building while the officer goes inside. But Deputy Rundle's answer sounds authentic.

"Actually," she adds, "the worst situation is returning to a locked patrol car with the keys in the ignition and the motor running . . . ."

No police officer would be dumb enough to do that, would she?

Charlton Heston, an authority of another kind, explains his side of the improbable convenience:

"Theater makes the same demand: The greatest characters ever created speak in iambic pentameter. Strangled by Othello, Desdemona still chokes out a dying speech.

"On film, I've hailed my share of instantly available cabs and paid them with a bill or (lately) two. The idea is that the audience doesn't want to see the hero fighting five minutes for a cab; they want to see what happens . Actually, a lot of my films are laid in centuries where the audience doesn't know what it was really like anyway." (That's Moses talking.)

"Phone calls," he goes on, "always defeated us, though. Dialing seven digits takes the time it takes. Modern push-button dialing is saving audiences and actors hours of screen time every month. We may hesitate at cutting Desdemona's death speech, but we can reach out and touch someone on screen a lot faster than before."

Several readers were sharp enough to notice that my imaginary hero paid off a cab at the equally imaginary intersection of Sunset and Selma in Hollywood.

William S. Koester of Upland was among those who pointed out that Sunset and Selma never meet. "Of course," he adds, "as familiar as you are with the streets and byways of our beloved Hollywood, you already realize that . . . ."

Ah, land of make-believe!

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