Roger Ebert was not my favorite film critic, not by a long shot. His reviews, while sometimes insightful, were usually too glib and shallow for my taste. Like fans of the Beatles, I think everyone had their favorite. I was more of a Siskel guy. That said, there’s absolutely no denying the influence, in a very good way, that he and Gene had on film criticism and, I would even say, films in general. Today the format seems almost comical, two guys in the balcony showing clips of movies and giving a thumbs up or thumbs down. Two little Caesars determining the fate of films, whether they would live or die at the box office. Except it wasn’t really like that.
I can remember with vivid clarity the first time my family and I watched Sneak Previews. It really was revolutionary. I mean, who the hell read movie reviews in the paper? You looked at the ads that the theaters had in the paper and, if there was a star you liked or a premise that looked good, you ponied up your buck twenty-five (that’s right, a dollar and twenty-five cents to see, usually, a double feature) and took a chance. What Roger and Gene did was give you an actual preview, not in the Hollywood sense of seeing the whole picture, but taking the film review out of the paper and telling it to you in person, complete with clips from the films themselves. It really was genius. And far from killing movies with a thumbs down, it often had the effect of driving people to see them, just so we could share in the same experience as our friends Roger and Gene.
I miss Roger Ebert. I miss Gene Siskel. I miss seeing two guys who, in the beginning, had absolutely no use for each other, who could become incensed that the idiot across the aisle didn’t “get it,” and come to love each other in the process. It was their passion for films that we loved, their complete and utter genuineness, their bald and unvarnished honesty, and it was for their total commitment to the art of film that we watched them. I would love to believe in the fantasy that the two friends are back together now, discussing films again, but of course Roger believed no such thing. And neither do I. But they will always remain together in my memory, icons of the twentieth century, and will always have been a memorable part of my experience on this earth. Goodbye, Roger. I’m glad I knew ya.