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Archive for March 23rd, 2018

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A Top Ten Celebration by Brian E. Wilson

In the true spirit of Gene Siskel (the late great movie critic from the Chicago Tribune) and Roger Ebert (the late great movie critic from the Chicago Sun-Times), I decided to put this appreciation of their television work in the form of a Top Ten list. Without any further delay (Siskel & Ebert would want me to get right to the good stuff), here are My Top Ten Reasons for Liking, Really Really Liking Watching Siskel & Ebert Praise, Pan, Discuss, and Argue About Movies.

1. The Pairing of Their Personalities Intrigued and Entertained. You probably know the story of Siskel & Ebert’s broadcast history. They started out in 1975 on WTTW, a Chicago-based PBS affiliate. The show called Sneak Previews became successful and PBS put them into national syndication. In 1982 they left PBS for another syndication deal, and the resulting show was called At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. In 1986 the Mouse came knocking and Buena Vista helped them create Siskel & Ebert & the Movies. Despite the name changes, the show’s format stayed the same. The critics would review a number of movies, show clips, give one of their famous thumbs ups or thumbs downs to each film. Along the way they dedicated special shows to such topics as underrated actors. While preparing for this essay, I went on YouTube and looked at a bunch of their televised reviews. And I was so happy to discover that hearing them discuss movies still entertains even when they are talking about pictures decades old. There was simply something special about this collaboration even though they reportedly (and famously) didn’t get along. They didn’t talk down about the movies they discussed. The tension between them added a real zip to the conversations. They seemed to genuinely surprise each other, in both good ways and in ways that clearly frustrated them. During the ’80s and ’90s other critics (including Michael Medved, Jeffrey Lyons, Neal Gabler, Rex Reed, Dixie Whatley) were paired up in attempts to duplicate their success, but it was all to no avail. Siskel and Ebert, from rival Chicago newspapers, who initially couldn’t stand each other, had a peerless chemistry.

2. They Championed Under the Radar Films. As a budding cinephile growing up in a small town with little access to independent and world cinema, I learned about a wide variety of movies from them. They did not just stick to studio releases. Thanks to them I heard about such films as Errol Morris’ pet cemetery documentary Gates of Heaven, Gregory Nava’s searing El Norte, Jerzy Skolimowski’s great 1982 drama Moonlighting, among others. After I moved to progressively bigger cities, I had more access to the films they highly recommended, such as Carl Franklin’s blistering One False Move and Steve James’ powerful basketball documentary Hoop Dreams. They used their show as a platform to celebrate works that otherwise had little exposure. (more…)

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