Sunday, March 6, 2011

How Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel Made Me A Movie Snob and Why I Love Them For It


I love movie reviews. I can't remember how long I've been reading them, but to this day as soon as a movie is out, I start scrolling for reviews. Once I've seen a movie, I'm sure to seek out more reviews whether professional ones or everyday people spouting out their opinions. It's kind of a sadistic tendency because I feel almost hurt if someone trashes a movie that has left me in ectasies, but I also get the pleasure of nodding smugly in agreement when someone expresses the same views I had. Yes, I am a movie snob, and I make no apologies about it.

So it's not surprising to me that I started watching At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. I'm not sure when I first caught it or how I managed to keep watching it. It aired early in the morning. I had to remember to get up in time to see it, so I often slept through it. Sometimes it did not air at all. Sometimes they changed the time completely. I hated missing it. How would I know what movies were coming out and what were the best ones to watch?

I have this theory that when you're little you watch anything. As long as it's on television, you're happy to view it, and there's no discernment between good and bad. It's television: it's all good. As you grow older, there's a point when you get a revelation. One day, you look at the show you've watched religiously every Thursday and realize it's awful, that it's boring, that it's generally unpleasant, and (gasp!) you just don't have to waste your time watching this profound dreck. This is what happened to me anyway, and I suspect it's happened to a lot of us.

Memories are hazy, but I believe I discovered Ebert and Siskel at about the time when my taste in movies and television began to become more refined. The show's format had them both giving their reviews of a movie, and debating over their opinions. They were a joy to watch, an example of intelligent spirited debate on a topic I keep close to my heart. Whether they agreed or disagreed, it was always fascinating to ponder what they said. And they left me with a lot to think about. I'm not sure if I would have considered watching foreign language films if it wasn't for them. (Imagine I might never have seen Amelie.) I remember listening in fascination while they discussed how choppy and fast paced certain films were and how filmmakers increasingly don't depend on long, lingering shots anymore. (I agree with the former. Not sure if I'm mature enough to appreciate the latter.) Most importantly, they made me more aware of the "smaller" movies out there. The ones that often did not get much attention but could give the most payoff when it came to plot, acting and after impressions.

This is why I tend to consider myself a movie snob. It's me accepting the perception I sense from some people when I am critical of a movie, and I get the eye rolling or the heated admonishment that I shouldn't overthink films. I admit that the overanalyzing can take away from a movie experience. Maybe I am too quick to pick up on faults or inconsistencies or to point out that something just wasn't funny. But I comfort myself that I'll never be so clever that I am above liking silliness. I enjoy many a work of nonsense, and I am sure Siskel and Ebert appreciated those as well. And since I am discerning about what I watch now, I feel that I have often avoided much agony by recognizing that a certain movie might be an assault on my tiny brain before I watch it. Fortunately when I am wrong, there are reviews out there to tell me different. When I am right, I get the pleasure of....being right, and once more I thank Gene and Robert for that.

When Gene Siskel died some years ago, I was very sorry. A very intelligent human being was gone, and I miss his reviews. It's good to know that Roger Ebert, despite numerous health issues, is still around writing his reviews though he no longer expresses them on television. He remains extremely prolific on his website, his blog, his twitter, you name it.

He is still one of my favourite reviewers. He's not as grandiose as the writers in Entertainment Weekly for instance. They're another of my favourite sources for reviews, but their comments often go over my head, and I feel that I am reading the comments of film students, and far greater film snobs than I, and I'll never be up to those standards. Ebert's reviews are very intelligent, but they are clear and well thought out and understandable to amateurs like me. I'm never in doubt of what he feels about a particular film, and I like his way of expressing himself even when I don't agree with him. I'm glad he's still around because who else will guide me in my movie watching journey? I'll always appreciate him and Gene Siskel cause they expanded my view of movies and taught me to value them in ways I might never have considered. I'm eternally grateful.

Here's a sample of Siskel and Ebert on their show.

*Siskel and Ebert talking with fellow reviewers Telly Monster and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. Oscar cleverly and hilariously goaded them into an argument as to whether a movie could deserve a "Thumbs Sideways" rating. Wonderful.

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