At The Movies Retrospective Pt. 4: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

We’ve come to the end of my four-part At The Movies recap, which tragically marks the end of Everyview editor-in-chief and highly decorated Vietnam Conflict veteran Zac Pritcher’s bitter and sarcasm-laced plugs on Facebook. You’re the one who made me keep going, dickhole!

But anyway, this capper is dedicated to two individuals who are actually very worthy of being written about, as they were responsible for bringing movie criticism into mainstream America, and had a major role in helping expand the reach of art house cinema.

They were Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, perhaps the two most important media critics of all-time.

In a partnership which dates all the way back to 1975, Siskel and Ebert would become an institution over the next 25 years, with their signature “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down” review system. Though criticized by some as being too simplistic, each verdict was given after rigorous debate, in which the reasoning for their verdict was plainly articulated.

Now, making an interesting show out of this type of format is no easy task (see here and here). But what made Siskel and Ebert such an enjoyable tandem was their burning passion for debate as well as their complete and utter comfort in belittling each other on the air.

One of the greatest elements of the original At The Movies was that it contained an element of combustibility which was very exciting to watch. These guys had no qualms about discrediting each other and wouldn’t hesitate to go after an opinion they perceived as wrong.

Also, thanks to YouTube we have been given footage which shows they weren’t afraid to go after each other behind the scenes either.

But all this stuff has been documented before, and while I won’t deny I took great pleasure in seeing these two men tear into each other in petty ways, it wasn’t my favorite part of the show. As a person who takes great joy in lamenting the things he hates, what I have always enjoyed most about this show was hearing these two go on tangents against movies they despise.

From Siskel saying the movie She’s Out Of Control “made me so depressed I actually thought about quitting my job as a film critic, feeling as though the movies had abandoned me,” to Ebert calling the stunningly awful North “a movie that makes me cringe even as I sit here thinking about it,” were never afraid to mince words in order to keep people from wasting their money on inferior films.

It was even enjoyable to hear them team up, such as when complaining about the “centuries lost to the human race” created by I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.

While many people have their own favorite Siskel and Ebert moments, for me, the topper was their discussion of the brutally awful 1987 Bill Cosby comedy Leonard Part 6, which I have included below. Pay special attention to the 1:24-1:34 moment, as Ebert’s face towards the end is as funny as funny gets:

The show in its original format ended at the beginning of 1999 when Siskel, who began to look like a tragically lifeless and lobotomized version of his former self, died of a brain tumor, bringing to an end not only the greatest movie review show in history, but marking the end of one of TV’s all-time great duos.

Luckily a few years back, thanks to a major rebooting of atthemoviestv.com, nearly every review the show ever produced became viewable online. For someone like me (pretentious and friendless), it proved to be a fantastic portal into the past, and I will fully admit to having spent countless hours going back and watching hundreds of old shows, even though some of them were dedicated to ripping a lot of my favorite childhood movies (Little Giants is about as “unnecessary” as oxygen).

Final Words:

Though the show would continue on in some form right up until August of 2010, no series of hosts would ever bring the same vigor to the proceedings as Siskel and Ebert. While Ebert has stated he plans to bring the show back in some capacity in the near future, it’s hard to imagine how he could go about doing so in his current condition (for those of you unaware, he has no jaw, and thus, cannot speak).

But regardless of what happens, At The Movies will always remain an important piece of television for many people, and while the on-air product has become inferior in recent years, it will still be an adjustment for many people who made a point of taking time out of their weekend to decipher what under-the-radar movies may be worth checking out.

Well, I’m finally done with this dreadful experiment. Thanks to the (very) few of you who stuck with it to the end and I hope it wasn’t a complete waste of your time.

Similar Reviews:

Lyons and Mankiewicz
Phillips and Scott
Ebert and Roeper

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