When I first came to Chicago, I used to watch the Siskel and Evert movie reviews. As I recall, they did three movies per half-hour segment, with each guy giving their assessment and then, often, arguing about the movies. I’m not sure that they really liked each other, but they surely respected each other, and both had a terrific knowledge of and acumen about movies. (The show ran from 1975-1999.)
I haven’t seen any better critics on television, and, sadly, they’re gone. Siskel died in 1999 of brain cancer at only 53, and Ebert (the one with glasses below, died at 70 of salivary gland cancer in 2013.
It was a don’t miss show if you loved movies; Gene Siskel was the head film critic for the Chicago Tribune, and Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times. So here we had the two biggest film titans in town battling it out about whether a movie got two thumbs up, two thumbs down, or one thumb up and one thumb down. As I said, these shows got heated, and the passion of both men for films was overwhelming. (You can still read Ebert’s reviews online.)
Reader Rich sent me this short clip showing Siskel and Ebert giving advice to young critics about how to review movies. And this time they agree: give your own reactions, not what you think people want to hear, get deeply personal in relating your reaction, and, above all, avoid “political correctness”: take risks and don’t truckle to public opinion in the hope that readers will like you because they share your politics or ideology. This bit is particularly appropriate now, though few modern critics take their advice.
And what goes for movie criticism here goes for writing in general.
This 8.5-minute video clip should not be missed, and gives you an idea of what it was like to see the two discuss movies. I give it two thumbs up.