Friday, April 5, 2013

Rant #936: Thumb's Up

Yesterday, renowned film critic Roger Ebert lost his long battle with cancer.

Ebert was best known for his verbal sparring with fellow Chicago film critic Gene Siskel on "At the Movies" and various shows which pitted the two against each other, critiquing movies and at the same time, trying to one-up themselves.

It was entertaining television, and became must-see television just to see the two of them go at it.

They were rivals in print, writing for two Chicago-based rival newspapers, and they brought all of that verve to the TV screen.

Some say that movie critics are failed screenwriters or actors, and in Ebert's case, this might have been true.

Few remember that Ebert wrote the screenplay for arguably one of the worst films ever released by a major studio, "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," a Russ Meyer concoction, that was about the exploits of a female rock and roll group.

Even by 1970s standards--when sexuality on the screen had finally moved from adult movies to major motion pictures--this movie was bad, really bad, but has become something of a cult classic during the past 40-plus years.

After that fiasco--a period which Ebert actually always looked fondly upon--he stuck pretty much to movies, something he was very good at.

And on the show, when Ebert and/or Siskel gave a thumb's up to a movie, it was a stamp of approval, a film that you could go and see and enjoy.

A thumb's down could kill a film right then and there.

I think that the power of that show was that it was more than two professional film critics arguing about the merits of the latest films.

Neither was what one would call a matinee idol, and it was like you were arguing about how good a film was with your next door neighbor or your best friend. That is what those two brought to that show.

And even though it was a simple premise, they made it work.

I always found Siskel to be the slightly snobbish one, pointing to film as more than art, a very aloof character who thought he knew more than the average fellow about the movies.

Ebert, to me, was more the everyman, the guy who knew plenty about the movies but was more grounded than his fellow critic.

Siskel died several years ago, and Ebert carried on without his TV partner in various forms.

By the way, he is the only film critic with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

When the cancer hit, and it affected his jaw and his speaking, he was bright enough to use the newest technologies to keep his name prominent and his voice heard.

It was just announced earlier this week that Ebert's cancer had returned, and evidently, he went quickly.

So here's a thumb's up to Roger Ebert, who can now argue the virtues of film with his TV partner, Gene Siskel, once again.

I am sure the rivalry is still intact in the great beyond. They wouldn't have it any other way.

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