April 4, 2013. It was the middle of the afternoon and I was sending out some e-mails. I decided to briefly check my Facebook and came across the news, through a friend, that Roger Ebert had passed away. When I read that, I just sat there, eyes widen and mouth agape. I couldn’t believe it. I knew this day would come but still there was this sense of sadness that came over me. He’s been reviewing movies for 46 years and during that time we’ve all become accustomed to a Roger Ebert review whether it be through print or television. It became a tradition and to see that tradition end was just shocking and sad to me. This is why I wanted to take this time to pay tribute to a man who wasn’t just a film critic but who shared his voice about film that was so unique that you had to listen. I could easily write a biography about him and say where he grew up, when he won the Pulitzer Prize (and was the first critic to do so) and how/when started the show with the late great Gene Siskel, but that would boring. I wanted to talk about my own experience and share my voice, much like the man I’m talking about.
Growing up, whenever I would watch television and an ad would come on for a new movie, I would hear “Siskel and Ebert give it Two Thumbs Up!” That phrase always stuck in my mind and I would always look for it when a movie ad would pop up. I was born in 1989 so I didn’t get to fully experience watching the original “Siskel and Ebert” program when it originally aired. Instead, I started watching “Ebert and Roeper” when I was about 12 years old. I was flipping through channels one day and came across the show on ABC 7 one Sunday morning and got excited because I had not seen the show the before. So I watched and was just so entranced by what both Ebert and Roeper were saying. I mean I already had a love for film to begin with, but just listening to them discuss a movie and talk about why it was good or bad was just so fascinating. I had to find out more about the show.
At the time, I came across a website that had all their reviews from 1986 to the present day (2003 then) and it had individual reviews as audio clips. So, I would listen to these old reviews by Siskel and Ebert and it was so amazing finally be able to hear these reviews after all these years of hearing from TV ads just a little bit of what they had to say. It wasn’t a full show or even a video clip, but it was something. Then, a few years later the site started showing video clips of all these reviews and now, not only could I hear them, but I could see them too. I would watch these reviews for a good hour. I would always look up movies I grew up with or a movie that I wanted to see. I can’t say I always agreed with them but the discussion is what pulled me in. After seeing so many of these reviews, I started becoming more of a movie buff and a critic myself. Whenever I would go to the movies, I would write down my own little review of the movie and rating in a notebook (which I still have). With the show, they also exposed the audience to little known independent or foreign films that you wouldn’t hear about or watch otherwise. For example, in 2006 I saw Ebert and Roeper review a French film called “My Best Friend”. They talked so highly about it and plot sounded so interesting that I had to find it. So, I ordered it from Netflix and I was so pleased with the movie. I continued to discover these movies just by watching the program.
Pretty soon, with the advent of YouTube and later SiskelandEbert.org, FULL episodes of the original broadcast shows from all the way back to 1975 started being posted. It was like finding the Holy Grail. Now I could fully experience watching Siskel and Ebert from the very beginning. I started watching these episodes and now, after seeing so many, I feel like I was there when it first aired. Seeing them review movies that are now regarded as classics, such as “Rocky” or “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, was just incredible. I keep talking about Siskel and Ebert, but I realize I’m mentioning very little about Richard Roeper, who took the place of Gene Siskel after his death in 1999. This was the one I would watch on television. However, as great as Ebert and Roeper were together, it wasn’t always the same for me. It’s like Bert and Ernie. You can’t have one without the other. They both had this contagious passion for film and it showed in how they would argue, defend or go against a movie. It’s very hard to explain as to why anyone would watch these guys talk movies. There have been many critics on television reviewing movies, so why was this any different? Why am I taking the time to write about my experience of watching the show?
What makes this so different is that Roger Ebert, along with Gene Siskel and even Richard Roeper, talked about movies honestly. They didn’t try to sound smart or pretend to know what they were talking about. They gave an honest and unpretentious view on what they thought of a movie. If it was aimed for kids, they didn’t mind saying that they liked it and they would give a reason as to why they liked it. Plus, they were so entertaining to watch. Most television critics just simply talk to the camera or put little enthusiasm. Instead, they try to be something that they’re not and it becomes painful to watch. These guys always brought something fresh to every episode, which is why we tuned in.
Roger Ebert had this unique voice that will never be forgotten. Losing him is a great loss. I’ll miss reading his reviews, but we’ll always have the episodes of Siskel and Ebert to watch online. Now, both Siskel and Ebert are reunited once again, hopefully reviewing movies in the balcony in the sky. The last thing Roger Ebert wrote was “I’ll see you at the movies.” Yes, Roger. We will, indeed, for the balcony will never close.