Every Sunday there was one tradition in my house: If you're thinking church, well you're wrong on that front. No, I watched Siskel and Ebert.One was from the Chicago Tribune (Siskel) and Ebert was from the Chicago Sun Times. After they introduced each other, the ball got rollign. They were there to talk about movies. You couldn't find any other people who loved movies like they did. They knew what worked and what didn't, who were their favorite actors/writers/directors and who weren't. I didn't always agreed with them, but God, they were fun to watch.
It always felt like they were always on one station or another; at first it was PBS on the show Sneak Previews. They looked rumpled and unHollywood, which was the charm. Back then Ebert wore sweater vests. Ah, sweater vests! He looked good in them as he was destroying the latest movie Bo Derek was in. Siskel usually wore rumpled shirts with blazers. He looked like the college professor that always scared you because he was scary smart and usually knew when they were being handed a line when your essay wasn't turned in on time.
There were times I did question their judgment. For instance, they gave thumbs down on Savannah Smiles. I for one was just floored. I'd just seen it and loved it. An impish girl runs away. She attaches herself to two middle aged men who happen to be ex cons and they grow to love her. How in the world could they not like that? Of course, watching it years later I sat on my couch as the credits rolled thinking "Oh man, Siskel and Ebert were right on this one. That was just awful." They also didn't like Pretty in Pink. Guys, how could you not like Pretty in Pink? How could you not like Molly Ringwald? Not liking Duckie is just plain wrong. And Blaine, oh dear darling Blaine! (Yeah, big disagreement on that part still)
The best times was when they fought. When they disagreed on a movie, watch out. For if one loved it and one hated it, they could debate and debate and get so angry you almost wanted to say to them "Don't fight!" Of course it was good television; they knew it was good television. They knew they had to give their audience something to look forward to every week.
In 1998 Siskel's speech became slower, almost slurred. I noticed and became concerned. The same thing happened to Michael Zaslow (Roger on Guiding Light) and months later he was diagnosed with ALS. For Siskel it was a brain tumor. He had an operation then came back to discuss movies.Ebert had to pick up the slack a lot.
One rainy Saturday I was at the library working when I got an email. Gene Siskel just died. I thought oh no. I also thought (and it was mean) wow, he's never going to live down the fact his last pick for best film of 1998 was Babe 2: Pig of the City. I remember feeling sad the rest of the day. A woman who was refusing to pay her ten dollar fine worked my nerves; I wanted to yell at her "Gene Siskel is dead and your biggest problem is you have library fines? Just pay it already!"
A new person was brought in; Richard Roeper. I then thought of the show 'Ebert and the New Guy" but kept watching. They were the ones that talked about DVD's. Forget laserdics, DVD's were the wave of the future. They raved about a performance of a relatively unknown actress named Hillary Swank in the movie Boys Don't Cry. They hated with a passion all the movies Rob Schneider acted in.
My last semester at community college I took a class in how to write movie reviews. I started to really get how Ebert did it; bring your personal life to a film by mentioning it, and how it relates to the movie. It was no wonder he won a Pulitizer years before; he deserved it.
In 2006 Ebert was again diagnosed with cancer (he had before in 2002) This time it was more serious. Through countless surgeries, he lost his ability to eat or drink (A feeding tube would be inserted) But even worse for a television personality, his ability speak. He was missed; even Rob Schnider sent him flowers.
But he had to work, of course he had to work. Maybe not in telelvision, but writing. And blogging. Of course reviewing. His wife Chaz started going with him to the movies. He joined twitter and has been incredibly gracious tweeting Eleanor Cooney's wonderful blogs. He started to be photographed and what was startling of course his jaw was missing. When I first saw pictures of him I thought whoa, how utterly brave.
Now Ebert has to be brave again: the cancer has returned. He announced today he was taking a leave of presence. Not leaving, but now just selecting what he writes about. All I can say is: right on, Roger. Fight the good fight. We will see you at the movies, and we will make sure a seat is saved for you.
After I wrote this, I was going to link it on twitter. RIPebert was trending. I am at a library, writing this. It's raining. And I'm crying, rememebring how life is a case of deja vu.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries