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Roger Joseph Ebert was an American film critic, historian, journalist, screenwriter , and author. .. In , Chinatown was probably better, in a different way, than Scenes from a Marriage. In , how could I rank Small Change above Taxi. Playboy Interview: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert When people ask me, “What is your relationship like?” the best answer I can give is, No human being alive has had more trouble with computers than Gene Siskel has. Playboy: Is it as bad . Gene Siskel theorized that Roger Ebert's alleged need to always be the two have been "described as the most real relationship on television.
How much of a landmark was it to appear on The Tonight Show? I would have to be on The Tonight Show a great many times before I would get over the shock of being interviewed by Johnny Carson.
When I saw Johnny walk through the door—it was a jaw drop for me. Then the band started to play. I was thinking, Get me outa here! We were so frightened. We were way out of our depth. I did all of the hick things in connection with that show. Since everything between you is so overly analyzed, how are you feeling right now about each other? And I think that he probably is kind of tired of working with me on occasion, too.
Like it or not, you two are linked like Siamese twins. I really, really, really resent references that seem to link us together as two halves of one opinion.
But the two of us are not in any way, shape or form a critical team. I think he must occasionally be called Ebert by somebody. People call me Siskel at least half of the time. The bad news is, nobody will know who you are. These are not issues to be annoyed over. Do you think that we would be sitting here talking with you if you were not a team? I think I have a real good fix on what the situation is. And every week, I separate myself from him; I have no problem with that. Do you pay much attention to your reviews being quoted in ads?
How often do you feel ambivalent about giving a film a thumbs up or a thumbs down? We have plenty of reviews that are somewhere around the middle. You just have to jump one way or the other because of this idiotic business of being able to vote only thumbs up or thumbs down.
Who are the critics who have most influenced you?
Kael with her enthusiasm and attention to detail and finding the relevant detail to illustrate the point. And Sarris for his Americanization of the auteur theory and giving these film directors their due as artists and as authors.
I like Stanley Kaufman, Manny Farber. Have studios or directors ever given you scripts to read? I have a form letter. A film critic is the last predator in the food chain. Roger, you spent your time farther down the food chain when you wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for director Russ Meyer in Fox just wants to dissociate itself from that film. Ford Fairlane is a failed attempt to deal with some of the same material in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which is a camp rock-and-roll horror exploitation musical.
How much did you get paid? Pretty good in Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens was the only other one produced. The way I handled it was to never review any other Russ Meyer movie after Vixens. As I became a national film critic, I got out of the screenplay business altogether. I thought it was gratuitously violent. I thought it was distasteful. That was my reaction to it. I gave it a negative review. I think it was pretty sensational. Even today it plays like gangbusters.
The good ones will let you run through bad ones for a long time. That picture had about five months of active life in my head. Die Hard 2 was another.
I sat there enthralled. You often bring up Do the Right Thing, Gene. What is it about that film that so captivated you? I particularly was impressed with it in the year that Driving Miss Daisy, a film allegedly about racial issues, was the most celebrated film of the year. Race is really the issue, and we will be judged on how we handle the racial issue in this country.
To me, Do the Right Thing is the picture that best reflects and illuminates the racial conflict in America. What has kept it fresh over the years? If Gene disagrees with me, I take it personally, and vice versa. We are still very competitive. For both of us. Did you know each other before you started doing a show together? We had had no meaningful conversation on any subject. We had just sort of glancingly observed each other.
The fact is that there was only one guy who could really hurt me professionally other than myself, and that was Roger, because he could beat me on a story. Or write a better review.
Roger is the guy I feared the most. Have you ever critiqued your show? Today, if I look back on tapes of the early shows, I find it startling that Gene and I agreed to work with a trained dog.
And I find it even more startling that we later agreed to substitute a trained skunk. I feel that something fundamental inside of me has changed in such a way that I could never again work on TV with a dog or a skunk. Both of them said that they would spend more time on a movie.
I think we should do that. I would like to see a show devoted to one film. We did it about ten years ago, and we ought to do it again. I think we could spend a little more time on detailed analysis. Let the argument go on a little longer, not make it so snappy. Let it get uncomfortable. This is two people talking about the movies.
Do you think most people are watching you because of your opinions or because of the potential for watching two people argue with each other on television? We probably agree seventy percent of the time. In the early days of television, there were open-ended talk shows with people like David Susskind, Irv Kupcinet and others on which people who disagreed with each other came on the air and fought.
Then, for a long time, that disappeared and there was all this blandness. Now you have some confrontational stuff on TV, especially on some of the cable stations. Is a movie on TV still a movie? The thing that is so wonderful about film and made such a big impression on me as a kid is the scale. You know all the theories: You run the movie, you control the lights.
The bigger the screen, the better the sound, the better the experience. The shoe-box theaters really hurt the movies. Roger, you won a Pulitzer Prize.
What did that mean to you? So I spent twenty-four months in suicidal depression before I won it myself. Gene, are you envious? I would have loved to win one. At the time Roger won his, we were in such a binary competition that it hurt.
We know that your competition is intense. How do you handle it? Once, we were doing Saturday Night Live for the first time. We were both pretty scared. It was live television. The rehearsal had gone badly. We had never worked off cue cards. We were blowing it left and right. It was just humiliating. Then it came time to cut lines. We were hostile and felt we were both going to go down in flames.
We did the show, and we did OK. The key thing you have to remember about Gene is that in situations involving fear, his defense mechanism involves anger. Before live audiences, he becomes extremely rigid and abrupt. We were in a room with a typewriter, and Gene grew concerned that the cuts would diminish his role. I started counting words to prove to him that that was not the case. So by the time we went on the air, we were both complete basket cases. What about your behavior during this?
You described my behavior, but what about your own?
I was the one with the typewriter who was writing the script. Gene was stalking around dictating. It happened most recently the last time we were on the Arsenio Hall Show. Gene was told by some functionary what we were supposed to do.
Later, the executive producer gave us different instructions. When I tried to inform Gene, he said that he already knew exactly what he was supposed to do. That is what he often does.
My way to deal with this is to have no contact with him whatsoever until we go out to do such a show. What was the all-time low in your relationship for each of you? Roger taught me a rummy game on an airplane once. It involved a discard pile and a meld pile. As soon as he taught me the game, I began beating him regularly. At one point, he thought that I had discarded something when I had just conveniently put something down on the little plastic tables they have on airplanes.
It became such a big deal with him. He starts raising his voice: I was in shock. The stakes we were playing for were pennies. That was an all-time low, because it was so trivial. We were once on the Letterman show. We go back downstairs. The original limousine is still waiting. The second limousine has not arrived. Gene gets into it and tells the driver to take him to the art gallery. I want to go to the airport. The second limousine never arrived and I took a taxi to the airport.
Did you confront Gene about it? Oh, I talk to him. He will not respond. He just goes into the stone-faced routine. He has often said that when we get mad, I explode and he implodes. The madder I am, the louder I get; the madder he is, the quieter he gets. My recollection is that I had a limited amount of time to get where I was going. I had been told to take that limousine, and they were ordering another limousine for Roger. There was time for him to make it to the airport. I felt under duress, because he was getting angry.
When he gets angry, it can be very unpleasant. I felt bad doing it. Which of us do you think has a greater need to always be right? To be diplomatic about this, we would say that perhaps Gene wants to be right more but that you think you are right more. I have more innate confidence in the fact that I am right. After all these years, Roger, have you changed to outmaneuver Gene? I think I was a sweeter and more trusting guy earlier on.
I always feel that Gene is thinking of the angle, so I have to think of the angle, too. And I always feel like I lose. He always gets the angle on me. He gets the limousine. But you got the Pulitzer Prize. And he gets Spy magazine. He manipulated Spy magazine. A lot of his behavior may come out of military school. I was told, apparently, while I was watching a baseball game—and I denied it. I thought she was still alive for a significant time after she was dead. I used to pray for her to get better, after she was dead.
I would walk eight blocks to the theater every Saturday with my friends. A Mediterranean-themed palace with lighthouses and twinkling stars on the ceiling. Red velvet all over the joint.
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I remember the colors were richer than I had seen before. I remember being taken to a drive-in to see A Streetcar Named Desire. I remember being in the back seat and hearing people on the screen yell and scream. The movies, there was something potent there. Admission was a quarter and I was given two quarters so I could buy my refreshments.
That was the first time in my life I was really turned loose. I could choose my food. The movie with the strongest emotional pull of my youth—and it has to do with my psychological history—was Dumbo. The separation from the mother was terrifying to me. It was like my whole ego was riding right on his trunk when he had to fly and believe in that mouse. I felt that I had big ears and I think most people feel that they have big ears stashed somewhere in their life.
For nine cents, you got a double feature, color cartoons, a newsreel, a serial, the coming attractions, the advertisements and, twice a year, Dan Dan the Yo-Yo Man came and had a yo-yo contest. You could win a Schwinn bicycle. I wanted to be a yo-yo professional. He died of lung cancer inwhen I was a freshman in college.
He had been an electrician at the University of Illinois and my mother, who died three years ago, was a bookkeeper. Two weeks before my father died, I won the Associated Press sportswriting contest for the state of Illinois. Because he knew that I won that, that award is really more important to me than the Pulitzer Prize. How different are movies today from when you were kids? When I went to movies as a teenager, we went to see what adults did.
Now adults go to the movies to see what teenagers do. People over the age of twenty-one hardly ever make love in the movies anymore. I loved that picture and have seen it ten times. What did it cost you at auction?
In terms of what I was prepared to pay, it was a bargain. But now, when you ask people who starred in those, nobody says Jack Nicholson. The dominant image of Nicholson for many people is the Joker and the Laker games. Here is a man who, to his everlasting credit, gave us a portrayal of a modern American man that was unique.
He made these pictures that really show an alienated modern guy in an exciting way. Not by the rules and regulations, but by the principles. For example, in the matter of abortion, I am pro-choice, but by personal choice would have nothing to do with an abortion of a child of my own. I believe in free will, and believe I have no right to tell anyone else what to do. Their dictums strike me as lacking in the ability to surprise. They have been leading a holding action for a millennium. I kept this to myself.
I never discussed it with my parents. My father in any event was a nonpracticing Lutheran, until a deathbed conversion that rather disappointed me. Did I start calling myself an agnostic or an atheist? I would not want my convictions reduced to a word. During all the endless discussions on my blog about evolutionintelligent design, Godand the afterworld, numbering altogether thousands of comments, I have never named my beliefsalthough readers have freely informed me that I am an atheistand agnosticor at the very least a secular humanist — which I am.
How I Believe In God Let me rule out at once any God who has personally spoken to anyone or issued instructions to men. That some men believe they have been spoken to by God, I am certain. I believe mankind in general has a need to believe in higher powers and an existence not limited to the physical duration of the body. I believe mankind feels a need to gather in churches, whether physical or social. I sit in them not to pray, but to gently nudge my thoughts toward wonder and awe. I am aware of the generations there before me and the reassurance of tradition.
I have no interest in being instructed in what I must do to be saved. I prefer vertical prayer, directed up toward heaven, rather than horizontal prayer, directed sideways toward me. I believe a worthy church must grow through attraction, not promotion.
How I Believe In God That the universeas was once thought, expands and contracts indefinitely, one Big Bang collapsing into another one, seemed reasonable enough. But in both models of the universe, what caused the first Big Bang? Or was there a first Big Bang, any more than a last number? If there was a first cause, was there a first causer? Did Big Bangs just happen to happen? We can name it anything we want.
I can name it after myself. It is utterly insignificant what it is called, because we would be giving a name to something that falls outside all categories of thought and must be unknowable and irrelevant to knowledge.
So naming it is a futile enterprise. How I Believe In God Quantum theory is now discussing instantaneous connections between two entangled quantum objects such as electrons. This phenomenon has been observed in laboratory experiments and scientists believe they have proven it takes place. Speed has nothing to do with it. The entangled objects somehow communicate instantaneously at a distance.
If that is truedistance has no meaning. Light-years have no meaning. Space has no meaning. In a sense, the entangled objects are not even communicating. They are the same thing. Sunmoonstarsrain, you, me, everything. If this is so, then Buddhism must have been a quantum theory all along. No, I am not a Buddhist. I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am more content with questions than answers. How I Believe In God Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith.
All depends on what is believed in. Go Gently Raised as a Roman Catholic, I internalized the social values of that faith and still hold most of them, even though its theology no longer persuades me. I have no quarrel with what anyone else subscribes to; everyone deals with these things in his own way, and I have no truths to impart. All I require of a religion is that it be tolerant of those who do not agree with it. Go Gently " Kindness " covers all of my political beliefs.
No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilitieswe have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.
To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world.
That is true no matter what our problemsour healthour circumstances. I didn't always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out. Go Gently Reviews[ edit ] Four star reviews[ edit ] James Cameron 's film has been the subject of relentlessly dubious advance buzz, just as his Titanic was. Once again, he has silenced the doubters by simply delivering an extraordinary film.
Magnolia is the kind of film I instinctively respond to. Leave logic at the door. Do not expect subdued taste and restraint, but instead a kind of operatic ecstasy. Magnolia is one of those rare films that works in two entirely different ways. In one sense, it tells absorbing storiesfilled with detail, told with precision and not a little humor. On another sense, it is a parable. I don't know when a film has connected more immediately with my own personal experience. In uncanny ways, the central events of The Tree of Life reflect a time and place I lived in, and the boys in it are me.
If I set out to make an autobiographical film, and if I had Malick's giftit would look so much like this. Why did they give an R rating to a movie perfect for teenagers? Review of Almost Famous 15 September Old age isn't for sissies, and neither is this film. We are filled with optimism and expectation. Why would we want to see such a film, however brilliantly it has been made? I think it's because a film like Amour has a lesson for us that only the cinema can teach: That was another movie I walked into with uncertain expectations.
James Cameron 's film has been the subject of relentlessly dubious advance buzz, just as his Titanic was. Review of Avatar 11 December Especially in its opening scenes, Ballast is "slower" and "quieter" than we usually expect.
So is life, most of the time. We don't wake up and immediately start engaging with plot points. But Ballast inexorably grows and deepens and gathers power and absorbs us. I always say I hardly ever cry at sad films, but I sometimes do, just a little, at films about good people.
Review of Ballast 29 October I said this is the Batman movie I've been waiting for; more correctly, this is the movie I did not realize I was waiting for, because I didn't realize that more emphasis on story and character and less emphasis on high-tech action was just what was needed. The movie works dramatically in addition to being an entertainment. There's something to it. Review of Batman Begins 13 June Dances With Wolves has the kind of vision and ambition that is rare in movies today.
It is not a formula movie, but a thoughtful, carefully observed story. It is a Western at a time when the Western is said to be dead. It asks for our imagination and sympathy. It takes its time, three hours, to unfold. It is a personal triumph for Kevin Costnerthe intelligent young actor of Field of Dreams, who directed the film and shows a command of story and of visual structure that is startling; this movie moves so confidently and looks so good it seems incredible that it's a directorial debut.
Sympathy I felt in the sense that I would feel it for a rabid dog, while accepting that it must be destroyed. I do not feel the film provides "a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did," because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient.
All we can learn from a film like this is that millions of people can be led, and millions more killed, by madness leashed to racism and the barbaric instincts of tribalism.
Review of Downfall 11 March Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it.
The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous.
The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used.
They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy. Review of Fargo 8 March The movie, as everyone knows, is about a man who finds himself living the same day over and over and over again.
He is the only person in his world who knows this is happening, and after going through periods of dismay and bitterness, revolt and despair, suicidal self-destruction and cynical recklessness, he begins to do something that is alien to his nature.
He begins to learn. Review of Groundhog Day This is a film about — and also for — not only obsessed clerks in record stores, but the video store clerks who have seen all the movies, and the bookstore employees who have read all the books.
Also for bartenders, waitresses, greengrocers in health food stores, kitchen slaves at vegetarian restaurants, the people at GNC who know all the herbs, writers for alternative weeklies, disc jockeys on college stations, salespeople in retro clothing shops, tattoo artists and those they tattoo, poets, artists, musicians, novelists, and the hip, the pierced and the lonely. They may not see themselves but they will recognize people they know. Review of High Fidelity 31 March It's so rare to find a movie that doesn't take sides.
Conflict is said to be the basis of popular fiction, and yet here is a film that seizes us with its first scene and never lets go, and we feel sympathy all the way through for everyone in it. To be sure, they sometimes do bad things, but the movie understands them and their flaws.
Like great fiction, House of Sand and Fog sees into the hearts of its characters, and loves and pities them. A plot is about things that happen. A story is about people who behave. To admire a story you must be willing to listen to the people and observe them, and at the end of House of Sand and Fog, we have seen good people with good intentions who have their lives destroyed because they had the bad luck to come across a weak person with shabby desires.
She and I had visited the same beach and discussed visiting it with our children and grandchildren. An icy finger ran slowly down our spines.
Such a connection can be terrifying. What does it mean? We are the playthings of the gods. It is utterly inexplicable. This is an excellent film for teenagers. Review of The King's Speech 15 December Magnolia is operatic in its ambitiona greatjoyous leap into melodrama and coincidencewith ragged emotionscrimes and punishmentsdeathbed scenes, romantic dreamsgenerational turmoil and celestial intervention, all scored to insistent music.
It is not a timid film. Its characters are linked by blood, coincidence and by the way their lives seem parallel. This event is not "cheating," as some critics have argued, because the prologue fully prepares the way for it, as do some subtle references to Exodus.
It works like the hand of Godreminding us of the absurdity of daring to plan. And yet plan we must, because we are human, and because sometimes our plans work out.
At three hours it is even operatic in length, as its themes unfold, its characters strive against the dying of the lightand the great wheel of chance rolls on toward them.
Review of Magnolia in Chicago Sun-Times 7 January Magnolia is a film of sadness and loss, of lifelong bitterness, of children harmed and adults destroying themselves. As the narrator tells us near the end, "We may be through with the past, but the past is never through with us.
This is closely linked to a loathing or fear of behaving as we are told, or think, that we should. It begins deceptively, with a little documentary about amazing coincidences including the scuba diver scooped by a fire-fighting plane and dumped on a forest fire … coincidences and strange events do happen, and they are as real as everything else.
If you could stand back far enough, in fact, everything would be revealed as a coincidence. What we call "coincidences" are limited to the ones we happen to notice.
I think it's a coincidence. Unlike many other "hypertext movies" with interlinking plots, Magnolia seems to be using the device in a deeper, more philosophical way. Anderson sees these people joined at a level below any possible knowledge, down where fate and destiny lie. They have been joined by their actions and their choices. And all leads to the remarkable, famous, sequence near the film's end when it rains frogs. Countless frogs, still alive, all over Los Angeles, falling from the sky.
That this device has sometimes been joked about puzzles me. I find it a way to elevate the whole story into a larger realm of inexplicable but real behavior. We need something beyond the human to add another dimension. Frogs have rained from the sky eight times this century, but never mind the facts. Attend instead to Exodus 8: In this case, I believe, it refers not to people, but to fearsshamessins. In one sense, it tells absorbing stories, filled with detail, told with precision and not a little humor.
The message of the parable, as with all good parables, is expressed not in words but in emotions. After we have felt the pain of these people, and felt the love of the policeman and the nurse, we have been taught something intangible, but necessary to know. Review of Magnoliain review for Great Movies 27 November Empathy has been in short supply in our nation recently. Our leaders are quick to congratulate us on our own feelings, slow to ask us to wonder how others feel.
But maybe times are changing. Every Lee film is an exercise in empathy. He is not interested in congratulating the black people in his audience, or condemning the white ones. He puts human beings on the screen, and asks his audience to walk a little while in their shoes. Review of Malcolm X 18 November The Man in the Moon is like a great short story, one of those masterpieces of language and mood where not one word is wrong, or unnecessary.
It flows so smoothly from start to finish that it hardly even seems like an ordinary film. Usually I am aware of the screenwriter putting in obligatory scenes. I can hear the machinery grinding. Although, in retrospect, I can see how carefully the plot was put together, how meticulously each event was prepared for, as I watched the film I was only aware of life passing by.
He shows him as an ordinary man, kind, funny, flawed, shrewd, idealistic, yearning for a better world. He shows what such an ordinary man can achieve. Milk was the right person in the right place at the right time, and he rose to the occasion. So was Rosa Parks. Sometimes, at a precise moment in history, all it takes is for one person to stand up. Review of Milk 24 November American movies are in the midst of a transition period. Some directors place their trust in technology. Spielbergwho is a master of technology, trusts only story and character, and then uses everything else as a workman uses his tools.