Tuesday, August 07, 2007

At the Movies online

Welcome news from the ill but perservering Roger Ebert: Selected reviews from his long-running At the Movies are now
online. I haven't watched the show, which became difficult to find on the dial over the years, since Gene Siskel passed on. Richard Roeper seems like a non-entity, and I can't imagine that he and Ebert duke it out like his former sparring partner, whose memorial Gene Siskel Film Center now occupies a nice patch of Chicago Loop real estate.

What I'd really like is to see At the Movies' PBS precursor, Sneak Previews, go online. (For all I know vintage episodes are on YouTube, but I don't browse that copyright charnelhouse that much.) TV film critics, some of them still clogging the New York airwaves in their senior years, were mostly a bunch of smart-alecky clowns, but Roger and Gene were a class act, and I must say they informed my own writing on the subject. I watched them faithfully from about 1978 on, and saw them in person at numerous Chicago film screenings when I wrote for The Daily Northwestern in the 1980s. Taking my cue from publicists, who were completely intimidated by them (and held one screening I attended for 45 minutes to accommodate their tardy arrivals), I never said hello, but wish I had. (I did chat with Dave Kehr, who went from The Chicago Reader into Siskel's daily slot, which he had to vacate when the show morphed into At the Movies, then onto his present berth at The New York Times.)

Siskel was reserved, but both seemed to wear the mantle of supreme thumbs up or down power in film criticism pretty lightly, and did some good with it. (After they made a few bad calls with their beloved "Dog of the Week" slot, they sensibly gave it up, though that had as much to do with the collapse of grindhouse culture that kenneled so many pups.) Ebert was quite vocal at screenings, and it was fun to watch him expostulate. I'll never forget him heckling the risibly fake snow during a scene in the Chicago-set Running Scared (1986)--"It looks like they spray-painted the trees and sidewalks!"--and the nearby publicist turning a deathly green, knowing that a two-star-at-best print review and a certain thumbs down was looming on the horizon. May his forked tongue recover.

No comments: