Saturday would have been film critic Gene Siskel’s birthday (he passed away in 1999 after succumbing to a brain tumor), so his longtime co-host and friend Roger Ebert spent the entire day tweeting tributes to him. I haven’t gone through all of them but did see a few pop up in my timeline throughout the day, and I enjoyed learning more about their work together (plus, you could do worse than having a writer as terrific as Roger Ebert composing tributes and obituaries for you).
In February 2009, to mark the tenth anniversary of Siskel’s death, Ebert wrote this column, “Remembering Gene.” While I always had some awareness of Siskel and Ebert – the men and the TV program – the column made me feel like I really understood who they were, what they did and how they became film critics. I love when a piece of writing reveals so much. Gene Siskel was a Chicago Bulls fan and masterful poker player who grew up in “a Sun-Times family” but wound up becoming the Tribune‘s film critic. He’s not just “that guy who was on the movie review show” to me anymore. It’s a touching tribute and a pleasure to read.
Ebert also tweeted a link to the obituary he wrote for Siskel in 1999. Ebert makes it another great read, but what I really loved about it was this quote from Siskel:
When [Gene] saw a movie he hated, he liked to suggest that filmmakers ask themselves this question: “Is my film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?”
How many movies have you seen that should have been documentaries of the actors having lunch together? My guess is quite a few. I love that perspective on bad movies: He wasn’t ripping the film to shreds, but giving the filmmakers something fairly pedestrian to measure up against. Schooling them a little.
If you asked me who Gene Siskel was before today, I definitely could have given you the correct answer. Now, though, I understand a little more about him and am glad I do.