Beginning in the late 70s, my wife and I had two favorite PBS shows. No, it was not one of those long running serials like Brideshead Revisited. The first was the wonderful show about the life of James Herriot in Yorkshire as a vet. It was hysterical. The second was Siskel and Ebert at the Movies. Intelligent, even witty, commentary and critique on movies was never made so accessible, and so lacking in the usual irascible spirit of some critics, as with this show. It was just plain fun, and Ann and I often took advice on what to see from this show.
Siskel and Ebert were both award winning Chicago newspaper writers, who evolved into television stars in their own right. So much was this the case that their show went into syndication, which hardly ever happens with a Public Television show, and their trademark thumbs up, thumbs down on movies often helped to make or break a film. Gene Siskel sadly died in 1999 of cancer, and now Roger Ebert has succumbed at 70 to several different forms of cancer. Film criticism will probably never again see such friendly antagonists as these on the screen.
One of the great things about Siskel and Ebert is that they reviewed all kinds of films, children’s films including cartoons, Westerns, even as the genre was waning, mysteries, fantasies, sci-fi, war flicks, B movies, A movies, blockbusters and lacklusters. You name it, they had probably seen it. They tried in each episode to say what they liked and didn’t like about the film, searching for balance and fairness. Not that they didn’t have strong opinions— they did, and they often disagreed. I tended to agree more with Siskel than Ebert, but it was all in good fun.
Whether we are happy about it or not, movies are one of America’s main contributions to world culture, and one of our most influential exports. To be sure, not many movies are instant classics, or enduring theater, most of them are like eating a bowl of Rice Krispies– less filling, tastes great, occasionally nutritious. In other words, they are a manifestation of pop culture. It is after all films which helped spawn the video game industry in various of its forms.
There is a nice hommage to Ebert by Douglas Martin in this morning’s NY Times, which is worth reading. Here is the link—http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/movies/roger-ebert-film-critic-dies.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130405.
Martin is right— Ebert was a critic for the common man. He helped bring even high brow films to the attention of low brow viewers. He was not a snob, and unlike some critics, he did not talk down to people. Yes, his show was less serious and penetrating than say the interviewing of Charlie Rose, which I enjoy. But it served a good purpose.
Students of the Bible would do well to spend some time with Ebert and his film reviews, including his Biblical film reviews. Why? Because he was an excellent analyst of human nature, and where American opinion was going on human nature, and as such, since we believe in sharing the Gospel with everyone, we need to know as much about human nature and human predilections as possible, to make our sharing a word on target.
Roll the credits for Roger Ebert….. well done good and faithful critic, inherit the Oscar.