This story originally ran in The Tribune's Arts & Entertainment section on April 19, 1998.
In all those years, the two have been interviewed hundreds of times, but never has one interviewed the other.
Here Siskel questions Ebert, offering a distinct insight into the worlds of moviemaking and movie criticism. And then after each answer, Siskel gets in the last word. After all, this is his home turf.
Siskel: OK, why back away from it--the number one question we get: "Do you guys really hate each other?"
Ebert: During some hours of some days, yes. Most of the time, no. We are both soloists and find it difficult on occasions to sing a duet.
Siskel: Sometimes, in the heat of argument, it sure feels like hate. You can't pay two guys all of their adult lives to have opinions and not to expect them to have strong opinions about each other.
Roger, our show has made us well-known, wealthy and influential. Big deal. What impact has the show had upon the movies?
Ebert: Not nearly enough. We have tried to move beyond the mainstream, and review foreign, documentary, independent and restored films, but audiences are more than ever driven by marketing campaigns. "Siskel & Ebert" is one of the few shows left on television in which opinions are even actually expressed; the vast majority of entertainment "coverage" consists of vampirism, in which media outlets attempt to borrow the fame of celebrities without expressing an opinion on the worth of their work. There is more coverage of a major movie BEFORE it has been seen than after. Example. I was recently asked to "write 600 words on Armageddon movies," and append my own list of the "top 10 Armageddon films," for a national magazine, as part of its coverage of the upcoming movie "Armageddon." This movie is unseen by me and probably by the magazine. I declined. Would they be interested in what I thought after I saw it? No, by then the hype will have moved on.
Siskel: This may sound like bragging, but that doesn't mean it is inaccurate: We have helped a certain number of movies reach a far greater audience than they would have had without the existence of our show. “My Dinner With Andre” and “Hoop Dreams” are examples. The same applies to the careers of many film artists, ranging from writer-director
OK, moving on: Has the show in any way altered the public's attitude toward critics of the arts?
Ebert: I hope it has made people aware that it is all right to have opinions and express them; an amazing number of people will say something is "fine" because they think that's polite.
Siskel: When we began, the dominant public attitude toward critics was that they were failed artists who bore a grudge and preferred to give negative reviews. I don't see how any regular viewer of our show could hold that opinion of us. We are eager to praise and would be masochists to feel otherwise.
Roger, you know I respect you enormously as a journalist, writer and critic. But you also know I think you have a flaw: You are too easy on too many movies. This past week, for example, you gave a positive review to "The Players Club," a cheap exploitation film. How do you plead: Are you too easy, or am I too demanding?
Ebert: Gene, you recently praised "The Newton Boys," which I voted thumbs down on. I defy anyone to find "The Newton Boys" more enjoyable than "The Players Club." The verdict "cheap exploitation film" is presented here as a fact, but should more accurately be presented as your opinion. Several important critics joined me in noting the energy, humor and life of the film. I also have the greatest respect for you, Gene, but if you have a flaw, it is that you are parsimonious with your enjoyment, parceling it out as if you are afraid you will prematurely expend your lifetime share.
Siskel: The answer to this one is contained in the admittedly loaded question. Roger is easy; I am demanding. But at the end of the year I always chide myself to be tougher and to stay away from what I call the "polite" three-star review, a recommendation of a marginal film that upon reflection I might not really wish upon a friend. Here's hoping I have fewer of those lapses this year.
What are the biggest mistakes consumers of movies make? In theaters and in video stores.
Ebert: Going for the big hits on the basis of their fame, instead of paying more attention to the actual content of the films. Most weeks, the best films in theaters and stores will not be the ones you've heard the most about.
Siskel: I agree with Roger's answer. To help, clip and save the opinions of critics you like. But here is an ongoing mystery to me: Why don't more of you walk out during a film when it obviously stinks? The money-invested argument makes no sense. Going to a movie is a two-hour experience; at $7.50 for a ticket, you are valuing your time at far less than the minimum wage. If you don't understand the film, don't leave. If you understand it all too well and hate it, GET OUT OF YOUR SEAT AND WALK UP THE AISLE. You will feel empowered. I actually walked out 20 minutes early during the
If you could change the format of your show--five movies a week plus a video recommendation--with a guarantee that there would be no audience erosion, what changes would you make?
Ebert: I'd select the movies on the basis of how good I thought they were, instead of feeling obligated to review a film simply because it was in wide release. I can think of many films more deserving of a review than "Meet the Deedles."
Siskel: I would devote more time to movies that deserve it, even if it means skipping another film entirely or delaying its review. On rare occasions we have done this with a double segment for a particular film. “
Ebert: No, because it would be too confining. I attend five or six film festivals every year, and they keep me informed about new work and promising directors. It would hurt my work to have to give those up.
Siskel: Roger, how do you decide how to begin a print review of a movie?
Ebert: I try to avoid an old-fashioned "lead," and to involve the reader directly in conversation. The readers should feel they're joining me in mid-stream, instead of having to work through the formalities first.
Siskel: We have been parodied in countless ways--from comic books to animated films to cartoons to
Ebert: The first time we were in Mad magazine. I grew up with Mad, and the sight of our caricatures in its pages was thrilling. I also loved the episode of the TV show "The Critic" in which (despite my answer to the first question) we sang a duet.