Siskel

There are a lot of interesting moments in this 1991 interview with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, but the one that stood out was Siskel's defense of what he believed to be Ebert's misconception about their differing approaches to film, art, and reviewing. Ebert's ascension into pop cultural grandfather figure at the end of his life — thanks in part to the tremendous volume of work he began to publish online when he lost his ability to speak, as well as his memoir Life Itself, later turned into a documentary — was genuine and well-earned, but Siskel tends to get short shrift when it comes time to dole out posthumous honors. He was, after all, an equally smart critic and the one who sparred with Ebert all those years, and I'm convinced he'd be remembered differently if he'd lived long enough to see online criticism flourish. As is, he died in 1999 at age 53, from complications related to surgery to remove a brain tumor. Anyway, at one point in the interview, Ebert says of Siskel: "He’s lacking in enthusiasm. ... I go to the movies anticipating a good time. Gene goes fearing a bad time. My glass is half full, his glass is half empty." Siskel's response is honest and direct about his personality and about the nature of the job, which requires sifting through the dunes every day in hopes of finding a diamond. He says:

I’ve heard Roger say that before, and I don’t believe it’s true. I want movies to be good. I’d have to be a masochist to want them to be bad. But if you were to stop me any day and say, “Gene, do you expect to see a good movie or a bad movie today?” I would tell you I’m expecting to see a bad movie. The reason is that most of the movies I see are bad. I’m being practical in telling you that most of the things that people create aren’t all that interesting, and that’s too bad. What keeps me going is that I have a strong desire to see something great. And when I see it, it lasts for a long time.

Siskel's words reminded me a little of Daniel Mendelsohn's thinking about how beautiful these things are, and how easily they can be broken. I believe and act as Siskel does here. I don't want a movie to be bad. I never go in hoping for failure. But doing this job (even part-time) means seeing a lot of movies, and a lot of them don't connect for one reason or another. So you keep looking, and you keep looking, and when you find a treasure, you dig it out of the ground and hold it up.