Decoding Siskel & Ebert
Analysis provides additional ways of appreciating a work.  However, I only find this useful after the fact.  These days I tend to avoid watching/reading reviews of movies (and other media) I haven't seen, but I used to watch "Siskel & Ebert" regularly growing up, and I enjoyed watching the banter.



The two critics were paired on the same show precisely because they rarely saw the same movie the same way.  There are numerous stories of them tangling with one another during the filming of their show over an interpretation the other not only disagreed with but couldn't even accept as remotely reasonable.  That unresolved conflict of perspective made the show watchable, but the core issue is that they were very different critics.  As such, you were likely to consistently see things more like one critic than the other.

Gene Siskel was more about plot and structure, and I am the same.  I was back when I watched the show in my teens, and I still am today.  Gene could overlook bad acting because that was just a defective component in a good design.  It was all about the piece as a whole, and it was more important that it was a good idea than a well-executed one.

Roger Ebert was more focused on image.  He cared a lot about aesthetics and the general "feel" of the movie.  He had an intuition if it worked right.  His emotions told him whether he liked it or not rather than a rubric from film school.  The problem was that a small flaw might drive his entire perspective or, conversely, a disaster of a movie might be viewed as a pretty good effort if he "liked the look" (e.g., Coppola's Dracula).

The interesting consequence of all of this was that you could not only tell whether a movie was good ("Two Thumbs Up!"), bad ("Thumbs Down!"), or mixed; you could actually tell what *kind* of movie it was by knowing which critics liked it (or didn't).

The way I read it was as follows:

Siskel Ebert My reading.
Thumbs Up Thumbs Up Decent movie with broad appeal.  Probably any intelligent viewer would like it, although not necessarily your average viewer since many "artistic" films that received this distinction would be lost on the public.
Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Great movie that's independent enough to have its own voice and something to say.  Probably not obvious enough for Ebert to understand it because it had some ambiguities in its tone.  Maybe the hero was flawed and acted for the wrong reasons, or maybe there was comedy in a picture that he thought should have been dark ("...and that cheapened the drama for me.").
Thumbs Down Thumbs Up Melodramatic, character-driven crap with little regard for sensible or original plotting.  Soap opera-level fare.  A supermodel of cinema (it looked good, but had no substance).
Thumbs Down Thumbs Down Predictable, broad Hollywood crap.  Very tired, rehash of old clichés, etc.  Even decent movies often got this ranking if they simply remade old films under new names.

Personally, I tended to be drawn to movies in which Siskel gave it Thumbs Up, especially if Ebert was turned off by it.  Two Thumbs Up wasn't as good as Ebert not liking it because, like Siskel, he and I were usually looking for something different in our respective movie selections.




Copyright 2012 Ale[x]plorer
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