Playboy Interview: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
Siskel and Ebert -- the use of their last names a badge of honor and mark of get a peek at the latest films and help decide what we wanted to see. Much has been made of Siskel and Ebert's sometimes snappy relationship. Playboy Interview: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert When people ask me, “What is your relationship like? . we went back and forth across the river several times, seeking help from people like snowplow operators—and everybody knew Mitch. The Love/Hate Relationship of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert the friction between Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on their TV show "Siskel & Ebert and . Please help support the website by clicking on the "Donate" button below!.
Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens was the only other one produced. The way I handled it was to never review any other Russ Meyer movie after Vixens. As I became a national film critic, I got out of the screenplay business altogether. I thought it was gratuitously violent. I thought it was distasteful. That was my reaction to it. I gave it a negative review. I think it was pretty sensational. Even today it plays like gangbusters. The good ones will let you run through bad ones for a long time.
That picture had about five months of active life in my head. Die Hard 2 was another. I sat there enthralled. You often bring up Do the Right Thing, Gene.
What is it about that film that so captivated you? I particularly was impressed with it in the year that Driving Miss Daisy, a film allegedly about racial issues, was the most celebrated film of the year. Race is really the issue, and we will be judged on how we handle the racial issue in this country. To me, Do the Right Thing is the picture that best reflects and illuminates the racial conflict in America.
What has kept it fresh over the years? If Gene disagrees with me, I take it personally, and vice versa. We are still very competitive. For both of us. Did you know each other before you started doing a show together? We had had no meaningful conversation on any subject.
We had just sort of glancingly observed each other. The fact is that there was only one guy who could really hurt me professionally other than myself, and that was Roger, because he could beat me on a story. Or write a better review. Roger is the guy I feared the most. Have you ever critiqued your show? Today, if I look back on tapes of the early shows, I find it startling that Gene and I agreed to work with a trained dog.
And I find it even more startling that we later agreed to substitute a trained skunk. I feel that something fundamental inside of me has changed in such a way that I could never again work on TV with a dog or a skunk. Both of them said that they would spend more time on a movie.
I think we should do that. I would like to see a show devoted to one film. We did it about ten years ago, and we ought to do it again. I think we could spend a little more time on detailed analysis. Let the argument go on a little longer, not make it so snappy.
Let it get uncomfortable.
YES, SISKEL, EBERT LIKE EACH OTHER
This is two people talking about the movies. Do you think most people are watching you because of your opinions or because of the potential for watching two people argue with each other on television? We probably agree seventy percent of the time. In the early days of television, there were open-ended talk shows with people like David Susskind, Irv Kupcinet and others on which people who disagreed with each other came on the air and fought.
Then, for a long time, that disappeared and there was all this blandness. Now you have some confrontational stuff on TV, especially on some of the cable stations. Is a movie on TV still a movie?
The thing that is so wonderful about film and made such a big impression on me as a kid is the scale. You know all the theories: You run the movie, you control the lights. The bigger the screen, the better the sound, the better the experience.
The shoe-box theaters really hurt the movies. Roger, you won a Pulitzer Prize. What did that mean to you? So I spent twenty-four months in suicidal depression before I won it myself. Gene, are you envious? I would have loved to win one. At the time Roger won his, we were in such a binary competition that it hurt. We know that your competition is intense.
How do you handle it? Once, we were doing Saturday Night Live for the first time. We were both pretty scared. It was live television. The rehearsal had gone badly. We had never worked off cue cards. We were blowing it left and right. It was just humiliating. Then it came time to cut lines. We were hostile and felt we were both going to go down in flames. We did the show, and we did OK. The key thing you have to remember about Gene is that in situations involving fear, his defense mechanism involves anger.
Before live audiences, he becomes extremely rigid and abrupt. We were in a room with a typewriter, and Gene grew concerned that the cuts would diminish his role. I started counting words to prove to him that that was not the case. So by the time we went on the air, we were both complete basket cases.
What about your behavior during this? You described my behavior, but what about your own? I was the one with the typewriter who was writing the script. Gene was stalking around dictating. It happened most recently the last time we were on the Arsenio Hall Show.
Gene was told by some functionary what we were supposed to do. Later, the executive producer gave us different instructions. When I tried to inform Gene, he said that he already knew exactly what he was supposed to do. That is what he often does. My way to deal with this is to have no contact with him whatsoever until we go out to do such a show.
What was the all-time low in your relationship for each of you? Roger taught me a rummy game on an airplane once. It involved a discard pile and a meld pile. As soon as he taught me the game, I began beating him regularly. At one point, he thought that I had discarded something when I had just conveniently put something down on the little plastic tables they have on airplanes. It became such a big deal with him.
He starts raising his voice: I was in shock. The stakes we were playing for were pennies. That was an all-time low, because it was so trivial. We were once on the Letterman show. We go back downstairs. The original limousine is still waiting. The second limousine has not arrived. Gene gets into it and tells the driver to take him to the art gallery. I want to go to the airport. The second limousine never arrived and I took a taxi to the airport.
Did you confront Gene about it? Oh, I talk to him. He will not respond. He just goes into the stone-faced routine. He has often said that when we get mad, I explode and he implodes.
The madder I am, the louder I get; the madder he is, the quieter he gets. My recollection is that I had a limited amount of time to get where I was going. I had been told to take that limousine, and they were ordering another limousine for Roger.
There was time for him to make it to the airport. I felt under duress, because he was getting angry. When he gets angry, it can be very unpleasant.
I felt bad doing it. Which of us do you think has a greater need to always be right? To be diplomatic about this, we would say that perhaps Gene wants to be right more but that you think you are right more.
I have more innate confidence in the fact that I am right. After all these years, Roger, have you changed to outmaneuver Gene? I think I was a sweeter and more trusting guy earlier on. I always feel that Gene is thinking of the angle, so I have to think of the angle, too.
And I always feel like I lose. He always gets the angle on me. He gets the limousine. But you got the Pulitzer Prize. And he gets Spy magazine. He manipulated Spy magazine. A lot of his behavior may come out of military school. I was told, apparently, while I was watching a baseball game—and I denied it.
I thought she was still alive for a significant time after she was dead. I used to pray for her to get better, after she was dead. I would walk eight blocks to the theater every Saturday with my friends. A Mediterranean-themed palace with lighthouses and twinkling stars on the ceiling.
Red velvet all over the joint. I remember the colors were richer than I had seen before. I remember being taken to a drive-in to see A Streetcar Named Desire. I remember being in the back seat and hearing people on the screen yell and scream. The movies, there was something potent there. Admission was a quarter and I was given two quarters so I could buy my refreshments. That was the first time in my life I was really turned loose. I could choose my food.
The movie with the strongest emotional pull of my youth—and it has to do with my psychological history—was Dumbo. The separation from the mother was terrifying to me. It was like my whole ego was riding right on his trunk when he had to fly and believe in that mouse. I felt that I had big ears and I think most people feel that they have big ears stashed somewhere in their life. For nine cents, you got a double feature, color cartoons, a newsreel, a serial, the coming attractions, the advertisements and, twice a year, Dan Dan the Yo-Yo Man came and had a yo-yo contest.
You could win a Schwinn bicycle. I wanted to be a yo-yo professional. He died of lung cancer inwhen I was a freshman in college. He had been an electrician at the University of Illinois and my mother, who died three years ago, was a bookkeeper.
Two weeks before my father died, I won the Associated Press sportswriting contest for the state of Illinois. Because he knew that I won that, that award is really more important to me than the Pulitzer Prize.
How different are movies today from when you were kids? When I went to movies as a teenager, we went to see what adults did. Now adults go to the movies to see what teenagers do.
People over the age of twenty-one hardly ever make love in the movies anymore. I loved that picture and have seen it ten times. What did it cost you at auction? In terms of what I was prepared to pay, it was a bargain. But now, when you ask people who starred in those, nobody says Jack Nicholson. The dominant image of Nicholson for many people is the Joker and the Laker games. Here is a man who, to his everlasting credit, gave us a portrayal of a modern American man that was unique.
He made these pictures that really show an alienated modern guy in an exciting way. Roger, what are yours? And who are your three favorite actors and actresses? I hate that shit. God, do I hate that stuff! How about you, Roger? Robert Mitchum, because he embodies the soul of film noir. Robert De Niro, because he takes more chances than anybody else.
Jack Nicholson, because he has a gift for making the audience into accomplices. Ingrid Bergman, because of the ethereal quality of her persona. Marilyn Monroe, because there was never, ever anybody else like her; because she was able to convey carnality through innocence in a way that still remains a complete mystery.
Meryl Streep, just because she tries so many kinds of things, so she never does the same thing twice. What genre of film is the most review-proof? It may be the comedy. It is very, very hard to argue someone out of a laugh, or into one. In fact, most sex films are never reviewed. Are porno films healthy? I know that they can be degrading, but I think that they possibly can have a therapeutic value, as well. I once interviewed a sex therapist who said that porno films were healthy for the reason that they show people who have never seen the anatomy, the organs, up close.
Supposedly, a common fear is that the vagina has teeth. Are orgasms usually portrayed from the male or the female point of view in the movies? I did a story on the visual grammar of sex scenes in American movies, and the orgasm is always from the point of view of the woman.
Richard Gere is one of the few actors who has consistently dared to be photographed orgasmic, out of control. I want films to open up in the bedroom.
Pornography and sex in the movies lead to the problems with ratings. The real test is whether studios will make NC films, whether theater chains will play them and whether the media will advertise them. If not, then NC will be as restrictive as the X.
I feel that the film schools are more commercially oriented than ever. They used to have the values of the liberal arts schools; now they are more allied with business schools in terms of their values: Your value systems sometimes go awry when it comes to tearing each other down.
One of the little-known things about Gene is that from the height of an astronaut circling the earth, the only objects visible are the Great Wall of China and his forehead. He has the only receding hairline so spacious that it has applied for its own Zip Code. You guys enjoy taking shots at each other, but can we cut to the bottom line? As it is, I see more of Gene than anybody else in the world, except for my girlfriend.
He knows me better than anybody outside of my family and, in certain areas, better than anybody else in the world. Whatever else I may think of Roger, I do think highly of him and of his mind. He can be a very good person and an exceedingly good friend, though. He went on to explain that, "They made a first offer on Friday which I considered offensively low.
I responded with a counteroffer. They did not reply to this, and on Monday ordered the Thumbs removed from the show. This is not something I expected after an association of over 22 years. Any fan of Siskel and Ebert and the Movies can tell you that some of its best moments came when the critics were in serious disagreement about a movie.
When we were in a group together, we were always intensely aware of one another. Sometimes this took the form of camaraderie, sometimes shared opinions, sometimes hostility.
But we were aware. If something happened that we both thought was funny but weren't supposed to, God help us if one caught the other's eye. We almost always thought the same things were funny. That may be the best sign of intellectual communion.
13 Facts About ‘Siskel and Ebert and the Movies’ | Mental Floss
We were linked in a bond beyond all disputing. But if we were teamed up against a common target, we were fatal. When we were on his show, Howard Stern never knew what hit him. He picked on one of us, and we were both at his throat.
Though reviews were their main business, Siskel and Ebert worked hard to develop an appreciation for the art of cinema itself in their viewers.