This weekend marks the broadcast of the final edition of “At the Movies” after 24 seasons on the air so I thought I’d take a few moments to reminisce about what the show meant to me.
I first became familiar with the film critic duo of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert while watching PBS’ “Sneak Previews” as a kid in the late 1970s. I think the first film I remember them reviewing was The Deer Hunter which I couldn’t possibly understand at the time but I could understand the passion that Siskel and Ebert had for movies. As a kid I wasn’t allowed to watch anything other than PBS but I was allowed to go to the movies if I had saved up enough of my allowance to pay for the matinee – so off to the movies I went, as often as possible. Riding my bike to the Park or Menlo theaters and chaining it up outside while smuggling in Junior Mints that I had bought at the drug store on my way.
Siskel sometimes seemed like an elitist snob while Ebert was often pandering to mass appeal but their repartees echoed the points that I had identified in the films that I had seen, the PG ones at least. After Siskel and Ebert left PBS I was at a bit of a loss, I didn’t care for the Jeffrey Lyons Michael Medved duo that replaced them – particularly Medved who, even while I was a child, I felt was a bit of a stuffy and entrenched boob so it’s no surprise to see him operating as a politicized conservative mouthpiece.
Once Siskel and Ebert reappeared in their official “At The Movies” vehicle on ABC, the familiarity of their format and exchanges was welcome even though they were now on commercial television. As commercials ate into the airtime, however, I felt myself watching the program less and less as their conversations seemed rushed and over-edited. Still, I owe a lot to that show – they made me think about what I had seen on the screen and they taught me to look for certain elements in films I was about to go see. My passion for films continued unabated and once I went to college as a Communications major, I found myself drawn to the Film Department, where I transferred and received my degree. As a film major, I found that discussions and papers on the video medium were lacking, so with my friend David Pearce, we formed the Video Group at the University of California at Santa Barbara and our efforts were later incorporated into what is now the Film & Media Studies department at UCSB.
Thank you Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for providing direction and inspiration through your fantastic program, “At the Movies”, it’s a shame that the show has to go, but it’s been a shell of its former self for a few years now. It would be a dream to be a part of something so iconic, informative, and entertaining but that is what dreams and progress are all about.