The Balcony Is Closed: Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert and My Love Affair with Them and the Movies

balconyisclosed

Yesterday afternoon my Twitter feed was flooded with news of Roger Ebert’s passing. Not five minutes before I read those headlines I saw a link from his blog about his “Leave of Presence,” where he outlined his plans to step back from his incredibly heavy schedule reviewing movies and restructuring and revamping his own website and interests. Even in the face of declining health, Mr. Ebert was planning to move forward full throttle.

I remember as a young child watching selected programs on public television; one of those programs came on much later than my bedtime allowed, but I somehow managed to sneak in front of a TV to watch. It was a movie review program with two seemingly astute and knowledgeable critics giving their spirited opinions about recent theatrical releases. Yep, I was a 12 year old egghead watching Sneak Previews. Much like many who follow Mr. Ebert and his TV partner Gene Siskel through each incarnation of their show (At The Movies, Siskel & Ebert At The Movies, Siskel & Ebert AND The Movies, etc.), most of my viewing experience was guided by their simple “thumbs up/thumbs down” approval ratings system. Admittedly, the “stars” rating did come into play, but movie executives and marketers lived and died for the “two thumbs up” badge of honor. Of course, there were certain opinions of theirs I didn’t necessarily agree with (and movies I saw anyway despite their panning), but I would always listen to their viewpoints and consider them carefully as I watched or avoided a given film. (No offense intended to Richard Roeper, Siskel’s TV successor and Ebert’s seemingly heir-apparent, but this was the dynamic duo I grew up with and swore by for many years….so this is a huge loss for me.)

My favorite Roger Ebert memory, however, came from his appearance during the NAACP Image Awards. I wish I remembered what year it was and that I saved the recording, but this cemented his cool points with me. Comedian Steve Harvey was hosting a tribute section for the Isley Brothers and picking people from the audience “at random” to play a game of Name That Isley Tune. Harvey called upon Mr. Ebert, who stood ready and eager to participate. As the music played he seemed to think about his answer, then leaned toward his companion, a beautiful Black woman, for confirmation of the correct answer. After giving his answer Harvey asked Mr. Ebert if the lovely lady was his date. Puffing out his chest, Mr. Ebert proudly stated, “That’s my wife.” Quickly recovering from his brief surprise, Harvey gave Mrs. Chaz Ebert a quick once-over, looked at Mr. Ebert and said, “Two thumbs up.” The response garnered both Harvey and Ebert a thunderous round of applause.

I was saddened to hear about cancer diagnoses for both Mr. Siskel and Mr. Ebert; we lost Mr. Siskel in 1999 due to surgical complications from a brain tumor, and later hearing about Mr. Ebert’s battle with thyroid cancer was equal parts painful and inspiring to watch. We all sat dreading this day but dwelling in hope from all of the blog posts and reviews and exciting projects Mr. Ebert kept up. I imagine that enough groundwork and structure was set in place for everything to continue forward as planned, it’s just going to be markedly sadder because of this huge loss to the entertainment community.

Mr. Ebert’s last line in his last published blog was, “I’ll see you at the movies.” I look forward to it, sir. Until then, and for the last time, the balcony is closed.

Thank you, gentlemen....save some popcorn for me.

Thank you, gentlemen….save some popcorn for me.

Related articles:
Leave of Presence – Roger Ebert: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2013/04/a_leave_of_presense.html
Ebert and Siskel: Partners shared unique relationship: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/chi-ebert-siskel-20130404,0,7261935.story
Roger Ebert’s Journal–Remembering Gene: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/02/i_remember_gene.html
Roger Ebert Reunites With Gene Siskel to Review Heaven – Hypervocal.com: http://hypervocal.com/news/2013/roger-ebert-obit/
Roger Ebert – words away: http://davidmzs.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/roger-ebert/
Roger Ebert, RIP – Whatever: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/04/04/roger-ebert-rip/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

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