Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

Friday, February 20, marked ten years since the death of Gene Siskel in 1999. On February 23 of that year, I began to write film reviews. I remember because I’ve held on to all my writings and wisely dated them for posterity. That first review was of She’s All That; I was fifteen years old when I wrote, “After the heavy-handed Oscar-reaching material like the tepid The Thin Red Line, She’s All That is an excellent change of pace and an altogether well rounded picture.” Not long ago, I came across the film again on cable and it’s not very good at all, but that’s what ten years of moviegoing will teach you. I don’t know if I would hold the same opinion of The Thin Red Line, but I think I got that one right.

I had written reviews before February 1999, here and there, but it wasn’t until Gene Siskel’s death that I decided to do it regularly. It was my private tribute to the man who, along with Roger Ebert, introduced me to the movies. Watching their syndicated Siskel & Ebert program, I wanted to share an experience like the ones reflected in their glinting eyes when they discussed their mutual adoration of films like Fargo and Hoop Dreams.

And I did. There was no going back after Dark City and Saving Private Ryan, and over the years have come more and more elevating experiences: American Beauty, Wonder Boys, Angels in America, A.I., Million Dollar Baby, No Country for Old Men, WALL-E, and more. Siskel did not live to see any of those films. How I wish he could have, if only so I could know what he would have thought of them. I am better written, better spoken, better informed, more compassionate, more worldly, wiser, and wittier for having loved the movies. I do pretty well on Jeopardy! too. I owe Gene Siskel a great deal.

After his death, his seat on the balcony was filled by Richard Roeper, who to be honest is no Gene Siskel. After Ebert fell ill two years ago, his seat was filled by revolving critics, and now the balcony is occupied by Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons, who to be honest are no Richard Roeper. On, you’ll find an invaluable archive of Siskel, Ebert, and Roeper’s televised reviews going back to 1986. I visit them regularly. As long as that precious resource is alive, the balcony will never be closed.