In my opinion, film criticsm or being a movie critic died officially when Roger Ebert died. Sadly his colleague and fellow host of their mega-hit tv show Siskel & Ebert: At The Movies died in 1999 from a brain tumor. Both men made film criticsm cool, and helped usher in a new generation to the movie world. But ultimately, their show in hindsight marked the a paradigm shift from consumer reading habits.

Most people don’t put much of any stock in what critics say anymore, haven’t for two decades I venture to say. And confidence in the discipline is without question at an all-time low. People stopped trusting critics too, especially now that we can always reference IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and the like when in doubt. The currency of film criticsm I venture to say was maybe always on its way out, even before Siskel and Ebert’s famed show.

A man named Richard Corliss predicted all this back in 1990. Which is why I recommend you read his article, if you wonder about what happened to film criticsm—or why people still even attempt to practice it through new digital mediums like YouTube channels.

Cover of Film Comment Magazie March-April 1990 Issue - Jimmy Stewart

All Thumbs: Or, Is There a Future for Film Criticism?

Will anyone read this story? (It has too many words and not enough pictures.) Does anyone read this magazine? (Every article in it wants to be a meal, not a McNugget.) Is anyone reading film criticism? (It lacks the punch, the clips, the thumbs.) Can anyone still read? (These days, it’s more fun and less work just to watch.)

By Richard Corliss in the March-April 1990 Issue

It should be noted that Roger Ebert’s wife Chaz Ebert has honorably continued to keep the torch a live, by turning his website into a reputable place for people looking for high standard film criticms—where film critics and writers of the time’s continue the tradition. In the hopes I suspect to create a seal of approval platform, for those who grew up with film criticsm or who see some value in it. But is not the destination it would’ve been had film criticsm stayed a must-read. A shame because I find the reviews on the site to be in keeping with what Ebert would’ve given us.

FUN FACT About Me: I did have a little fantasy about film criticsm in college when I got to be the film critic for the off-campus college newspaper at the University of Illinois at Chicago. And I remeber being at a Chicago press screening of “Lions for Lambs” (2007), and I met Roger Ebert briefly, who was seated at the far back of the theater. I was one of last to leave and didn’t realize he was there until I had gotten all my belongings ready to leave. I never forgot that. I just waved like a silly starstruck college student, but the way he looked at me without putting me down for the gesture is worth noting. I didn’t want to bother him, but I also knew that his time was limited on this earth, so how could I be rude and pretend I didn’t see someone there?

Cool Random Story: This story was shared in the documentary on Rogert Ebert’s life called, Life Itself (2014). It’s one of many interesting stories told by those who knew the man. The story about this jigsaw puzzle goes, Ebert presented actress Laura Dern with a Sundance tribute, Dern in return sent him a heartfelt letter with a special memento. It was a jigsaw puzzle Dern received from famed acting teacher Lee Strasberg, who received it from Marilyn Monroe, who received it from director Alfred Hitchcock.

Roger Ebert story of giving director Ramin Bahrani something director Alfred Hitchcock gave Marilyn Monroe. A Balkan Sobranie tin of a lovely wooden puzzle.

Ebert later gave the puzzle to director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart (2005), etc.), with the instructions that one day, “You have to give it to someone else who deserves it.”

In the documetary Bahrani said he hadn’t assembled the puzzle for fear of wear and tear on the pieces. The old wooden puzzle is still in its original tin box, which was originally a smoking tobacco tin for a brand called Balkan Sobranie.


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