Tonight in Seattle:  

A chat with Roger Ebert: "Ambiguity can be an inevitable conclusion"

Roger Ebert, from rogerebert.comYesterday evening the nation's most popular film critic, Roger Ebert, who has been on an extended leave-of-absence from his TV show for the past year following complications from cancer surgery, participated in a moderated online chat at

None of the questions I submitted was chosen (I blame the Disney-employed moderators), but it was great to hear from Ebert, even if only virtually. Some of the (text-uncorrected, hyperlink-enhanced) highlights:

Has anyone that you know personally ever been mad about a negative review of a film that they were a part of, or has knowing someone personally ever swayed a review?

Roger Ebert:
I'm glad I live in Chi so I don't know a lot of the movie people well. It is hard to pan a friend, but I do it. The great Robert Altman once asked me, "If you never gave me a bad review, what would a good review mean?"

If it were possible to live in a world where the written word was paramount, would you forgo a thumbs up and star rating?

Roger Ebert:
Yes. Or lacking that, I'd like a five-star or horizontal thumb system where you could have a true middle position, which is really where I am some of the time.

Did you ever read a movie review in which the critic made some valid and interesting point that you missed completely in your own experience of the same movie? In other words, where you ever WOWed by someone else's criticism?

Roger Ebert:
One critic I often bow to is Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic. But yes, any good critic can see something one missed, and vice-versa.

Why on earth would anyone want to watch a subtitled movie??? Especially if its in a theatre were you cannot go back if you missed anything. This is a no brainer, sure they may be good movies,but I want to watch the actors ACT , if I am constantly reading to keep up with the movie I miss seeing the film , this is what books are for.Then there is the problem of not being able to read whats on the screen when it is against a white background,Yellow should be the default colour not white. This is my big point how can you review a movie if you can not watch the expressions on the faces etc. of all the actors.

Roger Ebert:
Because you don't just WATCH actors act, you HEAR them. Why rob an actor of his or her instrument? Dubbed movies sound phoned in on amateur night. And many of the best films are foreign, so don't deprive yourself. Also, don't tell a lot of people you won't go to subtitled movies. They may leap to assumptions.

In one word how would you describe your time with Siskel and in another your time with Roeper? How would you compare the two. And why do you think it is important to launch these old episodes of your classic show?

Roger Ebert:
(1) Tempestuous. (2) Productive. I think the episodes keep alive reviews IN THE MOMENT, with all the freshness of what was almost live TV.

If someone made a film about you, who would you want to play you?

Roger Ebert:
Brad Pi...excuse me, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In regards to the "games as art" discussion, you wrote "Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion". Do you feel that a film with an ambiguous ending, or one in which you cannot tell the intention of its maker, is not art, regardless of any other artistic qualities it may have?

Roger Ebert:
No. "Cache" and "L'Avventura" and countless other great films (even "Citizen Kane") had ambiguous endings. Ambiguity can be an inevitable conclusion.

The full transcript will be available online later today.

FYI, Ebert is reviewing films again in print (for the Chicago Sun-Times) and on his site, which now includes an archive of 5000 TV reviews (with Siskel and Roeper and others) from the mid-'80s to the present. As Ebert notes, it's an amazing resource, and a great way to revisit those old-school Siskel & Ebert verbal slapdowns.

He sounds charming! And excellent call on PSH being perfect to play him -- so true.

When I was in journalism school in Chicago, I saw Roger Ebert speak many times at college journalism events and such. He was fantastic! Very funny, intelligent, quick-witted, and totally cool. Around the same time, Richard Roeper was on his rise and we interviewed him for our college magazine, before his appointment as the new Siskel. Roeper was also a really nice dude. As such, I'm a fan of both for life.

I love Roger Ebert. He even sent me an e-mail once. I wish I still had it. It was probably about 8 years ago. He was writing about the movie "The Insider" and someone asked him about pollsters hanging out after the movie and asking what they thought of it. His column implied that he didn't know who was behind it and I forwarded him a link from Bloomberg News that said that RJ Reynolds and/or Phillip Morris were paying for those polls to see if there was enough public opinion to support a lawsuit against the filmmakers.

He wrote back and said that he knew about it, but it was the damn copy editors who screwed with what he wrote (and even sent me the paragraph he turned in). I always think of that e-mail when the stuff I write gets edited. I mean he's won a frickin' Pulitizer Prize (Pauline Kael never even won one)!

I also have an autographed 5x7 photo of Siskel and Ebert that I will always treasure.

BB: I like them both, too, and still watch the Ebert-less Ebert & Roeper program every week. The "guest critics" have been a strange mix, though, ranging from other excellent real critics (NY Times' A. O. Scott) to celebrities who don't know jack about cinema (John Mellencamp -- seriously).

So, I miss Ebert on the show, but I'm a big fan of his writing (Awake in the Dark should be in every movie fan's collection), and it's great that he's well enough to be back on the Sun-Times movie beat.

ChrisB: that's awesome. I remember reading about those pollsters. And you saw deleted Ebert copy? I'm jealous.

Yeah, I watch when I happen upon it, and agree: A.O. Scott has been very interesting, and also the woman from AP whose name I can't recall — but sometimes the guest critics are just kooky! The Cougar was on?! Weird!

I know, right? He gave everything thumbs-up and called the movies "shows". There's no YouTube clip, unfortch.

Is Roeper still alive?

Oh and Betsy, you went to journalism school? I'm right at this moment at a journalism camp right now :]

Kiku - Richard Roeper is still alive. It's Gene Siskel that is dead. :-|

oooh I see. I don't remember Siskel at all...

He died in 1999. Siskel and Ebert was great because you were never really sure if they liked one another (see the YouTube clip I posted yesterday). They wrote for competing newspapers (Siskel - Chicago Tribune; Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times) but they were on air together for many, many years, but probably a little before your time. :-)

There is also a great episode of The Critic - the long lost cartoon starring John Lovitz - where Siskel and Ebert sing a duet after they "split up". It is brilliant ...

Animaniacs used to make fun of them a lot. Thats really the only reason I know who they are haha

Animaniacs taught me so much...

Kiku @ 7: Yes indeed, I majored in journalism. I've been working in the media since college, though more on the art/production end than editorial (never really how I planned it, it's just what happened). Happy to chat with you about it anytime if you want!

Betsy: Thats really awesome, I'm really interested in journelism and layout design and things. Did you think it was a good school? I know someone who's sister just went there I think.

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