When Mutant Reviewers started up in 1997, Kym and I came up with a slogan that we felt summed up the attitude and approach of the site: “We give Siskel and Ebert hives.” It wasn’t just a not-so-clever saying that would look totally rad on a t-shirt, but an indication of just how we were kicking against the establishment of film criticism — and those two reviewers were the figureheads of giving thumbs up to boring, pretentious films and thumbs down to many of the films we enjoyed.
Then Siskel died and we kind of had to stop running that slogan. In retrospect, it was for the best. Elevating yourself by putting someone else down is tacky and cheap. And besides, I’m sure that over time all of the mutants have given good reviews to films you’ve hated and hated some of your beloved classics.
As you’ve probably heard, yesterday Roger Ebert died. I had pretty much stopped paying attention to him after the “Siskel and” part of the team went bye-bye. I knew he was still watching and reviewing films, and I did read one of his books (I Hated This Movie). Listen, I’ll be honest: I felt he played it too safe in movie reviews. He’d be handing out three stars to just about everything until the whole star system was meaningless. His worldview is very different from mine, and because that seeped into his writing, I didn’t enjoy much of what he wrote.
But. I admired him and other career film reviewers like him who treated the job as something seriously and not just a paycheck. Why admire? Because he had to wade through so much dreck and tepid cinema, day in and day out. We at MRFH get the luxury of choosing which movies to watch. If we’re going to see a bad movie, then it’s our choice at least. But Ebert didn’t have a choice. He’d have to watch mostly everything that went to the theaters and somehow retain his sanity through it all. That he didn’t become bitter but continued to express his love for cinema deserves admiration.
So farewell Ebert. Thanks for giving us a fun nemesis for the early years of the site and being cool with it.