Unveiling ‘Opposable Thumbs’: Matt Singer’s Tribute to Siskel and Ebert

If you’ve ever been captivated by the world of film criticism, chances are the names Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert ring a bell. These two iconic figures in cinema critique transformed the way we engage with movies. Matt Singer’s latest book, "Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever," delves deep into the legacy of these legendary critics, offering a captivating exploration of their unique partnership and the impact they had on the world of film.

A Personal Connection

Their Show Was the Gateway: Matt Singer on His New Book, Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever | Interviews | Roger Ebert

Singer’s connection to Siskel and Ebert is not merely academic. Like many of us, he was drawn into their world as a young film enthusiast. As a middle school student in suburban New Jersey, Singer would secretly stay up past midnight, waiting to watch "Siskel & Ebert," despite its late airing time in his market. For him, the show was an obsession, and he describes it as "very much mine."

The Birth of a Cinematic Duo

"Opposable Thumbs" takes us back to the inception of this iconic partnership. The two critics, originally untelegenic movie reviewers for rival newspapers – Ebert with the Chicago Sun-Times and Siskel with the Chicago Tribune – were brought together in 1975 for what was then a radical new format on Chicago’s PBS affiliate, WTTW. The show’s initial title, "Opening Soon… at a Theater Near You," highlighted their initial awkwardness on television, as they grappled with the medium’s demands.

But what truly set them apart was their personal rivalry. Singer’s research reveals that these two critics had a competitive streak that was palpable both on and off-screen. Siskel, in particular, couldn’t bear the fact that Ebert had become the first movie critic to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1975.

Real Tension, Real Chemistry

Their on-screen rivalry was undoubtedly a defining element of their show. Singer affirms, "The tension was definitely real, and it absolutely made the show better." Viewers would often wonder if these two critics were on the verge of a heated argument. This real tension and unpredictability in their interactions provided a unique viewing experience.

Siskel and Ebert’s ability to come together when needed made them a powerful force in the world of cinema. They weren’t just critics; they were advocates for films that might have gone unnoticed amid the Hollywood mainstream. They championed movies like Errol Morris’ "Gates of Heaven" (1978), Louis Malle’s "My Dinner With Andre" (1981), and Steve James’ "Hoop Dreams" (1994). When they believed in a film, they rallied behind it with unwavering dedication, ensuring it received the recognition it deserved.

Singer’s Perspective

"Opposable Thumbs" isn’t merely a fan’s tribute to these cinematic giants. Matt Singer’s deep admiration for Siskel and Ebert is coupled with extensive research, including hours of reviewing clips on YouTube. His book offers a well-rounded perspective on what made their partnership unique and far ahead of its time. It’s a testament to the enduring influence of two critics who changed the way we perceive movies.

As Errol Morris aptly puts it in the book, "They gave me a career." Their dedication to supporting outstanding cinema left an indelible mark on the industry and shaped the future of film critique.

In "Opposable Thumbs," Matt Singer invites us to relive the magic of Siskel and Ebert, celebrating their lasting impact on the world of cinema. For anyone passionate about movies or the art of criticism, this book promises an insightful journey into the lives and work of two cinematic legends.

The Dual Perspective:

What was the name of the show with Siskel and Ebert?

At the Movies (originally Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, and later At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper) was an American movie review television program produced by Disney–ABC Domestic Television. This show featured two prominent film critics who shared their opinions on newly released films. It evolved through different names and hosts but remained a significant platform for film critique.

What is the movie critics’ "two thumbs up"?

The two renowned movie critics engaged in lively debates and exchanged witty banter while critiquing films. They notably coined and trademarked the phrase "two thumbs up," signifying unanimous praise for a movie when both critics provided a positive review. Their dynamic discussions extended beyond their own show, making appearances on popular talk shows, such as the Late Show with David Letterman, solidifying their influence on cinematic discourse.

Did Siskel and Ebert dislike each other?

While Ebert openly recognized their frequent movie disagreements, in real life, their bond ran deep. Roger Ebert once revealed that even during moments of intense competitiveness and personal challenges, the thought of parting ways never crossed his mind. Their partnership was defined by a mutual respect that extended beyond their on-screen debates, solidifying their enduring friendship.

Did Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert like each other?

The relationship between Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert was marked by a genuine rivalry that thrived in the Windy City, Chicago. This rivalry, which persisted throughout their careers, actually played a role in making both critics better at their craft. Contrary to cinematic fiction, a new book underscores that the animosity displayed by this legendary film critic duo on their hit show was far from contrived. Ebert’s journey began when he was hired as the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967, marking the start of their storied partnership.

What is the book about Siskel and Ebert?

In "Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel and Ebert Changed Movies Forever" by Matt Singer, the narrative unfolds beyond the book’s subtitle. Singer delves into the captivating story of Siskel and Ebert, emphasizing not only their impact on the world of cinema but also the profound influence they had on each other. The book, set to release on Oct. 24 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, provides an insightful exploration of the dynamic between these iconic film critics.

What are the names of the two movie critics?

The two renowned movie critics were Gene Siskel (January 26, 1946 – February 20, 1999) and Roger Ebert (June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013). Collectively known as Siskel & Ebert, they were celebrated American film critics known for their enduring partnership on television, which spanned from 1975 until Siskel’s passing in 1999.

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