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

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The Appendix is a masterstroke in how it honors what Gene and Roger did in passionately championing work that they believed in. I was especially happy to see Nancy Savoca’s “Household Saints” on there, which I struggled to find online after watching its rave review on “Siskel & Ebert” [you can view it at the 12:04 mark in the video embedded above]. 

I like all of the films that are in there, but if I had to rank them, “Household Saints” was honestly among my two or three favorites that I felt were magnificent movies that deserved to be famous classics. It actually just had a rare revival screening at the New York Film Festival, while another film in the Appendix, Michael Roemer’s “The Plot Against Harry,” was shown this summer in a new 35mm print at Film Forum, so hopefully some of these movies will get to be rediscovered by audiences. 

Tell me a bit about the rare footage you found in the archive at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications.

The footage I found there was of a dinner entitled, “Siskel & Ebert: A Critical Revolution on Television,” that occurred at the museum on April 16th, 1998. You had to pay for a table because it was a fundraiser, and the museum’s archivist, Valerie Kyriakopoulos, was able to digitize and send me the full 90-minute tape, which to the best of my knowledge has never aired. I figured they just filmed it for the posterity of the museum. I ended up quoting from it quite a bit in the book because it was filmed right before Gene got sick, and they told some stories that I hadn’t heard before. The way that they talked to each other was at times kind of touching, particularly at the end, when they were actually nice to each other and said how much they mean to each other. That was a real find. 

Was there any other footage you came across during your research that was particularly revelatory for you?

You could only imagine, as a “Siskel & Ebert” fan, what it was like for me to give myself permission to watch hundreds of hours of the show on my computer. To someone else, that might sound like a chore, but to me, it was so much fun. I would have my day job, then put the kids to bed, say goodnight to my wife—who’s a teacher so she tends to go to bed early anyway—and I would have a couple hours with Gene and Roger every night. It brought me back to being a kid and discovering movies through the show. There were many reviews that I either hadn’t seen or had forgotten about. One chapter in the book begins by talking about a particular episode where they review two 1990 melodramas, John Erman’s “Stella” and Paul Brickman’s “Men Don’t Leave.” Gene says on camera, “This is the episode of the show that we need to preserve,” almost as if they’re making a time capsule.


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