I just heard the news on the Internet, of course, that there will be no more raising thumbs for films. Gene Siskel died fourteen years ago, and his colleague died today.
I moved to Chicago in 1967, the year Roger Ebert began his film critiquing career, writing for the Chicago Sun Times. I wasn't old enough even to see most movies then, but I was a few years later, when he teamed up with Gene Siskel in 1975 to review movies for a local Chicago station. The show was picked up for national distribution on PBS not long after I set off for college, a welcome relief for this Chicago gal who, it turns out, never moved back.
The Siskel and Ebert thumbs were, for most of my life, a big part of my movie-going calculation. One thumb ... well, maybe if there was nothing more interesting going on. Two thumbs down and I was simply not giving up the ticket price. But two thumbs up-especially two enthusiastic ones, or thumbs "way, way up" -- and I was there. If this chubby guy and his skinny colleague could agree on a movie, it had to be good.
Perhaps there is some irony in the fact that two old white guys shaped a young girl's movie tastes even in the 1970s, especially the taste of a movie-goer who would come to lament the dearth of women making films. But there it is.
I'm not sure when the movie-critiquing world moved to the hard and pointy edges of stars, but it's always seemed to me that the increased precision those stars suggest is illusory. If a film gets three stars, should I spend the ticket money or not? And there is something about those thumbs -- the vision of a warm, human hand extended to help me make a decision -- that gets lost somewhere in those 1/2 stars that forever seem to result.
Goodbye, Mr. Ebert. My two thumbs are way, way up for the film education you gave me, and the hours of enjoyment you steered me toward. You will be missed.