Interview by Lawrence Grobel
In 1990, Lawrence sat down with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel–the longtime co-hosts of the nationally syndicated show Siskel & Ebert–for a profile he was writing for Playboy.
The Animated Transcript
Lawrence Grobel is a freelance writer who has written 22 books and for numerous national magazines and newspapers.
I have a place in Michigan that has a big long dining room table and I was thinking of getting all of the chairs on one side to only have a right arm, and all of the chairs on the other side to only have a left arm. See so that all of the guests as they reclined would have to look at me. [Larry laughs] I decided not to go ahead with this. Although I felt it would to add a great deal to my legend for eccentricity.
Jesus, when I was sixteen I felt like it was my business to find out what was going on before I was born. I mean, who wants to live in the present? It’s such a limiting period compared to the past. When I was a teenager we went to movies to see what adults did. Now adults go to the movies to see what teenagers do. People over the age of twenty-one hardly ever make love in the movies any more it seems like. They just look around … They just sit around and tell the kids they shouldn’t be doing it. It’s amazing.
What am I looking for? I’m looking for films that come out of a director’s quixotic personal passionate imagination and not films that are manufactured to entertain large numbers of people efficiently. Even though I am often among those entertained. I love to be entertained. I love those films. But the ones that really move me are the ones where a director felt that something had to be said and he said it. Film schools used to have the values of the liberal arts schools. Now film schools are more allied to the business schools in terms of their values; success, money, achievement, and power rather than vision, imagination, truth and social change.
I love the acknowledgement between, in Say Anything, a very underrated movie, the fact that John Cusack loves the girl in that movie because she’s smart and not because she’s pretty. Almost always, my favorite love scenes in movies don’t involve passion, they involve nobility or sacrifice. In which somebody brings out the better side or the better nature of somebody else.
Can criticism be constructive or destructive? Or there can only be good and bad criticism?
Bad criticism you see could be just as constructive or destructive as good. I generally believe that a certain amount of tact is necessary. I don’t think I would mention [Barbara] Streisand’s nose in print any more than I would mention it to her in person. I generally feel that what makes people interesting is the spirit that shines through.
Although of course in the movies you tend to have attractive looking people, one attractive person is compellingly likeable and another one leaves you completely cold. that is more a question of spirit than of flesh.
Who has the biggest egos that you’ve ever dealt with in the movies, either directors or actors?
Well you see is it a healthy ego or a sick ego that we’re talking about? When you say who has biggest ego there’s an implicit criticism. In other words you’re actually asking, “who’s the biggest asshole.” [crosstalk] I would say the biggest ego of anyone I spoke to in the movies belonged to Ingmar Bergman but I would want that to be heard as praise. He has very highly developed sense of self and of who he is and what he thinks and what he cares about. Woody Allen has an extremely well developed and healthy ego. This does not mean he’s conceited. It doesn’t mean he’s insufferable. it just means that he takes himself seriously and he should. I have innate confidence that I am right. I just assume I’m right. Partially out of conviction and partially as a pose.
Episodic television is based upon giving you more or less the same thing every week so that is why you would tune in again. Life is too short to watch the same thing more than once. Unless it really is worth seeing more than once.
Well not everybody knows what to do with their lives. So that’s their entertainment.
We’ll you know it’s too bad. There are a lot of other things to do. You can play poker. You can cook, you can paint, you can draw. You can read. You can have animals. You can have a girlfriend. You can …
You are describing your life.
You can go to the theater. You can travel. Gather together friends. Cook food and eat together and then talk afterward. It sure beats television.
Were They Friends Off Set?
Lawrence Grobel: Do you think a lot of people who watch you think, ‘These guys have to be an act; in real life, they’re probably best friends?’
Roger Ebert: Anyone who would look at our show and think that should get a brain transplant.
Lawrence Grobel: You mean you really dislike each other?
Roger Ebert: Sometimes we do really dislike each other.
Gene Siskel: And sometimes we don’t.
Roger Ebert: And it differs from show to show, and sometimes during the show. On most shows, we like each other. Sometimes during a show, something will be said that will make the hairs on the back of the neck curl. And anybody can see when that happens and when it doesn’t happen. It’s not manufactured.
Gene Siskel: I don’t think we would have been on the air as long as we have been if people were convinced it was a fraud of some sort. When people ask me, “Whatis your relationship like?” the best answer I can give is, it’s what you see. If you see a little bit of dislike, there’s probably a lot going on.
Roger Ebert: In other words, it’s probably more intense.
Ebert’s X-Rated Foray
Ebert’s Way with Words
We took a read through some of the thousands of film reviews Ebert wrote. Here are some favorites:
“My guess is that African Americans will be offended by the movie, and whites will be embarrassed. The movie will bring us all together, I imagine, in paralyzing boredom.”
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, 2009
“If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.”
How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, 2003
“Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson star. I neglected to mention that, maybe because I was trying to place them in this review’s version of the Witness Protection Program.”
The Village, 2004
“To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes.”
The Brown Bunny, 2004
“I will one day be thin, but Vincent Gallo will always be the director of The Brown Bunny.”
“People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty.”
Freddy Got Fingered, 2001
“The film is a vomitorium consisting of 93 minutes of Tom Green doing things that a geek in a carnival sideshow would turn down.”
Mad Dog Time, 1996
“Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time.”
The Spirit, 2008
“To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material.”
“Please Listen Carefully”
“On Things Invisible To The Eye (Act II)”
“It’s That Rag Again” Terry Day
“The Entertainer” performed David Graham Farnon
“Romantic Moment” Harry Lubin
C. Art Shay
Kartemquin Films / Life Itself