As you might imagine, "Siskel and Ebert At the Movies" was a staple of my childhood. My brother and I would tune in religiously to hear what those two critics thought of that week's movie releases. They could make or break a movie with the flick of a thumb. Suddenly, critics had power. Who would have thought that two Chicago newspapermen could have changed the we way see movies?
They gave a generation the vocabulary to discuss film. They made it okay to disagree, debate, argue and, sometimes, be downright nasty about it. They also made it okay to be funny and casual about it. You didn't need a doctorate in film theory to know if a movie was a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down". You just needed a thumb. And now everyone with a thumb - and an internet connection - is a critic.
But at the time, they gave film criticism a voice. Which made it all the more tragic when that voice was taken away from Roger Ebert in 2006 after a battle with thyroid and salivary gland cancer.
[And yet it always seemed ironic that, when Ebert himself chose to write a film, it was 1970's gonzo head-trip, "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls". How could that script come from a man who knows so much about film? Well, we were just coming out of the 60s....]
Now we've all lost that voice. Though many came after him, there was never another Roger Ebert. Just like the "At the Movies" TV show was never the same without Siskel, film criticism won't be the same without Ebert.
And so we all hold our thumbs at half-mast for this passing of this iconic figure in both film and criticism.
But for those of us who read him, followed him and admired him, we'll always see him at the movies.