Watch: Roger Ebert Was a Total Dick to Gene Siskel
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Watch: Roger Ebert Was a Total Dick to Gene Siskel

By Dustin Rowles | Videos | August 29, 2012 | Comments ()


I gotta be honest: though I know we in the movie critic world are supposed to revere Roger Ebert, the guy has always rubbed me the wrong way. I was never a fan of Ebert on "At the Movies" because when Ebert didn't like a movie, he expressed more than negative reviews, he displayed contempt. Nobody enjoys beating the crap out of a bad movie more than I, but Ebert often came off as nasty and mean-spirited, and regardless of how bad the movie was, he had a way of eliciting my sympathy for the victims of his pans.

Of course, later in life, Ebert has softened, and in his writing, he comes across as far more thoughtful, but his television presence always made me bristle. It's not that I disagree with his opinions or anything, it was that he was so unlikable. In my mind, he is largely responsible for the negative stereotypes that people so often associate with critics, notwithstanding the admiration and respect he's received later in life.

If you're not old enough to remember "At the Movies" with Siskel and Ebert, never watched it, or don't have any memory of it, I present to you this outtakes clip from the show. It's from the 1980s, and it reminds me of everything about Roger Ebert that rubbed me the wrong way. He was a total dick.

Stick around at least until the 3:00 mark on this video, where you'll get to see Gene Siskel (rightfully) call Roger Ebert an asshole.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Hi, I just wanted to say, I love everyone's comments. I think everyone is right on , totally!! It is so nice to see such a group of smart people. Not always what I see on other comment forums. I was just looking up stuff about Ebert and found this. I have not been aware of Dustin and his reviews, but I will look for them in the future and I do agree, that re: ebert, it really is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Also, the snarkiness on the part of Siskel and Ebert is what made their show so much fun to watch. Sort of the intellectual version of the physical slapstick that is Jersey Shore. People like to watch people throwing down :) As we all know.... (especially if we know they're all friends and laughing all the way to the bank)

  • PuraPuma

    "I already shot my wad on the Protestants!" I actually really enjoyed watching this. I thought it was hilarious. At first I thought, "Wow, they hated each other." but as it continued it seems they really had a good time jabbing each other.

  • picakname

    They were basically doing the dozens at each other after 3:00! C'mon, it was great! And Siskel's rant about the WASPs controlling everything, followed by Ebert's "You're right" *beat* "Up next, Robocop" is hilarious.

  • Strand

    I'm pretty sure Ebert addressed this clip several times recently when people accused him of being just that: a dick. There were plenty of off-screen drama between the two and like any two guys who spend a lot of time together (as anyone with brothers would know), they got into fights and some of them happened to be filmed. This didn't diminish their friendship or the fact that they remained extremely close until Siskel's death.

  • Seth

    Wow. Young people have thin skin. I guess Dustin is the guy that can't believe he's not going to change the world with his voice on American Idol, week one.

  • Lauren_Lauren

    It's his creepy, sleepy doll-eyes. His face looks assembled from a series of sour grannies.

  • Jerry Kenney

    Sometime around 1973, I remember Ebert hanging out at Chicago's North Avenue Tavern or Bar or whatever it was called then. All the drunken journalists and Dakn Williams used to hang there. Ebert would come in with a draft of a column and round up as many as he could (very few) to impress with his words. He may be a sanctified film critic today, but 35 years ago, he was a bona fide jerk.

  • special snowflake

    Ebert was the designated 'dick' from the very inception of "At The Movies" - he looked and (gleefully) acted the part, and Siskel played off of Ebert's dynamic to his advantage.
    At least Roger & Gene only had to endure each other's feedback - poor Dustin and his internet ilk face the instantaneous backlash to their reviews (and whatever personal digs they want to include) from an ever-watchful and judgemental multitude of commenters, carefully typed missives posted for the masses and saved for posterity on the very site they originated from.
    It only took a small film crew to shoot Siskel and Ebert in an empty movie theater telling viewers their opinions of movies and then hashing out their differences on a tightly-edited weekly program; it takes big balls and a thick skin to let the rest of the world throw in their own two cents.
    Notice how Dustin hasn't rushed in to defend or qualify every sentence he wrote to every negative comment posted? Those old-school critics had it EASY.

  • Mickydee

    Remember Siskel died from a Brain Tumor. At the time these clips were recorded no one knew if it might or might not have effected his speech. I love this clip and I loved watching both Sneak Previews and At the Movies.

  • Kenny G.

    Hey...the guy wrote BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS...give him a break!

  • Pookie

    On a personal note I like Rowles, but some of his business decisions are questionable.

  • Jeremy Carrier

    Siskel and Ebert were BOTH dicks, to each other and to the shitty movies they watched. They also shared a passion about cinema, and were great colleagues for about 25 years. There were like an old married couple. Not a year goes by since Gene's death does Roger not write about his absence, and how he thinks about him every day.

  • Bisskitt

    I had the pleasure of meeting these two when they filmed the opening and closing segments for their "At The Movies" show while I was a "Popcorn Girl" at the theater they used for the shots. They honestly seemed to like each other but they ragged on one another all the time. It was an interesting dynamic and made for great television.

  • Slash

    Eh, Siskel seemed like he could give as good as he got. Shocked to find that people in entertainment can be assholish.

    Doesn't really reach the level of what's his face screaming at Lily Tomlin in "I Heart Huckabees." At least Siskel and Ebert are funny while ragging on each other. Not much funny to be had when someone just screams obscenities (as kind of entertaining as that can be, in a slowing down to look at a car crash way).

  • Badlands

    Did Dustin watch past the 3 minute mark? Clearly ribbing the shit out of each other was there thing and it was very two-sided. The first few minutes do make Roger look like an asshole, but its mostly because Siskel seems to be off his game that day. Cut to the next segment and you can see not only does Siskel give as good as he takes, but this sort of thing was par for the course for them. I loved Siskel and Ebert as a kid and Roger is no more of dick than the way any of us probably are around our buddies.

  • Badlands

    there = their.

  • citizen_cris


    Siskel and Ebert were practically best friends. Read any interview Ebert gives, he always mentions Siskel and how much he still misses them. I think that's just the way their relationship was.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    (see previous article where Dustin didn't think Harry & Sally would last due to the bickering)

  • ,

    Oh, for the good old days when they pretty much despised each other. They got some good arguments going then. And then they grew to like each other, and began to agree more often, and the show went to shit.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Wait a second.

    The man who created and runs THIS sight didn't like Ebert because when he "didn’t like a movie, he expressed more than negative reviews, he displayed contempt."?

    Ha. That's a good one. You had me going there for a second.

    (Reads review of "The Roommate" - -- Dustin Rowles - "It’s a roller coaster of malaise. It’s not even a pile of shit; it’s a limp turd, flapping in the wind, five-stars of perfectly executed worthlessness.")

    Aaahhahahaha. Love it. LOVE IT.

  • Artemis

    Jesus, thank you. Just in the past six months, Dustin has said the following about films he reviewed:

    The Paperboy is "a haggard old dog of a movie that is a calamitous failure on just about every conceivable level. Stupid, boring, ugly, badly written, directed and acted, morally questionable and smug, this is a dud through and through, with so few redeeming features that it would be an act of charity for me to list them."

    "What to Expect When You’re Expecting is the funeral dirge of pregnancy movies, bullshit platitudes slathered in processed cheese. It may not be the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly one of the most fake. The two-celled organisms that wrote this movie along with a focus group of short-circuiting droids knows as much about pregnancy and childbirth as Lindsay Lohan knows about sobriety: They pay lip service to the concept, without injecting any actual truth to it. It’s a butt baby of a movie birthed against a brick wall, a complete and total waste of mostly untalented pretty people."

    "If someone ate a box of Hallmark cards, puked them up, and smeared them all over film reel, The Vow would be the result. The director doesn’t even know how to manipulate properly. It’s like sticking an adorable kitten inside of a dead fish. People have had bowel movements more romantic than The Vow."

    I'm not saying he was wrong about any of those movies, and I enjoy snarky reviews, but it's pretty damn rich to still dislike Ebert because thirty years ago he was "nasty and mean-spirited" and "displayed contempt" for bad movies when you're producing reviews like the above.

  • Sandra

    This x1000
    I can't believe you actually wrote this article. Un f**king believable.

  • Sirilicious

    Political Animals was also (a bowl of) shit, according to Dustin.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Ditto. This makes me think of all those studies about how we think what other people do is wrong, but when we do it our brains do synaptic somersaults to justify it.

  • Word.

    Dustin Rowles calling out Roger Ebert for his dickishness is like Gallagher taking Carrot Top to task for his over-reliance on prop comedy.

  • kushiro -

    Which sight? I want to see it.

  • MikeRoorda

    A few things. If you have a bad day or are a dick, and you happen to work in the media, there's a good chance that the camera is running. If you piss off the people running the camera, or they happen to not like you on principle, that moment will likely be immortalized for ever and distributed as proof of what an awful human being you are. God forbid some of my worst moments at work be committed to film and displayed for everyone to see.

    In order to be a successful on-camera personality you have to have a commanding presence and know what you want and what it should look like. The other people in the room are there to make that happen for you. Operating under those conditions for extended periods of time can lead you to believe that you are somehow better, or more valuable than, the supporting staff. It's not true, but the trap is a common one and difficult to avoid. People like Mike Rowe, who seems to be able to produce quality content without the hubris, are much more respectable because of it.

    Roger Ebert may indeed have been a dick. Even if he was, it appears that he and Siskel's relationship was at least partially built upon an acerbic back and forth bordering on verbal abuse. Gene wasn't giving any back in the first clip. In the second, he relentlessly attacks Roger's weight and (although clumsily) insists that Roger is "the only person in the world to say 'yes' to all of McDonald's questions." (Would you like fries/to supersize/a desert with that?) Roger laughs, but you can imagine it being not terribly comfortable to have to endure a room full of people all laughing at your lumpy sack-of-flour physique.

    While it also appears Siskel harbored some strange conspiracy theories, it seems the two were made for each other and both contained equal measures of piss and vinegar.

    I suspect Ebert's softening (not a fat joke, promise) in his old age has something to do with all that he's endured. He's learned the value of life and had to fight several serious health issues largely in the public. He survived. Survivors rarely remain bitter and angry.

  • bleujayone

    To be completely fair Gene Siskel could be a colossal prick too. Of the two of them it was he that would rub me raw even when he wasn't doing anything wrong. Three things that pinched me in the fleshy underparts of my mind were his almost fanatical worshiping of Woody Allen like John Madden to Brett Favre, his not so covert way he would alter his reviews in print depending on how the movie was doing and his passive-aggressive insults on Ebert. Roger might have been a asshole, but he was usually up front about it. Gene was notorious for carrying grudges and would niggle at his counterpart for something said ages before. Whatever else, the two of them deserved one another.

  • Tammy

    Side note: "Fleshy Underparts of my Mind" will be the name of my memoir.

  • Socrates_Johnson

    I might actually feel worse for the director.

  • And whomever writes the promo copy. And the workers at McDonald's.

  • Wow. I knew he was an asshole, but that shit ran deeper than I imagined. Siskel's face says it all.

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