Gene Siskel

Eugene Kal Siskel (January 26, 1946 – February 20, 1999) was an American film critic and journalist for the Chicago Tribune. Along with colleague Roger Ebert, he hosted a series of popular review shows on television from 1975 to 1999.

Gene Siskel
Gene Siskel at the 61st Academy Awards cropped
Siskel in 1989
Eugene Kal Siskel

January 26, 1946
DiedFebruary 20, 1999 (aged 53)
Resting placeWestlawn Cemetery
ResidenceChicago, Illinois
EducationCulver Academies
Alma materYale University
OccupationTelevision journalist, film critic
Years active1969–1999
Notable credit(s)
Opening Soon at a Theater Near You (1975–1977)
Sneak Previews (1977–1982)
At the Movies (1982–1986)
Siskel & Ebert (1986–1999)
CBS This Morning (1990–1996)
Good Morning America (1996–1999)
Home townChicago, Illinois
Marlene Iglitzen (m. 1980)

Early life

Siskel was born in Chicago, Illinois, and was the son of Ida (née Kalis) and Nathan William Siskel.[1] His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. Siskel was raised by his aunt and uncle after both his parents died when he was ten years old.[2] He attended Culver Academies and graduated from Yale University with a degree in philosophy in 1967, where he studied writing under Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Hersey, who helped him land a job at the Chicago Tribune in 1969.[3]


His first print review was for the film Rascal, which was written one month before he became the paper's film critic.[4] Siskel served in the US Army Reserve, graduating from basic officers training in early 1968 and serving as a military journalist and public affairs officer for the Defense Information School.[5]

Teaming up with Ebert

In 1975, Siskel teamed up with Roger Ebert, film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, to host a show on local Chicago PBS station WTTW which eventually became Sneak Previews. Their "thumbs-up, thumbs-down" system soon became an easily recognizable trademark, popular enough to be parodied on comedy shows such as Second City Television, In Living Color, Bizarre, and in movies such as Hollywood Shuffle and Godzilla. Sneak Previews gained a nationwide audience in 1977 when WTTW offered it as a series to the PBS program system.

Siskel and Ebert left WTTW and PBS in 1982 for syndication. Their new show, At the Movies, was produced and distributed by Tribune Broadcasting, the parent company of the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV. Sneak Previews continued on PBS for 14 more years with other hosts. In 1986, Siskel and Ebert left Tribune Broadcasting to have their show produced by the syndication arm of The Walt Disney Company. The new incarnation of the show was originally titled Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, but later shortened to Siskel & Ebert. At the Movies also continued a few more years with other hosts.

A very early appearance of Siskel, taken from Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You, the predecessor to Sneak Previews, is included in For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. In this 2009 documentary film, he is seen debating with Ebert over the merits of the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Normally, Siskel and Ebert would refuse to guest-star in movies or television series, except for talk shows, as they felt it would undermine their "responsibility to the public". However, they both "could not resist" appearing on an episode of the animated television series The Critic, the title character of which was a film critic who hosted a television show.[6] In the episode, Siskel and Ebert split and each wants Jay Sherman, the eponymous critic, as his new partner.[7] They also once appeared in an episode of the children's television series Sesame Street. Siskel also appeared as himself on an episode of The Larry Sanders Show.


Siskel was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor on May 8, 1998.[8] He underwent brain surgery three days later.[9] He had announced on February 3, 1999 that he was taking a leave of absence but that he expected to be back by fall, stating: "I'm in a hurry to get well because I don't want Roger to get more screen time than I."[3]

Siskel died from complications of another surgery on February 20, at the age of 53. The last film that Siskel reviewed on television with cohost Ebert was The Theory of Flight on January 23, 1999. The final film that he reviewed in print was the Freddie Prinze Jr. romantic comedy She's All That, which he gave a favorable review.[10][11]


Siskel was a diehard Chicago sports fan, especially of his hometown basketball team, the Chicago Bulls, and would cover locker-room celebrations for WBBM-TV news broadcasts following Bulls championships in the 1990s.[6]

Siskel was also a member of the advisory committee of the Film Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a strong supporter of the Film Center mission. He wrote hundreds of articles applauding the Film Center's distinctive programming and lent the power of his position as a well-known film critic to urge public funding and audience support. In 2000, the Film Center was renamed The Gene Siskel Film Center in his honor.

One of his favorite films was Saturday Night Fever; he even bought the famous white disco suit that John Travolta wore in the film from a charity auction.[12] Another all-time favorite was Dr. Strangelove.[13] and a favorite from childhood was Dumbo, which he often mentioned as the first film that had an influence on him. On the other hand, Siskel said that he walked out on three films during his professional career: the 1971 comedy The Million Dollar Duck starring Dean Jones, the 1980 horror film Maniac, and the 1996 Penelope Spheeris film Black Sheep.[14]

Siskel compiled "best of the year" film lists from 1969 to 1998, which helped to provide an overview of his critical preferences.[15] His top choices were:

From 1969 until his death in early 1999, he and Ebert were in agreement on nine top selections: Z, The Godfather, Nashville, The Right Stuff, Do the Right Thing, GoodFellas, Schindler's List, Hoop Dreams, and Fargo. There would have been a tenth, but Ebert declined to rank the documentary Shoah as 1985's best film because he felt it was inappropriate to compare it to the rest of the year's candidates. Seven times, Siskel's #1 choice did not appear on Ebert's top ten list at all: Straight Time, Ragtime, Once Upon a Time in America, The Last Emperor, The Last Temptation of Christ, Hearts of Darkness, and The Ice Storm. Six times, Ebert's top selection did not appear on Siskel's; these films were 3 Women, An Unmarried Woman, Apocalypse Now, Sophie's Choice, Mississippi Burning, and Dark City.[15]

Only once during his long association with Ebert did Siskel ever change his vote on a movie during the review. The film Broken Arrow had initially been given a "thumbs up" but after hearing Ebert's criticism, Siskel changed his mind to "thumbs down" to make it unanimous.[16] However, he had changed his opinions on films years after his initial review, such as Tremors, which he gave a negative review to in 1990 but later gave the film a glowing positive review in 1994, stating "I wasn't sure what I missed the first time around, but it just didn't click."

Both critics had specific sensitivities and feelings that would often vary in extremes to certain kinds of bad films. Ebert was very sensitive to films about race and ethnicity, and Siskel was sensitive to films about families and family relationships and had a special hatred for films like House Arrest (1996) and Like Father Like Son (1987), both of which were about parents and their children.

Ebert once said of his relationship with Siskel:

Gene Siskel and I were like tuning forks. Strike one, and the other would pick up the same frequency. When we were in a group together, we were always intensely aware of one another. Sometimes this took the form of camaraderie, sometimes shared opinions, sometimes hostility.[17]

When asked what he thought was the biggest difference between him and Ebert, Siskel unhesitatingly replied: "I'm a better reviewer than he is", but a few moments later, he said that anyone who read an Ebert review would read "an extremely well-written review".

At the 1999 Academy Awards ceremony, after its "In Memoriam" montage of deceased stars and film contributors (which did not include Siskel, as he was not an Academy member) host Whoopi Goldberg gave a brief, impromptu tribute to Siskel in which she said: "Gene, honey, wherever you are, here's to you." and included the traditional "thumbs-up" gesture, to a great round of audience applause.[18]

See also


  1. ^ "He Changed The Way We Look At Movies - tribunedigital-chicagotribune". 1999-02-21. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  2. ^ Farewell To Siskel Honors Private Side Of Public Man Chicago Tribune, Februari 23 1999
  3. ^ a b Mcg, Robert (1999-02-21). "Gene Siskel, Half of a Famed Movie-Review Team, Dies at 53, The New York Times, February 21, 1999". Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  4. ^ "Chicago Tribune List of Siskel Reviews (Notes Rascal as First Print Review)". October 15, 1999.
  5. ^ Manning, Sean (June 30, 2014). "Siskel & Ebert: Secret Ladies' Men". Esquire.
  6. ^ a b Siskel & Ebert episode: "Tribute to Gene Siskel"
  7. ^ "Episode summary: The Critic - Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice".
  8. ^ Life Itself. Dir. Steve James. Part. Roger Ebert and Chaz Ebert. Magnolia, 2014.
  9. ^ "Gene Siskel". Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  10. ^ Siskel, Gene (January 29, 1999). "She's All That Review 29-Jan-1999". Chicago Tribune.
  11. ^ "Chicago Tribune List of Siskel Reviews (Notes She's All That as Last Print Review)". October 15, 1999.
  12. ^ Calhoun, Bob (1999-03-07). "Ebert review". Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  13. ^ Ebert and Roeper
  14. ^ Review: Black Sheep
  15. ^ a b "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969-1998)". 2012-05-03. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  16. ^ Berardinelli, James (February 22, 1999). "A Thumb Falls Silent: A Short Tribute to Gene Siskel". Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  17. ^ "Remembering Gene". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2013-02-07.
  18. ^ "Oscar Night Salute To Siskel Was All Whoopi". Chicago Tribune. March 23, 1999.

External links

1982 Toronto International Film Festival

The 7th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) took place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada between September 9 and September 18, 1982. The festival paid tribute to Martin Scorsese, who attended along with Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall and Harvey Keitel. Scorsese also participated in Q&A at the festival, with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.Atom Egoyan and Bruce McDonald screened their short films Open House and Let Me See respectively outside University theatre, which was the main theatre of the festival, after their films were rejected from 1982 festival.

At the Movies (1982 TV program)

At the Movies (also known as At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) is an American movie review television program that aired from 1982 to 1990. It was produced by Tribune Entertainment and was created by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert after leaving their show Sneak Previews, which ran on PBS from 1975 to 1982.

At the Movies (1986 TV program)

At the Movies (originally Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, and later At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper) is a movie review television program produced by Disney-ABC Domestic Television in which two film critics share their opinions of newly released films. Its original hosts were Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, the former hosts of Sneak Previews on PBS (1975–1982) and a similarly-titled syndicated series (1982–1986). Following Siskel's death in 1999, Ebert worked with various guest critics until choosing Chicago Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper as his regular partner in 2000.

Ebert suspended his appearances in 2006 for treatment of thyroid cancer, with various guest hosts substituting for him. From April to August 2008 Michael Phillips, a successor of Siskel at the Chicago Tribune, co-hosted with Roeper. Starting on September 6, 2008, Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz took over as hosts; their partnership lasted only one season. On August 5, 2009, it was announced that Phillips would return to the show as a permanent co-host, teaming with A. O. Scott of The New York Times for what would be the program's final season.

During its run with Siskel and Ebert as hosts, the series was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards seven times and also for Outstanding Information Series, the last nomination occurring in 1997. It was widely known for the "thumbs up/thumbs down" review summaries given during Siskel's and Ebert's tenures (this was dropped after Ebert ended his association with the program, as the phrase "Two Thumbs Up" is a trademark held by the Siskel and Ebert families). The show aired in syndication in the United States and on CTV in Canada; the show also aired throughout the week on the cable network ReelzChannel.

The show's cancellation was announced on March 24, 2010, and the last episode was aired during the weekend of August 14–15, 2010. The following month, Ebert announced a new version of At the Movies, which launched on public television on January 21, 2011. However, the series went on indefinite hiatus since December 2011 and uncertain to return due to Ebert's death on April 4, 2013.

Crumb (film)

Crumb is a 1994 documentary film about the noted underground cartoonist Robert Crumb (R. Crumb) and his family. Directed by Terry Zwigoff and produced by Lynn O'Donnell, it won widespread acclaim. It was released in the USA on April 28, 1995, having been screened at film festivals the previous year. Jeffery M. Anderson (later critic for the San Francisco Examiner) placed the film on his list of the ten greatest films of all time, labeling it "the greatest documentary ever made."

For Love or Money (1993 film)

For Love or Money (also released as The Concierge) is a 1993 American romantic comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Michael J. Fox and Gabrielle Anwar. It was not a commercial success domestically in North America, earning less than half its production budget before being withdrawn from theatres after just four weeks of release.

Forgiving Dr. Mengele

Forgiving Dr. Mengele is a documentary film about Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust, and Dr. Josef Mengele and his staff, who experimented on her and her twin sister Miriam Mozes, as well as approximately 1,400 other twin pairs.

The documentary was directed by Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh, who also served as producers. They followed Eva for over four years, chronicling her story and her journey to Israel.

Forgiving Dr. Mengele premiered at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, Illinois, on February 24, 2006. It was scheduled to play for a week, and then travel to other cities in the US. The film is distributed by First Run Features, which handles independent films and documentaries.

Gene Siskel Film Center

"The Film Center" redirects here. Not to be confused with the Film Center Building in New York CityThe Gene Siskel Film Center, formerly The Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and commonly referred to as The Film Center or The Gene Siskel, is the cinematheque attached to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It is named after popular film critic Gene Siskel.

Along with Doc Films at the University of Chicago and the Block Museum of Northwestern University, the Film Center is one of Chicago's key revival houses, and hosts at least one major retrospective per month. Unlike Doc or Block, the Film Center also serves as a venue for first runs of foreign and independent films and is not student-run. Amongst other things, this means the Film Center maintains a year-round staff and does not cease operation when The School of the Art Institute closes for semester breaks.

The Film Center reportedly averages 1,500 screenings a year.

Helvetica (film)

Helvetica is an independent feature-length documentary film about typography and graphic design, centered on the typeface of the same name. Directed by Gary Hustwit, it was released in 2007 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the typeface's introduction in 1957 and is considered the first of the Design Trilogy by the director.

Its content consists of a history of the typeface interspersed with candid interviews with leading graphic and type designers. The film aims to show Helvetica's beauty and ubiquity, and illuminate the personalities that are behind typefaces. It also explores the rift between modernists and postmodernists, with the latter expressing and explaining their criticisms of the famous typeface.

Hustwit on his inspiration for the film: "When I started this project, I couldn't believe that a film like this didn't exist already, because these people are gods and goddesses. What they do is more than just logos and corporate branding - they design the type that we read every day in newspapers and magazines, onscreen and on television. Fonts don't just appear out of Microsoft Word: there are human beings and huge stories behind them."Helvetica premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007. The film toured around the world for screenings in selected venues, such as the IFC Center in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Arts London, the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. Helvetica was nominated for the 2008 Independent Spirit's Truer than Fiction Award.

Bands and musicians that contributed to the documentary's soundtrack include Four Tet, The Album Leaf, Kim Hiorthøy, Caribou, Battles, Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake, and El Ten Eleven.

An edited version of the film was broadcast in the UK on BBC One in November 2007, as part of Alan Yentob's Imagine series. It aired in January 2009 as part of the Independent Lens series on PBS in the United States.

The film was released on DVD in November 2007 by Plexifilm.

The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in May 2008, produced by Matt Grady of Plexifilm. The limited (1,500 copies) edition includes Gary Hustwit's autograph. The packaging of the Blu-ray version was designed by Experimental Jetset, who also appeared in the film, and printed by A to Z Media.

House Arrest (film)

House Arrest is a 1996 American comedy film starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Pollak. It was directed by Harry Winer. It boasts a very thorough supporting cast in Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn, Caroline Aaron, Christopher McDonald, Sheila McCarthy and an up-and-coming Jennifer Love Hewitt.

The film was released on November 27, 1996 and went on to gross just over $7 million at the box office. It was widely panned by critics, particularly Chicago critic Gene Siskel, who loathed it and gave it zero stars out of 4.The film was shot at various locations in the U.S. states of California and Ohio. Monrovia, California was the location for several exterior house scenes while most interior shots were done at the CBS/Radford lot in Studio City, California. The story was set in Defiance, Ohio, although another town, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, actually doubled for it.

Lauren MacMullan

Lauren Hunter MacMullan (born April 30, 1964) is an American animation director. She grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs of Havertown, Lansdowne and Swarthmore, and graduated from Swarthmore High School in 1982. She attended Harvard University, and was on the staff of the Harvard Lampoon. Her first primetime TV job was on The Critic, where she directed the episode with guest stars Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, followed by directing for King of the Hill. She went on to become the supervising director and designer for Mission Hill. After the show was cancelled quickly, she got a job directing on The Simpsons, and stayed for three seasons. She also has directed some episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and won an Annie award for storyboarding on that show.

MacMullan was a sequence director on The Simpsons Movie, and in 2009 she was a member of the Pixar team working on the animated film Newt prior to its cancellation. She is currently at Walt Disney Animation Studios, where she worked on the storyboards to Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, as well as directing the 2013 Oscar-nominated animated short film Get a Horse!, featuring Mickey Mouse. With Get a Horse!, she became the first woman to solely direct a Disney animated film (short-length or feature-length).

Life Is Cheap... But Toilet Paper Is Expensive

Life Is Cheap... But Toilet Paper Is Expensive is a 1989 film directed by Wayne Wang. The film stars Cheng Wan Kin and John Chan. It won an award at the 1990 Rotterdam International Film Festival.

The film was the subject of controversy when it originally received an X rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, the distributor, Silverlight Entertainment, chose to release it without this rating and with a self-anointed adults-only A rating. On their TV show for the week of August 13–17, 1990, the late film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert praised the decision to apply the A rating since it was a concept they had often discussed on At the Movies in the context of harshly criticizing the MPAA's standards of forcing serious films aimed at adult audiences to either undergo damaging edits to receive R ratings or be locked out of most theatrical and advertising outlets. Both critics, however, also said the film itself was not very good. However, for anyone who lived in Hong Kong during the preceding five years, the movie was incredibly funny, a series of Hong Kong insider jokes, as well as moving, with a big storyline about what families went through to get precious Western passports.

Medium Cool

Medium Cool is a 1969 American drama film written and directed by Haskell Wexler and starring Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz, Marianna Hill and Harold Blankenship. It takes place in Chicago in the summer of 1968. It was notable for Wexler's use of cinéma vérité-style documentary filmmaking techniques, as well as for combining fictional and non-fictional content.

The movie was met with widespread acclaim from numerous critics, including Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel of Siskel & Ebert, both calling the movie a "well-crafted masterpiece." The movie was also named one of the greatest movies of 1969, as well as one of the most influential movies in the New Hollywood movement. Robert Forster was also met with universal acclaim for his performance.

In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

One False Move

One False Move is a 1992 American crime film directed by Carl Franklin and co-written by Billy Bob Thornton. The film stars Thornton alongside Bill Paxton and Cynda Williams. The low-budget production was about to be released straight to home video when it was finished, but became popular through word of mouth, convincing the distributor to give the film a theatrical release. Film critic Gene Siskel voted this film as his favorite of 1992.

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series or Special

The Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series or Special is handed out annually at the Creative Arts Emmy Award ceremony. The award was established in 2013 as the awards restructured previous categories for Outstanding Nonfiction Series and Outstanding Nonfiction Special. The Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series was also awarded prior to 1998, but from 1998–2012 was called Outstanding Nonfiction Series.

Roger Ebert

Roger Joseph Ebert (; June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013) was an American film critic, historian, journalist, screenwriter, and author. He was a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

Ebert and Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel helped popularize nationally televised film reviewing when they co-hosted the PBS show Sneak Previews, followed by several variously named At the Movies programs. The two verbally sparred and traded humorous barbs while discussing films. They created and trademarked the phrase "Two Thumbs Up", used when both hosts gave the same film a positive review. After Siskel died in 1999, Ebert continued hosting the show with various co-hosts and then, starting in 2000, with Richard Roeper.

Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times said Ebert "was without question the nation's most prominent and influential film critic", Tom Van Riper of Forbes described him as "the most powerful pundit in America", and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called him "the best-known film critic in America".Ebert lived with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands beginning in 2002. In 2006, he required treatment necessitating the removal of his lower jaw, leaving him severely disfigured and costing him the ability to speak or eat normally. His ability to write remained unimpaired and he continued to publish frequently both online and in print until his death on April 4, 2013.

Thea Flaum

Thea Flaum (born Thea Kharasch; September 17, 1938) was an American television producer best known as the creator of Sneak Previews, the movie review show featuring Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. She is currently the president of the Hill Foundation for Families Living with Disabilities, a non-profit organization founded by Thea Flaum and her husband, Robert A. Hill.

Typeface (film)

Typeface is an independent documentary film, produced by Kartemquin Films, about visual culture, technology and graphic design, centered on the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Typeface the film focuses on a rural Midwestern museum and print shop where international artists meet retired craftsmen and together navigate the convergence of modern design and traditional technique. Directed by Justine Nagan, it was released in 2009 after two sold-out sneak previews at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN.

Its international premiere was at the Breda International Film Festival in The Netherlands. Since that time, the film has toured around the world for screenings in select theatres, museums, universities and film festivals, including the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, a sold-out week run at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and the Denver Art Museum in Denver. Musician Josh Ritter provided the film’s soundtrack. Typeface won “Best Documentary” at the Flyway Film Festival in October 2009. The film was a 2010 Regional Emmy (Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the Academy of Arts and Sciences) nominee for Best Documentary.A limited-edition (1,000) version of the Typeface DVD, including a letter-pressed poster by Bill Moran, Artistic Director of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum was released on in April 2010. Cinetic Rights Management/Film Buff handled the digital release of the film, including iTunes and Netflix.

Z Film Festival

The Z Film Festival was a microcinema media showcase that was created by the filmmaker Usama Alshaibi and launched on December 1, 2000, at the Heaven Gallery in Chicago, USA. The following year, his wife, Kristie Alshaibi, teamed up with Usama as director and programmer for the Z Film Festival. In 2001, the Z Film Festival began to solicit short movies internationally which were screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. The festival had its final event in 2006.

Filmmakers who were featured in the Z Film Festival include Miranda July, Richard Kern, James Fotopoulos, Tom Palazzolo, Mark Hejnar, Shawn Durr, Carey Burtt, Meg McCarville, John Goras, Piotr Tokarski, Steve Hall and Cathee Wilkins.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
Television series
Roger Ebert
Gene Siskel

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