Friday, April 5, 2013

Roger Ebert, Me, and Superman! In That Order. Sorta.

This will be quite an off-beat post, as I'm gonna talk about the newly-deceased Roger Ebert. Yes, even this ties in to comic books, as you'll soon see.

It's late 1978. I knew as much about film criticism as the next average kid, which is to say I knew nothing. Sure, I knew of Rex Reed (who also ties in to the movie about to be recalled), but not as a known critic, but as that mincing, moaning, eternally disagreeable panelist on THE GONG SHOW. Plus, at that time, why did "Joe Average" need movie reviews? Weren't only the fanciest, film festival-fodder type movies given that treatment? Who is gonna sit for a show of serious criticism about what's at the drive-in that weekend?

So, around November of '78, when I tuned in to a new PBS (that boring old station?) show called SNEAK PREVIEWS, it wasn't to see two fancy big-city newspaper writers argue about flicks, but to get a glimpse of the then-new SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE.

That's right. Imagine a time, kids, when we weren't chin-deep in media saturation. No internet. No YouTube. No ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. You wanted inside scoops on upcoming films? You had to catch a trailer (on TV), read STARLOG, or grab a peek on SNEAK  PREVIEWS, the only show of its type!

Heck, I wasn't even going to see that initial SUPERMAN film, as I had recently left DC Comics and their characters behind, due to my outgrowing (at 13!) such "kiddie comics" earlier that year, for the much more "adult" world of Marvel Comics!

But, my curiosity got the best of me, so I looked in.

I got more than I bargained for. Here were two critics, making salient and intelligent points about the films they reviewed that night, in such a manner that one was hard-pressed to decide if the two were friends or long-time enemies.

They were, it turned out, sorta both.

They also were a breath of fresh air, exchanging engaging (sometimes barbed and sharp-tounged) comments back and forth, but never with any sort of real anger or in a mean-spirited way. They could "fight" tooth-and-claw for the half-hour show, but you never doubted they ended the segment as friends. Try finding that kind of adult discourse on the internet (FaceBook, anyone?) today.

And, they were from the era when media, and TV and movies, "knew their place." They were minor distractions. TV was something you watched with one eye (including SNEAK PREVIEWS), while you read or your Mom sewed, or Dad tinkered. No wonder such a thing as a "film critic" seemed so odd and esoteric. Not like today, where you can't walk 20 feet without hearing (whether you want to or not) about that horrible new film, dull talk show host, flavor-of-the-month rock star, air-head celeb, and who they're dating, suing, divorcing...Ugh.

So, here's to Roger Ebert. I heard NPR refer to him favorably as a "film fanboy," and I guess that about sums it up. For those of us from the world of comics who live, breathe, and know this stuff inside and out (certain eras, anyway), it's easy to see that the same applied to Ebert. 

He lived and breathed film, and it showed.

Oh. Siskel and Ebert gave generally favorable reviews to SUPERMAN, but said the miniature work toward the film's end looked a bit cheesy, as did the scene of "Superman holding up the Earth." I recall those words to this day.

And, no, I never did see SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE in theaters, only on TV. I was a very resolute kid! But if it ever comes back around again, in a revival or "special edition" silver screen return...

...Save me the aisle seat.

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