TV Show ReviewsJosh Reviews Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever

Josh Reviews Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever

I thoroughly enjoyed Matt Singer’s book Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever.  Siskel & Ebert loom large for me, as they do for so many other movie-loving people of my generation.  (And clearly for author Matt Singer, too!)

Their show, in its various formats, was a constant presence for me growing up.  To this day, I love going back and reading Roger Ebert’s archived reviews.  (I’m not alone in this.  To give just one example, one of my favorite podcasts is The Rewatchables, and they love checking in on Rog’s reviews, to see where he was spot on and, occasionally, where he might have missed the mark.)

Opposable Thumbs is a delight from start to finish.  It’s thorough and deep, filled with detail, but it always has a fun, light tone, making it an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read.  (This was the key to Siskel & Ebert’s film criticism as well, of course!  It was educated, but always designed to be accessible and easily digestible by the masses.)

The book charts the course of both men’s lives; starting with the separate start to their careers.  Mr. Singer sorts through the many different legends and stories about how they were brought together and how their show began.  (Not surprisingly, many different people take credit for different aspects of this momentous event.)  The book takes us through their two and a half decades working together, charting the duo’s rise to great success, and the impact they had on the movie business, on the art and business of film criticism, and on how an entire generation consumed and discussed movies.

The book also, of course, tells the sad story of the premature end to both men’s lives.  Mr. Singer points out, correctly, that while it’s incredible we got so many years of the duo, it’s a tragedy that we were all robbed of so many more years of their working together. (Gene Siskel died of cancer at age 53, and the end of Mr. Ebert’s life was filled with surgery after surgery; disfigurement and the total loss of his ability to speak, before he passed away at the age of 72.  Mr. Ebert’s remarkable life, and the unfiltered story of his difficult final years, was chronicled by the wonderful documentary Life Itself, which is absolutely worth your time if you haven’t seen it.)

The book spends a lot of time exploring what it was that made this mismatched duo so compelling to watch.  I particularly loved the chapter exploring what great guests they were on talk shows, particularly on Late Night with David Letterman.  (After reading that chapter, I went down a happy rabbit hole of watching various clips of their talk show appearances.  I started with their famous on-camera argument about Free Willy on Letterman, and went from there.)

The book also, of course, digs into the question of whether the two really liked or disliked one another.  Their public persona was based on their disagreements and debates, and there are plenty of video clips (here’s a link to one of their most contentious episodes, in which they argue about Full Metal Jacket and Benji the Hunted, and of course there’s also this infamous behind the scenes clip of the two of them sniping at one another while attempting to record a promo) in which what seems like a genuine dislike of one another slips through.  But what did they really think of one another??  Mr. Singer explores this question in depth, and his conclusions seem well-supported.  I won’t spoil everything in the book, of course.  I’ll just say that Mr. Singer suggests that as opposed to many, many other famous artistic collaborations, in which things start off all sunshine and rainbows but then, with success, splinters into ugliness, these two had the opposite arc: they started as rivals and, while they retained their rivalry throughout their lives, they seem to have reached an understanding and friendship as their ride together progressed through the years.  I’m pleased by that thought.

I was thrilled that Mr. Singer included, at the end of the book, a chapter called “Buried Treasures”, which contains snippets of reviews of great but mostly forgotten films to which Siskel & Ebert gave two thumbs up.  While reading that chapter, I made a list of a lot of films I need to now track down and watch!!

Opposable Thumbs is a terrific salute to these two groundbreaking men, and the incredible impact they left behind. The best review I can give this book is that it makes me want to go back and rewatch their shows from three decades ago on youtube immediately (here’s a great list of some of their best episodes)… not to mention that I want to go watch all these movies that these two men loved and championed!!

Please help support my site by purchasing a copy of my latest comic book, Brother’s Keeper, which tells a true story from Israel’s 1948 War for Independence.  Click here to order a print copy, or click here to read it FREE on Kindle Unlimited!!

OR, click here to order a copy of my graphic novel, José and the Pirate Captain Toledano, a story of Jewish pirates that’s also a powerful coming-of-age story about “finding one’s tribe” and one’s place in the world.

Please support my website by clicking through one of my Amazon links the next time you need to shop!  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  That means I’ll receive a small percentage from ANY product you purchase from Amazon within 24 hours after clicking through.  Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *