Ebert and Siskel review Dole's criticisms of movies


WASHINGTON -- There were briefings on Bosnia, domestic terrorism and trade sanctions yesterday, so I decided to go hear Ebert and Siskel.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel have been reviewing movies on television for 20 years and have become thereby the two most influential film critics in America.

They spoke at the National Press Club, and before they began the moderator announced that in a few weeks Margaret Thatcher will speak from the same lectern.

There was not even a ripple of interest from the audience.

Margaret who? And will she bring film clips with her?

Ebert and Siskel did.

But before they got to the clips, the two talked about Bob Dole's recent attack on the movie industry. "You have sold your souls," Dole told Hollywood last week.

Which got two big thumbs down from Ebert and Siskel, even though they have criticized Hollywood far more than Dole.

"He has not seen the movies he has criticized!" Siskel said. "Do you realize how much work we could get done if we didn't have to see the movies before we criticized them? We could review the movies of the 21st century!"

"Seen this movie? I don't need to see it; I'm a senator!" Ebert said in a rare Bob Dole impersonation.

Ebert said Dole went wrong by "confusing inventory with analysis."

"To say a movie contains something is not enough," Ebert said. "You also have to examine its tone, mood, message, purpose, context and origins.

"Ebert's Law -- which may not be original with me -- is: A movie is not about what it's about. It's about how it's about it."

In other words, if a movie shows a police officer being shot, it shouldn't be condemned solely on that basis. It is important to examine what position the movie takes on the shooting and the context in which that shooting is presented.

" 'Natural Born Killers' [which Dole denounced] actually attacks the glorification of violence in the media," Ebert said.

"Dole wants this debate to divide people," Siskel said.

"He's trying to suck up to the far right," Ebert said.

So not even one star for Bob Dole.

But then Ebert showed a film clip that Dole probably would say proved his point.

It was a clip from "Pulp Fiction" in which the characters use language not usually heard at National Press Club luncheons, which are broadcast on radio and TV.

Afterward, Ebert said: "I was asked to apologize to the radio audience and television audience for the words in that clip. There are certain words you would not use in front of your mother. But as I got older I learned there were certain words my mother knew, but wouldn't use in front of me!"

Ebert said that such words were part of the "American vernacular" and that "Pulp Fiction" was "a very moral film about redemption."

"Certain words are part of ordinary speech," Ebert said. "They are defused."

"The quality of a movie dominates the language of a movie," Siskel said. "I remember when I saw 'The Last Detail' and the woman in front of me turned to her husband and said: 'Darling, they have used the f-word 23 times in the first four minutes!'

"But afterward I asked her if she liked the movie and she said it was great."

Both critics singled out "Hoop Dreams," a project that took five years to complete, as an example of excellence in the movies.

"I hope Senator Dole has seen that movie," Ebert said. "That movie is about a no-go area, an area we don't want to look at: America's inner city. Most people don't know that more black young men go to church each Sunday than white young men. You see that movie and your perceptions will be altered."

Asked if movies were more violent today than in the past, Siskel said they were and Ebert said they were not.

"But TV has become more violent," Ebert said. "And it's not violence itself, but the repetition of violence that is the problem. I worry about children being parked in front of a TV set hour after hour."

Siskel pointed out, however, that "violent images on TV helped shut down the Vietnam War."

At the end of their presentation, the two were asked if they got along or didn't get along.

"Both," said Siskel.

"Neither," said Ebert.

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