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Interview: Talking ‘Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever’ with Author Matt Singer

Matt Singer has been a colleague of mine since I began my writing career, over 16 years ago. His articles, podcast, and reviews are always a pleasure to read, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t read a whole ton of his fellow colleagues’ work. Suffice it to say, when Singer writes something, I’m in. The fact that his newest book, Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever, is about subject matter beloved to me, well that’s just an added bonus. I’d read almost any book about Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. That it’s from Singer only makes it more of a must-read. Recently, I got on the phone with him to talk about the book, as well as the research. Today, that discussion comes your way.

Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever is one of my favorite books of the year. Not only does it give you plenty of information about both men, it looks at their iconic show in a way we’ve never seen before. It’s entertaining and informative in equal measure, clearly written by someone who shares your passion. I absolutely loved it.

This is the official description, via the publisher:

Once upon a time, if you wanted to know if a movie was worth seeing, you didn’t check out Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB.

You asked whether Siskel & Ebert had given it “two thumbs up.”

On a cold Saturday afternoon in 1975, two men (who had known each other for eight years before they’d ever exchanged a word) met for lunch in a Chicago pub. Gene Siskel was the film critic for the Chicago Tribune. Roger Ebert had recently won the Pulitzer Prize—the first ever awarded to a film critic—for his work at the Chicago Sun-Times. To say they despised each other was an understatement.

When they reluctantly agreed to collaborate on a new movie review show with PBS, there was at least as much sparring off-camera as on. No decision—from which films to cover to who would read the lead review to how to pronounce foreign titles—was made without conflict, but their often-antagonistic partnership (which later transformed into genuine friendship) made for great television. In the years that followed, their signature “Two thumbs up!” would become the most trusted critical brand in Hollywood.

In Opposable Thumbs, award-winning editor and film critic Matt Singer eavesdrops on their iconic balcony set, detailing their rise from making a few hundred dollars a week on local Chicago PBS to securing multimillion-dollar contracts for a syndicated series (a move that convinced a young local host named Oprah Winfrey to do the same). Their partnership was cut short when Gene Siskel passed away in February of 1999 after a battle with brain cancer that he’d kept secret from everyone outside his immediate family—including Roger Ebert, who never got to say goodbye to his longtime partner. But their influence on in the way we talk about (and think about) movies continues to this day.

Below, you can hear my conversation with Singer. We talk a lot about what he discovered while doing his research watching the pair spar on television. For my money, his research, watching the show, is about as cool as it gets. You can hear about some of the misconceptions about Siskel and Ebert, as well as what he thinks they’d be championing today. It’s a fun little chat. You can buy the book here or wherever you get your favorite reading materials. It’s out now and well worth your time…

Here now is my interview with Opposable Thumbs author Matt Singer. Enjoy:

Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever is available to buy now!


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