The latest episode of the PBS web series “Blank on Blank” features a vintage interview with Roger Ebert brought to new life through animation. The audio comes from Lawrence Grobel’s 1990 Playboy interview with Ebert and Gene Siskel, which you can read in its entirety here.
Here’s the complete transcript:
Ebert: I have a place in Michigan that has a big long dining room table and I was thinking of getting all of the chairs on one side to only have a right arm, and all of the chairs on the other side to only have a left arm. See so that all of the guests as they reclined would have to look at me. I decided not to go ahead with this. Although I felt it would to add a great deal to my legend for eccentricity.
Ebert: Jesus, when I was sixteen I felt like it was my business to find out what was going on before I was born. I mean, who wants to live in the present? It’s such a limiting period compared to the past. When I was a teenager we went to movies to see what adults did. Now adults go to the movies to see what teenagers do. People over the age of twenty-one hardly ever make love in the movies any more it seems like. They just look around… They just sit around and tell the kids they shouldn’t be doing it. It’s amazing.
Ebert: What am I looking for? I’m looking for films that come out of a director’s quixotic personal passionate imagination and not films that are manufactured to entertain large numbers of people efficiently. Even though I am often among those entertained. I love to be entertained. I love those films. But the ones that really move me are the ones where a director felt that something had to be said and he said it. Film schools used to have the values of the liberal arts schools. Now film schools are more allied to the business schools in terms of their values; success, money, achievement, and power rather than vision, imagination, truth and social change.
Ebert: I love the acknowledgement between, in “say anything…,” a very underrated movie, the fact that John Cusack loves the girl in that movie because she’s smart and not because she’s pretty. Almost always, my favorite love scenes in movies don’t involve passion, they involve nobility or sacrifice. In which somebody brings out the better side or the better nature of somebody else.
Lawrence Grobel: Can criticism be constructive or destructive? Or there can only be good and bad criticism?
Roger Ebert: Bad criticism you see could be just as constructive or destructive as good. I generally believe that a certain amount of tact is necessary. I don’t think I would mention [Barbra] Streisand’s nose in print any more than I would mention it to her in person. I generally feel that what makes people interesting is the spirit that shines through. Although of course in the movies you tend to have attractive looking people, one attractive person is compellingly likable and another one leaves you completely cold. that is more a question of spirit than of flesh.
Lawrence Grobel: Who has the biggest egos that you’ve ever dealt with in the movies, either directors or actors?
Roger Ebert: Well you see is it a healthy ego or a sick ego that we’re talking about? When you say who has biggest ego there’s an implicit criticism. In other words you’re actually asking, “Who’s the biggest asshole.” [crosstalk] I would say the biggest ego of anyone I spoke to in the movies belonged to Ingmar Bergman but I would want that to be heard as praise. He has very highly developed sense of self and of who he is and what he thinks and what he cares about. Woody Allen has an extremely well developed and healthy ego. This does not mean he’s conceited. It doesn’t mean he’s insufferable. it just means that he takes himself seriously and he should I have innate confidence that I am right. I just assume I’m right. Partially out of conviction and partially as a pose.
Roger Ebert: Episodic television is based upon giving you more or less the same thing every week so that is why you would tune in again. Life is too short to watch the same thing more than once. Unless it really is worth seeing more than once.
Lawrence Grobel: Well not everybody knows what to do with their lives. So that’s their entertainment.
Roger Ebert: We’ll you know it’s too bad. There are a lot of other things to do. You can play poker. You can cook, you can paint, you can draw. You can read. You can have animals. You can have a girlfriend. You can …
Lawrence Grobel: You are describing your life.
Roger Ebert: You can go to the theater. You can travel. Gather together friends. Cook food and eat together and then talk afterward. It sure beats television.