One of the most important achievements of the famous film-review show “Siskel & Ebert” was in the way that it took film criticism out of the strict niche of buffs, academics, and snobs, and made the study of cinema accessible to general audiences. For proof, you don’t have to look further than this 1990 episode where legendary critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert attempt to get their audience to give silent films a chance. Their tactical approach is clever, since they begin the episode with the genre that general audiences would be most familiar with: comedy.
Siskel and Ebert make sure to praise the amazing efforts of silent-era comedy superstars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, while admitting that as far as silent films were concerned, comedy was the one genre that retained a chunk of its popularity after the move to talkies because of the visual gags having timeless universal appeal. By easing the audience into the world of silent films through the gateway of comedy, the duo then uses the second act of their show to prove that other genres, ranging from historical epics to straight dramas, benefited from the dialogue limitations of silent cinema in order to tell engaging stories.
The third act is dedicated to some of the best names in dramatic silent acting, where Ebert sneaks in a famous line from “Sunset Boulevard;” and the fourth act focuses on the critics’ picks for their favorite silent films. Siskel, being more of the academic type, picks one of the most notoriously heavy dramas from the period (Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed“), while Ebert, always the romantic, goes with an entertaining bit of fantasy (“The Thief Of Baghdad“) that still holds up to this day (although in this writer’s opinion, the 1940 version of the same story is still the best one). The video might contain an extra layer of nostalgia for Gen-X and Gen-Y audiences, since it was obviously uploaded from a VHS tape, complete with the “Video Calibration” text popping up on screen. Watch below.