Roger Ebert has dug up a classic bit of video from “Sneak Previews,” the movie review show he did three decades ago for PBS with Gene Siskel (before they went into syndication on commercial TV). It’s a discussion from 1981 about who was funnier, Mel Brooks or Woody Allen, who at the time were the predominant writer/directors of comedies in America.
In re-watching this, I felt some sadness for two reasons.
One is that, by that point, both Brooks and Allen had created the best movies they’d ever make — Allen did later have “Hannah and Her Sisters” and the current “Midnight In Paris,” but they were the two standouts in an ongoing catalog of far too many other mediocre-to-poor films. Meanwhile, Brooks — who set a new standard for movie parodies with “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” — ran out of genres to satirize after hitting new depths with “Spaceballs” and “Men in Tights” and hasn’t made a movie since 1995 (although he did hit it out of the park with the Broadway musical version of “The Producers”).
The other reason I felt sad was that I miss seeing Siskel and Ebert having these kind of bright, sophisticated critiques of movies and filmmakers every week on television. While many have tried to copy the form since, none stands up to the original duo, and that includes the two reviewers that Ebert, as producer, has on his new show each week. Without his voice and Siskel’s, it can never be the same.
I can’t embed the classic conversation from 1981, but you can find it at this link.