Roger Ebert, even in his current physical state, is still one of the most potent critical voices concerning film. It still strikes me as upsetting that he is no longer able to record DVD commentaries, as his work on the supplements for Dark City, Casablanca and Citizen Kane all show how the things are supposed to be done. When he went on the air with Gene Siskel, and later Richard Roeper, he did so with a certain level of authority, and they returned that authority in their assessments.
So when I tuned to PBS and the revival of the original At The brand, it was with the hopes of a true homecoming, and yes, I realized that Ebert’s personal input would be in a highly diminished form. How could it not, after all — but after watching the debut, I have to say I’ve got little interest in tuning in again. The major complaint is not with the format, or that Ebert’s weekly review will be voiced by a celebrity (this week’s being eccentric director Werner Herzog), or that several other reviewers beyond the core duo will be called upon to offer input on classic films, the impact of race in cinema, etc. and so forth. All of these elements work to varying degrees and, I’m sure, will smooth out over time.
I’m not so sure about the two main reviewers though, being Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. Lemire comes across with the confidence of having seen many movies, and having commented upon them, but her panning of every film this week indicates she is an awfully hard sell. Just from her opinions, she struck me as unforgiving of the smallest issues in any given movie, like anything could throw her out of the viewing experience. Maybe she’s just too jaded at this point, but again, this is a debut program at the dawn of a new year, a veritable dumping ground for films that didn’t make the holiday cut.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, on the other hand, reminds me of the kid who just loves the concept of movies so much that he’ll forgive everything. His “actorly” delivery of set-ups, before the showing of the clip and subsequent critical conversation, dripped with a “gee whiz” enthusiasm that might have been ingratiating if it hadn’t been just plain grating. He liked every film on this week’s show. When Lemire mentioned the polar divide between their opinions, Vishnevetsky responded, “I guess you just don’t like cinema.” They reviewed The Green Hornet, not friggin’ Battleship Potemkin, for crying out loud. At that moment, I wanted to reach into the TV and smack him in the head.
I wanted to like this program a lot, and who knows? Once the participants hit their rhythm, perhaps the show will even up and catch pace, but if Lemire insists on being a harsh disciplinarian while Vishnevetsky goes geeky for every flicker on the screen, this is going to be a really brief encounter for this enterprise’s revival.