One point I wished Roger Ebert (left) had addressed when he apologized last week for reviewing a movie after watching just eight minutes of it is that his rare lapse into unprofessional behavior reflected badly on the professionalism of film critics everywhere, at a time when embattled critics facing a massive wave of layoffs and buyouts don’t need to give editors any more reason to replace them with syndicated review copy. Now, however, Ebert has recognized that point in a follow-up blog post that tries to lay out a professional code for critics. It’s a very good list of rules, one that should be followed by anyone who reviews movies, whether you’re a paid movie critic, a movie enthusiast on a blog, or anyone trying to convey to another person the experience of watching a particular movie or DVD and to tell that person whether or not said film/DVD is worth their time and hard-earned money. Ah, but there’s one other, less altruistic aspect of the list, in which Ebert gets some secret payback.
A lot of Ebert’s “don’ts” (don’t effusively overpraise a movie and then forget that you did so, don’t pose for photos with the stars you cover, don’t accept lavish freebies) are rules routinely violated by other critics and entertainment journalists (not here at EW, of course), but the examples he uses for illustration are dotted with frequent specific references to Ben Lyons (right), who now sits in his old chair on At the Movies. Ebert never mentions Lyons by name, but when Ebert quotes a reviewer who cites a film as “the most unique movie-going experience of a generation,” and “one of the best films of 2007, and of the last 25 years” but who then fails to include that film on his annual top 10 list, he’s quoting Lyons’ review of 300, which nonetheless failed to make Lyons’ list of last year’s best movies. When Ebert cites a critic who lets entertainment moguls throw him a birthday party attended by such celebrity guests as “the Britney Spears of Korea,” he’s also talking about Lyons. And when he mentions critics who offer themselves for commercial endorsements, well, who’s done that lately?
Ebert’s evisceration of Lyons seems to have gone unnoticed by his blog’s commenters so far, but I’m not the only one who’s noticed it. Not sure who should be more insulted, Lyons or the Disney folks who hired him and Ben Mankiewicz this summer to replace Ebert and Richard Roeper, but props to Roger for a dish of revenge served up ice-cold. And for reminding his own critics (including me, last week) that not only are there many worse things a movie critic can do than write up a review of a film based on just eight minutes, but there are other critics he could name (but won’t) who do such things far too often.
More on Roger Ebert:
At the (first eight minutes of) the movies with Roger Ebert
EW movie critic Lisa Schwarzbaum on the end of Ebert & Roeper as we know it
Snap judgment: The new At the Movies with Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz