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David Poland

By David Poland

Two Veterans Go… Culp & At The Movies

Robert Culp was more of a TV guy than a movie guy. He did have the lead of one true classic, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which would qualify him for the Oscar “In Memoriam” more than some of those fought over this year.
I loved the guy on camera. He was weird and cool and awkward and slick. He would have played David Carr in Carpetbagger: The Motion Picture and Carr would have felt great about the pick.
He’s worked, but it’s been about two decades since we were used to seeing his TV work on a regular basis. I missed him then. I will miss him now.
Also passing is At The Movies, the final incarnation of what was Siskel & Ebert. There was little chance that the quality teaming of AO Scott and Michael Phillips was going to turn the situation around enough to last longer than Disney’s existing syndication contracts. The show was watchable again, but it was not exciting.
No doubt, Roger Ebert will be pleased to have Phillips back on board his long-gestating TV project, likely joining Roeper and maybe Christy Lemire. Sadly, that show isn’t going anywhere either. It’s an honorable expenditure of energy, but 99% likely to be wasted.
The show died with Gene Siskel. Ebert remained a beloved and respected presence, but the decision to go with a lightweight – and in criticism, he has never been anything but a flyweight, at best – to balance the living legend was a fatal error. And when Roger got sick… that was the end of the end.
It is, in my opinion, an unfairness visited upon that show, to claim that it destroyed criticism. The fact is, a lot more people paid attention to criticism because of Roger & Gene’s personalities and TV style than ever actually read Sarris and Kael combined. Moreover, Roger used the TV opportunity to do great things with his work in print criticism and as a hard-charging advocate for films and filmmakers. He has used that bully pulpit as well as any critic with anything close to his profile ever has.
I don’t hate Roeper. I wish him well doing whatever he’s going to do. But he’s not a film guy. He’s a pop culture guy. And for me, the show died when he was chosen for the job. So I am not really up to mourning the loss again.
Really, I am mostly happy for Roger. He will have some small sadness over the loss, but mostly, he will have a ghost of his past removed and continue to move forward without anyway weight hanging on him. Huzzah. At The Movies is dead… long live Roger.

10 Responses to “Two Veterans Go… Culp & At The Movies”

  1. I don’t remember if I was 11 or 12, but it was in the late 1970s that I discovered this little show on PBS called Sneak Previews, and I was hooked. It was equally Siskel and Ebert, and the movies they reviewed. They always seemed to be able to find the balance reviewing big Hollywood movies with little independents, and for the longest time it seemed they always had room for one non-English language film each week.
    When they left public broadcasting and started up Siskel & Ebert & The Movies, I followed them, rather than stick with Sneak Previews and that halfwit Jeffrey Lyons. I kept watching, no matter how many times they changed the name of the show or how many times it would switch stations.
    Even when Siskel died, and Ebert started bringing in guest critics, I stuck with the show, for the most part. For every show with the likes of Joel Siegel and Harry Knowles, there were two with the likes of Martin Scorsese and Joe Morgenstern and Elvis Mitchell. But once Roeper officially came aboard, I started to lose interest in the show, giving up on it fully sometime around 2001 or 2002.
    I don’t think it was Roeper who killed the show, or even the two Bens. I think the overall format died years before, starting with the pairing of Jeffrey Lyons and Michael Medved on the original show. By the time we get to the vapid Todd Newton and the vapid Joyce Kulhawik doing Hot Ticket (which spent more time shilling, and rating, movie trailers than anything resembling film criticism), the format was already dead.
    Still, I have to give kudos to Disney for sticking with it as long as they did.

  2. yancyskancy says:

    Loved Robert Culp. He seemed hip, back when that wasn’t such a pejorative. At times on I SPY, he seemed blacker than Cosby. He was also a great guest murderer on a few COLUMBO episodes. A shame he didn’t work more on the big screen, but he had a long, rich career. Now I’ve got to Netflix HICKEY AND BOGGS, in which he directed himself and Cosby. It’s been years, but I recall it being a pretty good effort. RIP

  3. LexG says:

    SCOTT AND PHILLIPS are about as exciting on screen as a denture commercial.
    You motherfuckers WATCH MOVIES FOR A LIVING. Would it kill a Scott, Phillips, Anne Thompson, Shawn Levy or Ken Turan to DO A ROBERT DOWNEY JR IMPRESSION when they’re on camera?
    How can you be THAT dry and unenthused about YOUR PASSION?
    ANNE THOMPSON is drier than fucking toast on camera, and AO Scott is about as camera-ready as a 9th grade Connecticut biology teacher.

  4. Joe Leydon says:

    Actually, LexG, Jack Garner of Gannett and I once talked about getting together as a wrestling team called Critical Mass. We’d wear masks and shout rude things at bad movies, and threaten to use our trademark move — “Thumbs down!” — or say things like, “We’re gonna colorize you — black and blue!” Funnily enough, however, the idea never went anywhere.

  5. The Big Perm says:

    I would have watched that. Siskel and Ebert were popular in a way most critics could never be, because they were interesting, funny and passionate.

  6. Mostly Lurking says:

    Zimmerman flew and Tyler knew. Robert Culp will always have a special place in my heart. Hopefully, someone as pathetic as me will get that reference.

  7. movieman says:

    Christy Lemire is the Barbie Doll of movie critics. Whenever I see her byline (and she’s in a ridiculous amount of newspapers thanks to her sweetheart syndication deal), I always skip to the next page.
    Like the lion’s share of so-called critics today, she’s simply not worth reading since she clearly knows zilch about film, filmmakers, film history, etc.
    A show combining two lightweight media whores like Malibu Christy and “Call Me Dick” Roeper sounds even more loathsome than the two Ben incarnation of “At the Movies.”

  8. christian says:

    Walter Hill also wrote HICKEY & BOGGS, a minor classic 70’s LA film if there ever was one.

  9. hcat says:

    Am really suprised that he never got to be a bigger actor in films. His reluctant hero, tough guy persona must have just fit better on television (I loved him in Greatest American Hero as a kid) than it did in films (Turk 182 ML).

  10. Mostly Lurking says:

    hcat: we have a winner. His style might not have translated as well to film, but damn did I love that stupid movie when I was kid. Of course, he wasn’t exactly asked to carry the movie.

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