Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Mike's Letter

March 2nd, 1999 12:00 AM

Letter From London, Remembering Gene Siskel

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you from London where, tomorrow night, our new show, "The Awful Truth," will premiere. The British network, Channel Four Television, is the main backer of the show, so the Brits get to see it first. If you live in the UK or Ireland, you can tune in at 10:30pm tomorrow (Wednesday, March 3rd) on Channel Four.

If you live in the U.S., the twelve-week run begins on BRAVO, Sunday, April 11. And, yes, my Canadian neighbors, we will air on your BRAVO channel, also beginning in April.

The response to the show over here has been incredible. You really begin to notice how lacking we are, as Americans, when it comes to an appreciation of satire. The Irish and British do not seem to be suffering from ironic illiteracy. Count the Canadians in with that group, too. It might seem a bit weird that this show by Americans about America is airing here first, but I have to say, without the vast support we receive in Britain, Ireland and Canada, our work would never be seen in America. Sad, but it's the awful truth.

Good news - the Brits still have Pinochet under arrest! How cool is that? OK, now that's two nice things I've said about the United Kingdom. I had better stop here before I'm paid a visit by the ghosts of my Irish ancestors tonight!

On a more somber note, I was deeply saddened by the death last week of Gene Siskel. He was not simply a film critic - he was a film advocate. With his equally intelligent and witty partner, Roger Ebert, he made it his main mission to support film not only as an art form but as a means to affect change in our society.

Gene was a huge champion of independent and documentary films. I have to say, quite frankly, had it not been for his (and Roger's) early and loud support of "Roger & Me," I doubt if my movie would have been seen by as many people who saw it. I owe much of what I'm able to do now (including the upcoming TV series) to Gene Siskel.

I got to know him a bit over the years and he was always there to give me an encouraging word, a piece of sage advice, or a gentle nudge to keep going. The first time I met him, he picked me up at ten at night in the dead of winter wearing what could best be described as a cross between the McKenzie Brothers and Elmer Fudd.

"C'mon, get in the car," he said, as I nervously hopped in. "We're going to a GM dealer."

Gene had convinced a Chicago GM dealer to open up his shop so we could go sit on the hood of a Cadillac and tape a piece for his local TV show in Chicago. What was funny was that the GM dealer agreed with us as we took a good poke at Generous Motors. "Hey, I'm the guy stuck with having to sell these things!" he moaned.

Ebert was the first critic to see "Roger & Me" and, once he got Gene hooked on it, they both locked into their friendly rivalry as to "who liked it more."

When it came time for their year-end "10 Best Flims" show, Roger went first with his list and placed "Roger & Me" #5 on his list. Gene went next and named it #2. Roger later told me that that was an audacious thing for Gene to do when he, Roger, had "discovered" the film. Gene told me later, "it's not my fault Roger didn't have the courage of his convictions!" These two loved to mix it up but they had tremendous respect for each other and, more often than not, were in agreement on their advocacy for filmmakers like myself, Spike Lee, and others (that some year, they both did agree that the best film of the year was "Do the Right Thing").

I will miss Gene Siskel a lot. His enthusiastic support of films like "Hoop Dreams" made sure that the public got to see those movies. Week after week, he and Roger have been the only link between the obscure independent art house and the mass, general public. Women, African-American and working class filmmakers have lost a true friend, and I have lost a mentor who, in large part, is the reason most of you know me.

Not too bad a result for lighting a single candle, eh?

Next Cadillac I see, I'll give the tires a good kick.

Yours,

Mike
MMFlint@aol.com
The Awful Truth

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