“If you’re a small distributor or an independent filmmaker, you can’t buy that air time,” he said. “Here is a national show that gives an independent film the same amount of attention as a major studio release. It is really important for independent films to be taken that seriously and not treated condescendingly.”
“We need more like them in the independent arena,” said Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax. “They are a shot of adrenaline in a world that has gotten anesthetized.”
Through good reviews and bad, Weinstein said he stays focused on the big picture. “They call them as they see them,” he said. “They’ve hated plenty of my movies. You can’t influence them. Lord knows, I’ve tried. But they use their power exceedingly well. They’ve built trust with their audience, so their audience has become more adventurous.”
“The level of influence they have achieved nationally is quite extraordinary,” echoed Rob Friedman, president of worldwide advertising and publicity for Warner Bros. “They are very good about motivating an audience to see films they feel have merit. If they support a film, they will come back to it when it is released on video. They are enthusiastic about movies and enthusiastic about having people watch them, and that’s very healthy for our business.”
Clearly, Siskel and Ebert matter. But how much? Do they wield too much power? “At the end of the day,” Friedman said, “it is up to the public to choose the movies they want to see regardless of critical response.”
Daphne Feysa, 24, agrees. Standing in line at the Cineplex Odeon Universal City Cinemas, the self-professed “avid movie lover” said, “They’ll talk about art-house films I wouldn’t have fathomed seeing, like ‘Heavenly Creatures,’ and I will give them the benefit of the doubt and go see or rent them. But they could say what they want about ‘Interview With the Vampire’ or ‘Desperado,’ and a pack of wolves couldn’t keep me away from either. There are some actors I will see anything that they do.”
Case in point: Jim Carrey, who can now afford to thumb his nose at the critics who so lambasted his two “Ace Ventura” films. Did he, in fact, deliberately reprise for “When Nature Calls” the talk-through-his-rear shtick that so offended Siskel and Ebert’s sensibilities the first time around?