Monday, July 2, 2007

And So, As It Must To All Men, Death Came To Joel Siegel

Growing up, all of the New York TV stations had film critics: Dennis Cunningham on WCBS, Katie Kelly (later Pia Lindstrom) on WNBC, Stewart Klein on WNEW (now WNYC, the Fox affiliate), Jeffrey Lyons on WPIX (now the CW affiliate), Judith Crist (then Pat Collins) on WOR, and Joel Siegel on WABC. Thanks to his quick wit, Stewart Klein (who passed away in '99) was always my favorite, even though he tended not to like many of the blockbusters I grew up with. I liked Kelly (also no longer with us) and Cunningham, never warmed up to Crist or Lindstrom, hated Collins, and thought Lyons was worthless (still is). But Joel Siegel, who passed away last Friday, was always a favorite of mine growing up because his reviews were usually a bit more comical and therefore a bit more kid-friendly. He also had an enthusiasm for movies he liked that the others didn't; I can remember his reviews of the hits of the summer of '81, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and SUPERMAN II, seriously stoking the flames of my desire to see those films (although I certainly wanted to well before then). He really loved those movies and several of those big films of my youth and did so in a way that made me relate to him. As the years went on and my taste in movies expanded, I found myself in disagreement with Siegel more often than not, and seeing him quote-whoring on a lot of fairly crappy mainstream movies always made me cringe (especially when the quotes were really whorish), but I would often see him dis other films that the rest of the quote whores overdid their praise of, so he wasn't a complete tool of the major studios. I may not have always agreed with him, but the guy was honest about what he liked and I'm not going to argue with that.

With the news of his death comes a slew of information about the man that I simply had no idea about: that he was a civil rights worker back in the 60s and knew Martin Luther King, Jr. personally; that he wrote jokes for Robert Kennedy and was at the Ambassador the night RFK was killed; that he and Gene Wilder started Gilda's Club, a center for cancer survivors (right next the NYC's Film Forum); that he was nominated for a Tony Award for writing the book of the musical The First, about Jackie Robinson; that after being diagnosed with cancer he became a tireless advocate for cancer reasearch and awareness. I knew of the book he wrote for his young son (born just as he finished his cheomterapy treatments), Lessons For Dylan and that he battled cancer, but the depth of Siegel's life I had no idea about until just now, after his death. The saying goes that it's not how long you live but rather how much life you put into your time, and while I'm sure that Joel Siegel would have appreciated some more time, the guy really did a hell of a lot living.

Siegel's story is inspriational in a lot of ways, not just for all his accomplishments, but because he swam against the common perception of what a film critic is, that of a person who does nothing but sit in the dark all day and then bitch about what he sees. In fact, you might even wonder why, with all of his accomplishments prior to becoming a critic he would even want to be one, but for about 30 years he stayed with it and at the same time living a life that had a lot of ups and a lot of downs but still had a lot going on. I never formerly met the guy, but I would see him at screenings in NYC from time to time (not at the infamous CLERKS II one, though) and think to myself, "That's the guy I used to watch on TV growing up". Now I wished I had stopped to chat with him once or twice because it turns out that reviewing movies was actually the least interesting thing about him. Here was a guy who could tell you about some important moments in history that he witnessed first hand, some important work he was doing on behalf of cancer awareness, and he could talk movies. As his passing proves, you've got to take these opportunities as life presents them to you because they may never come again.

Farewell, Joel Siegel.


John Schumacher said...

That's a great blog article. Very touching. Nicely done, Jersey Boy. (Seriously)

iphonePOV said...

Nice Post -- very touching. Good Job Jersey Boy.

iphonePOV said...

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