Professional film critics in the Chicago area spend a good deal of their lives sitting together in the dark, watching as many as four soon-to-be-released movies a day in a screening room on Lake Street. Like a graduate seminar classroom, it’s a place with its own peculiar culture, rules of conversation, and a tacitly rigid seating chart. The view, from some of the regulars.
|1. Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times movie critic
Where he sits and why: “I like to sit further back,” Ebert says of his seat on the left aisle of the back row. An optometrist once told him that from the back he can see the entire screen without moving his head and, he says, “this room is not a deep one.” As for chitchat etiquette, Ebert says, “We usually don’t talk about the movie. It’s off limits.”
|2. Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune movie critic
Where he sits and why: “Ever since I’ve gone to movies, I like to be overwhelmed by the image. I don’t want to be detached from the movie; I want to give it every chance to take me over,” explains Wilmington about his preferred spot in the second row on the left aisle. “I think it’s more fun to see a movie like that. I want to get into whatever experience the film has to offer.”
|3. Allison Benedikt, a Chicago Tribune editor who contributes to the paper’s reviews
Where she sits and why: A relative newcomer who typically sits somewhere near the back and middle of the theatre, Benedikt is one of the few female critics present. “At first I was conscious of that-for example, when I was seeing a sexy French movie and feeling very aware that I was the only woman in the room,” she says. “Now I don’t think about it too much. And I think it’s good for the boys.”
|4. Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader film critic
Where he sits and why: Rosenbaum’s usual spot in the first row lets him experience movies in the way he did during his time abroad. “I lived for five years in Paris, and in Paris there’s a tendency to have the floors slanted in such a way that the movies sort of fall on top of you-which I like,” he says.
|5. Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times movie critic and columnist
Where he sits and why: Roeper would actually prefer to be farther back than his usual seat in the third row on the right-hand aisle, but it would put him too close to you-know-who. “I thought sitting anywhere next to Roger would look stupid,” he says. “Occasionally we’re on a flight together and it looks like a bad sitcom.”
6. Peter Sobczynski, film critic for the Liberty Suburban Chicago Newspapers
Where he sits and why: “I don’t have to look up or look down; it’s the right angle,” Sobczynski says of his customary seat in the front row, last seat on the right. “I’m on the taller and heftier side. This way I’ve got more legroom and can stretch out a bit. It’s not the type of seat anyone else would take, so I don’t have to worry about fighting for it.”
7. Dann Gire, Daily Herald film critic
Where he sits and why: Dann Gire sits in what used to be Gene Siskel’s chair, in the back row to the right of a phone in the center. It puts him a few seats over from Ebert. “For about 21 years we never actually exchanged conversation. We sat feet away from each other and could not talk,” Gire says. “About two years ago we found some common ground, and we’ve become friends. Now we trade tips on New Balance shoes and shaving cream.”
8. Sergio Mims, N’digo critic
Where he sits and why: “It was just habit; it wasn’t like it was the best seat in the house,” Mims says of his spot in the second row from the back, one or two seats in from the right aisle.