Friday, April 5, 2013

Roger Ebert, 1942 - 2013

Film critic Roger Ebert died yesterday at the age of 70. There have been countless tributes and RIP's out there from fellow critics, actors, filmmakers, bloggers, even President Obama. Most people knew him from his TV partnership with Gene Siskel, where their "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" was used and repeated so much it became part of pop culture, eventually they even had it trademarked. But he started his career when the Chicago Sun-Times film critic retired and he was put into the position in 1967. He always considered himself a writer and reporter above all. He wrote more than 7,000 reviews during his career, most of which I've probably read. He even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, the first movie critic to be bestowed the honor. He apparently had more than 31,000 Twitter posts, though I'm not a big Twitter person so I didn't read most of them. He also posted on his blog frequently, and I read most of those entries.

No one is more responsible for my growth in film knowledge and appreciation than Ebert. As I got into my teens and needed something to push my brain, I came upon Ebert's writing. I'd always preferred Siskel on the show, but Ebert's writing was like a whole new world to me. His weekly reviews (often pushing near 300 a year) have been regularly read by me for more than a decade. His "Great Movies" essays on the essential movies in history were always a welcome Sunday read. Any time I saw a new movie, usually even if I'd read his review before watching it, I wanted to see what Ebert had to say, even (and sometimes especially) when I thought he was wrong. Even today, I've seen a lot of Siskel and Ebert reviews on TV (or YouTube or where their reviews live now) but it's no comparison to what I've read from Ebert.

With on screen partner Gene Siskel
His obvious and unpretentious love of all good movies was a revelation to me. Here was a guy who would give 4 stars to a big Hollywood blockbuster, or a tiny little indie movie, or a foreign film, as long as he thought it deserved it. There were no boundaries, and that was incredibly freeing to me. As long as you could articulate what it was you liked, there was no need to say anything but what you believed. I know now that that's not necessarily a unique quality for a film critic, but at the time it seemed so many were either stuffy anti-Hollywood types, or idiot blockbuster hounds. But in Ebert I found a talented writer who nurtured my love of both watching and writing. In fact, it's over the years of reading his work that led me to start writing myself. This blog doesn't exist without Ebert.
Recently with wife of over 20 years, Chaz
He was tireless in his work. He was still posting reviews as of last Friday, and posting on his blog as of Tuesday. On his blog over the last few years, he related many very personal stories of his cancer treatments and recovery. He'd post on religion, politics, and in one heartbreaking and extensive post, detailed how he battled alcoholism. After cancer took his ability to speak (as well as eat solid food) in 2006, he said he was so open about his fight because his good friend Siskel had been so private about his fight against the brain tumor that took him in 1999. It let us, the readers, into his daily life and his struggle so that he became more than just some movie critic or writer. He was our friend Roger. I don't remember ever shedding a tear over the death of someone I didn't know, and that didn't change yesterday, because Roger Ebert's fans knew him well. RIP

1 comment:

kathy said...

This was a beautiful statement of Eberts impact on your love of film. I read his biography, and enjoyed it. I felt a tear escape and run down my cheek after reading your post. Well done.