Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

The art of movie reviewing has suffered yet another loss.

In this age of technology where anyone can throw up a website and start spouting their opinions as if people cared <trying not to look in the mirror right now>, the art of honest critique has been reduced to whatever inflammatory remark can generate web hits.  Yet we forget that not so long ago, we held certain public critics in esteem.

As I have mentioned before on this site, Siskel & Ebert were reviewers that I grew to know from the time I was still single-digit in years.  There were times where I thought they were too harsh on movies I liked and there were other times where I thought they were spot on.  What I didn’t realize until much later is that they helped with the development of thinking critically.  They didn’t simply tell you a movie was bad; they took the time to explain why.  While Siskel was admittedly the more artsy of the two, it was Ebert that I often agreed with more.

Roger, in his relaxed manner, never made the audience feel stupid.  He gave his critiques in common language and used analogies that sat well with most.  Watching the ease at which he seemed to fit with the “common man,” it is easy to forget that this man also won a Pulitzer and wrote a screenplay that became a major movie (one that he refused to review out of conflict of interest).  He was the one that introduced me to the concept of story being important.  He understood that not every movie was made to win the Academy Award; that at the heart of it all, movies were there to tell stories.  It didn’t matter the genre or premise, but if the story was true, and those making the movie believed in it, then the movie would blossom.  Rarely did he blame technique – the issue with most bad movies was the story or the director failing to get the cast to execute the story.

Sadly, his last few years of life were filled with constant battles.  Yet, over the past few years, Roger Ebert left the world a virtual treasure trove of written essays, reviews , and opinions about so many things beyond the world of entertainment.  Did I necessarily agree with all of it? No, but I think he wanted it that way.  He wanted to spark discussion and thinking.  He embraced Twitter and social media when he could no longer speak; he let his keyboard do that for him.  In 2010, he even started an electronic newsletter that gave you a link to more writings and all he asked for was a one-time fee of $5.  While he caught flack for that request, I gladly gave the $5 and now have 162 copies sitting in my email folder.   Sadly the last one was delivered just a couple of days ago on 4/3.

I will never know if he ever visited this site, even though I sent the link to him years ago in response to a question he asked on Twitter.  I would like to think that if he did, he enjoyed what he saw.  I do hope that wherever he is, he is reunited with Siskel in a private screening room, enjoying their favorite movies over and over again.

As the balcony lights dim for the last time, I leave you with a few quotes from Mr. Ebert that showed his character:

  • From a review of a Rob Schneider movie: “If he’s going to persist in making bad movies, he’s going to have to grow accustomed to reading bad reviews.”
  • “Every great film should seem new every time you see it.”
  • “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”
  • “If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t”