RIP Roger Ebert
Cancer ended his life after 70 years, just one day after the 46th anniversary of when he became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. I want to say I’m saddened by this, but frankly, I just feel empty. Like I knew it was going to happen, but I had hoped it would have been many years from now. Only yesterday he wrote about taking a “leaving of presence” from his usual review-writing duties:
The immediate reason for my “leave of presence” is my health. The “painful fracture” that made it difficult for me to walk has recently been revealed to be a cancer. It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to. I have been watching more of them on screener copies that the studios have been kind enough to send to me. My friend and colleague Richard Roeper and other critics have stepped up and kept the newspaper and website current with reviews of all the major releases. So we have and will continue to go on.
24 hours after I read that, I found out he had died. It’s… not fair.
I was introduced to the language of cinema by my high school ALPHA teacher Steve McCrea, but it was Ebert who introduced me to film criticism and taught me how to “read” a film. Through his reviews and opinions, I developed an interest in classic movies as well as found my own particular tastes in films, somewhat but not always similar to his own. I remember reading his reviews online when I was a teenager. Friday mornings during college I would rush myself to the computer terminals at the Rod Library between classes so I could glance at the week’s latest releases and see if he awarded any four-star ratings (based on a rating system he often said he disliked). It was also a treat to read his rare zero-star reviews, in which he would scorn filmmakers with witty derision.
For many years he would write an in-depth review for his “great movies” series. I’ve maintained a list of movies to see at some point in my life and I’ve kept the titles from his list in a separate column on the front page. Blake and I occasionally discuss how many of the films we have seen or have left to see. The number of films on the list (I’m not going to count) is somewhere between 300 and 400; about 50 of them I have yet to watch. It’s sad to think that list is never going to receive any new additions, and will only get shorter until I have seen them all… which (seriously) is one of my life goals.
From one of my favorite of his journal entries:
What I believe is that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: Curious and teachable. If someone I respect tells me I must take a closer look at the films of Abbas Kiarostami, I will take that seriously. If someone says the kung-fu movies of the 1970s, which I used for our old Dog of the Week segments, deserve serious consideration, I will listen. I will try to do what Pauline Kael said she did: Take everything you are, and all the films you’ve seen, into the theater. See the film, and decide if anything has changed. The older you are and the more films you’ve seen, the more you take into the theater. …
Those who think “Transformers” is a great or even a good film are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved. Film by film, I hope they climb a personal ladder into the realm of better films, until their standards improve. Those people contain multitudes. They deserve films that refresh the parts others do not reach. They don’t need to spend a lifetime with the water only up to their toes. …
Do I ever have one of those days when, the hell with it, all I want to do is eat popcorn and watch explosions? I haven’t had one of those days for a long time. There are too many other films to see. I’ve had experiences at the movies so rich, so deep–and yes, so funny and exciting–that I don’t want to water the soup.
I’m sure the NYT won’t be the only outlet that claims “Citizen Kane” was his favorite film. But anyone who followed his writing knew his heart belonged to “La Dolce Vita”. I’m going to rewatch it this weekend.