Saturday, April 6, 2013

Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

I'm not going to give you a summary of everything that Roger Ebert achieved in his life. Instead, I'll try to put into words what he meant to me.

I never met the man, or received any comments or emails from him. I sincerely doubt that he ever read a single word that I wrote, but I still feel like I lost a friend. I heard the news on the radio while I was at work, and it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I knew that he had been ill for a long time, but I didn't expect him to die for a few more years.

My blog has only been around for about two years, and I have only been a serious fan of film for five or six years. Sure, I've watched movies all my life, but it's only recently that I really started to take notice of what I was seeing on the screen, and what was being said below the surface. Instead of choosing whatever was popular, such as the latest comic book adaptation or dumb comedy, I started to think about the things that matter in life. Sometimes it was enough to be thrilled or see impressive special effects, but the films that will stay with me forever are those which impact me on an emotional level. I'm not sure whether I would ever have explored so many films that I missed if it were not for Roger Ebert.

Ebert's style was to get right to the heart of a movie. He hinted at the plot, of course, but he had a knack of seeing why a movie worked, or why it didn't work. He sometimes compared the events to things he had experienced in his own life, and that helped me understand why a scene might have been powerful to him.

What I probably admire the most is that Ebert was always honest. He didn't praise something just because he was a fan, or a friend of the director. If you look at his 4-star review of my personal favorite, Mulholland Dr., you might think that he's likely to wax lyrical about anything David Lynch ever gave us. But that's not the case. Blue Velvet earned a 1-star review, and I respect his reasons for giving it such a poor score. I respect all of his opinions because he wrote about the subject for 45 years, and was surely a student of the medium long before that. I can't make similar claims.

Another admirable quality was the way Ebert reacted to setbacks in his own life. He dealt with his illness without complaining, and contributed a huge amount despite eventually losing the ability to speak. He openly admitted his weakness for alcohol, and didn't shy away from showing the world what he looked like after part of his jaw was removed. I smile when I think about the way he talked about his wife, Chaz, and the obvious love they had for each other.

A surprising thing about Ebert is that he was open to any genre, and could recognize the genius in anything. I wouldn't have expected him to like Tarantino's films, but he passionately endorsed them and understood the humor. He also thought about the intended audience for a movie, and rated it with that in mind. He never pretended that he was unable to be reached by movies intended to have mass appeal. I try to keep that in mind when I voice my own opinions.

I was always happy when Ebert added one of my favorites to his great movies list. I know that his opinion doesn't have any bearing on what I like, but it still gave me pleasure to read his thoughts on such movies as Spirited Away. Ebert's endorsement of my favorite films mattered to me, and I will definitely explore many of those great movies that I haven't had the chance to watch.

Roger Ebert's speaking voice may have been lost a few years ago, but his ability to reach people remained until the day he died. In fact, his influence will always be with me.

I started writing because of my love for the NFL, and the need to voice my ideas and opinions about Fantasy Football. I started a blog because I was encouraged to do just that by my closest friend in the world. But I continue to attempt to write movie reviews because of Roger Ebert. I'm unlikely to affect the world in any significant way, but my best chance is through my writing. If I persuade one person to watch a movie because of one of my reviews, it justifies the three or four hours I spent watching the movie and struggling over my wording.

Over the past few years, I avoided reading reviews until I had seen the movie and reviewed it myself. When that was done, I would read Ebert's review and see whether he agreed with me, or if he had noticed something that I hadn't. I'll eventually read everything he ever published, but I'll always miss his presence.

I think that the role of a critic is to give an honest opinion. That's not always as easy as it sounds, especially when you have met some of the people who directed or acted in the movies. I chose Ebert as my go-to reviewer because I knew that I would get his true feelings, but I also found that our tastes are similar. There's no point in reading the words of someone with completely different taste if you want to use the review to decide whether something is worth seeing.

One article that I will never forget has nothing to do with movies at all. Ebert wrote about intelligence, and how many people are afraid to show it. Why do we dumb down what we are saying?

Thanks Roger. The movies won't be quite the same without you. The world has lost an honest, witty, and intelligent man, and a wonderful example of what a human being should be. I hope that you would approve of my amateur efforts.

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