This is the way I will remember Roger Ebert – as the robust, thumbs-up toting film lover who loved movies (perhaps) more than any of us. As the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his contributions to cinema go down in history. He watched over 300 films a year, writing consistent and fresh criticism in a syndicated readership and popular television show that pushed film criticism into our daily lives. And when cancer disfigured him, eating through his jaw and voice, he bravely faced the world and continued to write. That’s when he captured the hearts of millions, through his continued reviews and consistent tweets about film, and life, and… cancer.
I’ve relished reading the many, many loving obituaries in the mainstream media as well as in FB and Twitter postings. Here is a good one from Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, and here is the LA Times article with a from film critic, Kenneth Turan: “Roger through his reviews, blog posts and tweets brought the appreciation of film, and film criticism, to the widest possible audience and into the 21st century. And his refusal to give an inch to a terrible disease was beyond inspirational.” His feelings about the impending end of his life comes in an article in Salon from September 2011, in which he articulates a zen-like view of life. Read down to the part about “Kindness covering all his political belief.” It’s no wonder he is mourned so universally today.
When writing reviews for families for both Kids Off the Couch and The Family Savvy I spent hours reading his words, and considering movies that I watched (and often loved) in new ways thanks to his discerning, demanding and delightful eye. Through his words he could lift up a film that hadn’t found a large audience, point out the weaknesses of movies that were box-office gold and champion new writers, directors and actors with affection and confidence. Having been a semiotics major in college (don’t ask…), I had my fill of highly intellectual literature and film criticism. While some pooh-poohed Ebert’s populism, as I did in during the “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” years, I came to appreciate his fierce demand for films to be worthy. My admiration grew when he started to champion films from the past, in reviews and his book series Great Movies, bringing the classics to a popular audience as a reminder of all that film could, and should, be.
He was a stern critic – publishing a book of reviews called I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and another called Your Movie Sucks – but he published many more books that eloquently expressed his passion. Pick one up if you’re looking for some extra reading, and don’t be shy about referring to the copious reviews on his website when you’re looking for something worthy on a cozy Friday night. (His site will reportedly relaunch next week with all his reviews going back to 1967)
Here is an obituary from the paper for whom he wrote for 46 years, The Chicago SunTimes.