The death of famed movie critic Roger Ebert two weeks ago left me pretty shaken. It shouldn’t have been that shocking; Ebert had lost his jaw in a battle with cancer eight years ago, and two days before he died, he announced the cancer had returned and that he was taking a “leave of presence.” But Ebert had always been so positive; even in his last blog, he looked forward to upcoming Ebertfest Film Festival and starting a Kickstarter campaign to re-start his “At the Movies” TV show. He was a man who truly loved life, and made the most out of it, even with cancer. Still, I lost one of my idols, and it saddens me deeply that he will write no more.
Roger Ebert was the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than 45 years, and was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. He was one of the first critics to champion such classics as “Bonnie & Clyde” and the documentary “Hoop Dreams,” as well as give curiously negative reviews of such beloved films as “Blue Velvet” and “Jurassic Park.” Critics often get a bad rap among filmmakers of my generation, and probably a fair number in all generations. They dismiss them as having opinions on things they have no experience in, or hate them for giving a bad review to either a film they made, or a film they love. I didn’t always agree with Ebert’s reviews – he hated “Kick-Ass,” while I loved it – but Ebert always displayed an emotional honesty in his writing; whatever he wrote, it was his clear, unvarnished opinion. And to read one of his legendary negative reviews (“Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time”) is simply beautiful.
Roger Ebert was more than just a film critic. Beyond reviewing over 200 films every year (including 306 reviews last year), he was a pioneer in utilizing new media. His television show Siskel & Ebert with critic Gene Siskel was a cultural landmark, a funny, intelligent piece of TV journalism and debate that reached a national audience and made Siskel and Ebert household names. He utilized Twitter to reach his fan base on an immediate level. On his blog, he wrote about everything from overcoming his alcohol addiction to his belief in evolution.
Through all his writing and speaking, Ebert was able to convey his down-to-earth intelligence and philosophy, that Midwestern charm that made him such a universally beloved figure. In 2009 he famously wrote the article “I do not fear death,” which contains such beautiful thoughts as, “I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state,” and “We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.” Truly, a film critic with a poet’s heart.
And so, with his passing, I wish to celebrate the life of a man – a man who loved life, good food, stimulating conversation, his wonderful wife Chaz, and above all, movies.
Thank you, Roger, for the joy you have contributed to our lives. Thank you for your passion about the movies.
BY CONOR HOLT