Roger Ebert died today at the age of 70.
I read the write-up in both The Hollywood Reporter and the Chicago Sun-Times, the newspaper that Ebert wrote film criticism for since 1967. And then I just kind of sat here and let the news sink in. I feel numb.
You know, I was talking to D-Rock a couple of weeks back and mentioned how I admire and respect the works and writings of Roger Ebert and we discussed whether his opinion was relevant anymore. I argued that I will always respect the words of Ebert and stand behind the man I consider one of the greatest film critics of all time, along with his contemporary Pauline Kael.
Today, I went into my library and looked at the shelves. I pulled five different books containing the writings of Roger Ebert. The Great Movies, The Great Movies II, Your Movie Sucks, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and the wonderful Awake in the Dark. The last book proves that Roger Ebert was more than just a film critic, he was a great writer.
I also have his biography Life Itself on my Kindle.
I don’t care if you agree with his opinions, there is no denying the man was a brilliant writer and his writings prove that, unlike many film critics who go in looking for what is wrong with movies, Roger Ebert actually loved movies. That is why I look up to him as much as I do. I love movies and never go in with the intention to find things wrong. I want to enjoy movies and Roger Ebert was the same.
Even with two of the books I own being about movies he hated or things he felt “sucked,” it is clear that even when writing about bad movies, Ebert showed he enjoyed writing even about the biggest messes. His rebuttal to Rob Schneider in the intro to Your Movie Sucks is brilliant and the scathing reviews are some of Ebert’s most fun work.
I was first introduced to Roger Ebert through his TV show with Gene Siskel. Those were the days before the Internet existed, and, as an Oklahoma boy, I didn’t know much about his Chicago Sun-Times work. However, as I watched At the Movies, I realized, even at that young age, Roger Ebert was someone I should pay attention to.
Too many people today seem to be anti-critics, which I believe stems from an Internet age where anyone can have a blog and write about movies and books and music and just rip on anything and everything for no legitimate reasons. However, men like Roger Ebert made movies his life. He studied them, he watched thousands more than he ever reviewed. When I was studying film in school, it was Roger Ebert’s work that I worked towards.
I knew I could never be as good as Roger Ebert, as a Pulitzer Prize is probably not in my future, but he gave me someone to look to when it comes to knowing what good, smart film criticism is supposed to look like.
He is also a person to look up to when looking for a fighter who bravely faced down horrifying odds. In 2006, Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw to cancer along with his ability to speak. Luckily, he was a wordsmith and his value to the world is in his words. You don’t need a voice to HAVE a voice.
He fought back from jaw cancer and continued working and doing what he loved, watching movies and ‘talking’ about them. He worked to the end, his last review hitting one week before his death when he gave The Host 2.5 out of 5 stars. It was a kind review, yet one where Ebert made clear the movie was not a good one.
His remained an opinion you could trust – even when you didn’t agree with him. A film critic is not supposed to tell you whether a movie sucks or not. He is supposed to tell you WHY he thinks a movie sucks or not. You then take what he did or didn’t like and decide if those reasons matter to you. Roger Ebert was a film critic who knew how to explain his reasoning, that is what makes a great film critic.
As I continue to work on, writing every day, and strive to build Renegade Cinema into a site you all can trust, it is Roger Ebert that I still look up to when it comes to writing. He was never cruel, but he was honest. He praised movies that he felt deserved more attention and helped champion those smaller gems that might have never gained attention otherwise.
If a film scholar needs someone to look up to, there are few better choices than Roger Ebert.
RIP, Mr. Ebert. You will be missed, but understand, your legacy will live forever.