Roger Ebert died this week. For close to half a century, the man’s name and image were synonymous with the very idea of film criticism, far and away the most recognizable person in his field and, in many ways, the most accessible. An active presence on social media networks for the last few years of his life, he arguably connected with his readers more than most critics half his age. And perhaps most importantly, his work showcased humility and unguarded humanity, even in the last week of his life.
As a film buff and occasional reviewer, I perused Ebert’s website and personal blog whenever the notion struck me, not only to see what he thought of the newest films but to read his thoughts on those released decades before my existence. Evaluating and re-evaluating my cinematic tastes over the years, I came to realize his were quite similar to my own—except on the subject on gorier horror films, most of which he was quite harsh toward—and I was occasionally delighted to find out he thoroughly enjoyed an otherwise lambasted film; like myself, Ebert championed Ridley Scott’s flawed epic, Prometheus, for example.
Ebert frequently corresponded with the commenters on his site. On one occasion, a reader noted his reviews didn’t often criticize films from an intellectual perspective, instead focusing on his emotional reaction to a movie’s story and characters. Ebert took no offence to the observation, and emphasized how he felt the audience’s emotional connection to the movie at hand was key to its success as a work of art. While I cannot speak for the entirety of any film’s audience, I myself can certainly agree with his assessment.
And the man just loved movies. Granted, he damn sure had the capacity to hate them, as evidenced by his scathing review of Rob Reiner’s North, but even in his final years he maintained a youthful enthusiasm for a good movie. Between this and his capacity to write passionately on a variety of subjects—here he is reflecting on the joys of making out—he was truly one of my favourite writers.
I should also note that the man spent the last few years of his life without his lower freaking jaw. He had someone synthesize his voice from a bunch of movie commentaries he did and just kept on trucking. Roger Ebert was more of a badass than I can ever hope to be.
I leave off not with one of his reviews or even a post from his blog, but an outtake from a promo for Siskel and Ebert and the Movies. I was never really familiar with Gene Siskel but from this clip alone it’s clear the two men had an enviable rapport.
If there is a Heaven, I can only hope he and Gene will be ripping on each other for eternity.