Roger Ebert

Every so often I get asked if I’m related to Roger Ebert.  My standard answer is “No, but it would be nice to have a rich uncle.”  I always wanted to write him and ask for permission to use the title The Other Ebert, but I never got up the nerve, which is definitely my loss since I understand from his obituaries that he encouraged movie review bloggers.

The year 1978 saw two momentous events.  That was the year that Sneak Previews, the review show that Roger did with Gene Siskel, debuted on PBS and it was also the year I entered film school.  Having always been passionate about film, I responded to Roger’s passion.  During that period in film history, the American independent movement was just picking up steam and a lot of exciting films were coming out.  Roger and Gene turned me on to many of them.  I didn’t review films back then.  That bug didn’t bite me until 25 years later, but I’ve always watched films and loved them.  Roger definitely enabled that.

To me, Roger fell into a utilitarian niche in film criticism.  He was the kind of film critic you went to when you wanted to know what film to see that night.  There were others like Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris that viewed film from a more artistic viewpoint.  They studied films, explaining them in terms of aesthetic theories like auteurism; Roger just enjoyed them.  But of course it wasn’t that simple.  Roger brought just as much intellectual rigor and knowledge of film history to criticism as Kael and Sarris (or even James Agee before them) but he was better at explaining it to non-film students.  And he wasn’t afraid to admit that he liked a film that was enjoyable even though it lacked any kind of intellectual heft.  That’s the mark of someone who truly loves movies.

Since I started this blog I’ve always approached it with the philosophy that I would certainly give my opinion but I would also give people enough of a feel for what the movie is like that they could decide for themselves if they might like it despite my opinion.  I don’t know if I’ve achieved that or not but Roger Ebert certainly did.

Also inspirational is the brave way in which he battled cancer in the last years of his life.  He never stopped reviewing films and after a hiatus, he even appeared on television again.  If I lost a jaw and with it the ability to talk and eat, I would pack it in, become a recluse and never have my picture taken.  Roger went on TV, using an electronic gizmo to talk.  That’s a powerful love of movies and frankly of life.

He was the first movie critic to win a Pulitzer Prize and was truly the most recognizable and influential movie critic in the country.  I am proud to share his last name and his love of cinema.

 

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