Film critic Roger Ebert died on April 4, 2013. That evening, I decided that I was going to write something here about what he and his work have meant to me over the years. Unfortunately I was distracted by illness and depression, bogged down with schoolwork and other responsibilities, and just couldn’t focus on writing much of anything at all here until my semester ended two weeks ago. Obviously, I haven’t gotten anything worthwhile done since then, either. What’s it going to take to get me to write this entry?
Well, I’ve already written it two or three times (each version on pace for at least 2,000 words in length), but it took a shape that I hated and would never actually post, so here we are. What can I say? I just think Roger Ebert was a great writer who understood the responsibilities of his job better than any of his peers, which was to accurately describe the experience of what it was like to watch a movie. He did so using print, television and the Internet, connecting with a wide audience, never talking down to “average” moviegoers or wasting film buffs’ time with mere entertainment news. He was honest and upfront about his priorities and expectations for movies and kept a positive attitude about even the worst films he reviewed. He was a thoughtful and intellectually curious man who mined the world for all kinds of new experiences and knowledge. And he resisted the urge to sell out, even when his declining health gave him every excuse to finally kick back and do just that.
When I was 12 or 13, I found myself inexplicably drawn towards “At the Movies,” the long-running television program that he hosted with Gene Siskel. The way they analyzed and talked about movies… excited me, and I soon became a regular reader of his reviews and columns. This lead me to become a more avid reader in general, and even if his influence didn’t turn me into a great writer, it left a huge impression on me that gave me a huge appreciation of (and critical eye towards) the written word and mass media in general. In helping me understand the world of film as a century-long, ever-changing continuum, he helped open my eyes to a new ways of appreciating/engaging with art and media. As a result, I became obsessed with movies in high school and decided I wanted to spend my future working in them.
This didn’t really pan out but I’m not here to talk about that right now.
Point is, I watched all the films of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Terrence Malick while in high school* because of his reviews. I got into anime because of a review of Ghost in the Shell that I saw on his TV show. I was inspired by his writings to join the school paper: this lead to a magazine internship and (eventually) the creation of several blogs (including the one you’re reading right now). If I hadn’t discovered the world of film and the myriad ways the movies could be interpreted and appreciated, I’d probably still be addicted to video games and functionally illiterate.
*No, I don’t this that this made me a special, “precocious” child or anything. Far from it. I only mention it because it was hard to actually do while living in a small town before the age of high speed internet, and without a car. This was my “thing” in high school that I found joy in and I’ll bask in it as long as I feel like it.