Friday, April 5, 2013

Thank You, Mr Ebert

I was in high school when I first started watching Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on my local PBS station.  I was already crazy about movies, and had read movies critics before this, but these guys were on TV critiquing the films as we looked at them. Moreover they came off just like myself and my friends sitting around taking a movie apart.

Back in the day when I could walk into the bookstore and buy books as they came out I purchased a number of Roger’s film annuals and other books.  I learned so much about movies, and about writing about movies.

From Roger I learned that you could write lovingly of a film you were none the less critical of, and be critical of a film you loved.  Even when I didn’t agree with what he said about a film, I understood where he was coming from; and when we both liked, or hated, a film it often seemed to come from the same place.

Often he made observations about films that caused me to think about films I liked in new ways.  For example, he once observed that Silence of the Lambs works because Hannibal Lector is basically a good person victimized by uncontrollable urges. Another time he spent considerable time exploring Tom Hanks’ acting choices on a single line from Forest Gump: “I may not be smart, but I know what love is.” It caused me to view the film, and the actor in a completely different way, and every time I watch the film I notice how Hanks plays that moment.  Because of Roger Ebert.

And nobody could rip a bad movie like Roger Ebert.  One of my favorite Ebert books is I Hated, Hated, Hated that Movie. (He also wrote a sequel, Your Movie Sucks) It’s a collection of the films Roger lovingly skewered over the years.  A favorite example, from his review of Halloween H2O :“I happen to know that Jamie Lee Curtis is one of the smartest women in Hollywood.  I cannot wait to read the chapter on Horror films in her autobiography. "

Here are some other classics:

Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica."

On Reality Bites: “the outcome will be a huge surprise to anyone who has never seen a movie before."

 Or how about this: "The only way to save this film would be to trim 86 minutes."
 His lexicon of film term gave names to such film concepts at The Fallacy of the Predictable Tree, which is that the villain will always pause under the tree the hero is hiding in.

Unlike a lot of critics, he always seemed to be on the side of the fans.  He wanted us to know if we would enjoy a movie and why.  He passionately defended letter boxing and condemned colorization of films, both for the same reason: that people watching at home should be seeing the film the director intended them to see.  

When throat cancer took his vocal chords he didn’t allow it to silence his voice. He became an early adopter of social media, a Twitter and later Facebook user, and also author of a web page of reviews and an entertaining and often thoughtful personal blog. He was in fact the first celebrity I ever followed on Twitter.  Because he had no other way to communicate with his readers in real time, he tweeted a lot, not only on movies but on all sorts of things going on in the world.  Whenever he posted a new review or blog entry I read it, and learned a great deal. He often promoted his fans own reviews and blogs.  Once, with great trepidation, I corrected a historical fact in a tweet, and was politely thanked. 

The very last words he wrote professionally were: I'll see you at the movies.

Those of us who love movies and who love reading about movies are forever in his debt.


  1. Great tribute.

    1. Thank you cynk. I think a lot of people are just now realizing how important a person he was, both to movies, and to the evolution of social media.