Sacramento At The Movies Group Message Board › Roger Ebert
Fair Oaks, CA
A lot of you probably know that Roger Ebert, who passed away yesterday, April 4, 2013, was my favorite film critic. Here are a few thoughts...
My freshman year at Stanford, I stayed in a small dorm (a "row house") with about 30 students in it. One of my house mates was Todd McCarthy, who went on to be chief film critic for Variety for 31 years and is now working for The Hollywood Reporter. Todd grew up in Chicago and got his very first piece published by Ebert, so I was already aware of Ebert years before his TV show became a hit.
I used to watch Siskel & Ebert's "Sneak Previews" fanatically. I realized after a while that Gene Siskel approached films with a fixed set of criteria that he applied to all films. If a film set out to be "serious," it was automatically worth more than a film that merely set out to "entertain." Drama was a more worthy endeavor than comedy, which was higher than horror or kids' movies. Ebert, on the other hand, seemed willing to approach a film on its own terms: what was this film trying to accomplish, and how well did it reach that goal? I always felt like the first, most important question in Roger's mind was, "Was I entertained?"
I remember in one of their reviews, at the height of the feminist movement, Roger commented that one of the things he liked about the film they were reviewing was that the female lead spent so much time naked on the screen. Gene was appalled that Roger would say something so politically incorrect. Roger replied with something like, "Gene, she's a beautiful woman and I enjoyed looking at her. It would be dishonest of me to pretend I didn't."
Roger was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He was always my "go-to" critic, the first one I'd check when trying to decide whether to see a movie or not, the first critic I'd come back to when I was trying to understand a film that left me confused. I didn't always agree with him, of course. In fact, sometimes, I felt like he completely got a film wrong. But I always felt like I knew where he was coming from, and there's never been another critic I felt more in tune with. I'm really going to miss his insights!
And then of course, there was his incredible personal story: his inspirational fight with his illness, the courage he showed appearing on the cover of Esquire after his surgery, and the enthusiastic way he embraced new technology, everything from the Radio Shack TRS-80 model 100, one of the very first portable computers, which he took to Cannes in 1987 (and struggled with the entire two weeks!), to digital cameras, to Twitter and the voice synthesis software he used to communicate after losing his voice. He reveled in being an early adopter!
I heard a snippet from an interview with him on CNN this morning. (Sorry to say, they didn't say when the interview was done or who interviewed him, but it was back when he could still speak.) In it, he said something that sounded so much like our group's "mission":
"My legacy — if there is one — will have to do with supporting films that people might not have seen and supporting directors that deserve support. Of course I review the big blockbusters and the commercial films, but from the very beginnings it's been very important to me to go out and look for independent films, documentaries, first films by young directors, and foreign films because those are the ones people need to hear about."
My kinda guy. I'm really going to miss him!