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Screen Invasion Remembers Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013)

It’s a sad day in the movie journalism world. Everyone in this field has been affected by Roger Ebert‘s passion for film and his willingness to embrace new mediums and try new things. He brought film criticism into our living rooms and was among the first of the traditional journalists to establish himself online as well. He loved film and loved discussing it, whether it was a bad or good movie experience. He enjoyed films ranging from blockbusters to art house – as he said so well, “it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about.”

He was our gateway into this wild and crazy world of film reviews, but he also covered far beyond that. One of my favorite pieces from him was his public love letter to his wife Chaz.  He covered film, life, and even briefly touched upon his illness in beautiful prose. In his last blog post, he talked about the “leave of presence” where he’d start reviewing only the movies he really wanted to, write about the ups and downs of his life with cancer, and the grand plans he had for the Ebert Company and his film festival. Looking at it now makes his passing all the sadder, as it shows just how much he loved his life and his work. Even at 70, there were so many more things he wanted to do.

With him gone, it’s up to us as movie fans and writers to pick up the torch and commit to producing the best work possible, and maybe even follow his little rule book of advice.

Roger Ebert

Keep reading to see some of our writers’ thoughts on the late, great Roger Ebert:

 

Eric Ambler:
Roger Ebert was a historian who spoke often of the possibilities of the future. As the democratization of self-expression during the Internet Age seemed to diminish the authority of professional criticism, he embraced technology just as he embraced new generations of filmmakers. If there was a new way to share great movies with the people – first television, then blogs, then Twitter – then he was going jump on it and figure it out as he went along.

And in this very populist way, he reassured us that thoughtful, intelligent discussion about movies and art and life would always have a place in our cultural fabric. He was a Great Midwesterner, a frank, plain-spoken man who gave us an anamorphic window into his brilliant mind. You never had to worry about whether or not you “got” a movie when you listened to Ebert talk about it. In decidedly un-critical fashion, he advised us to enjoy the sublime mysteries of cinema. His Great Movies review of Being There contains this evergreen piece of wisdom: “A movie is exactly what it shows us, and nothing more.”

That’s not to say Ebert didn’t encourage his audience to consider a film’s wider historical context or unpack its visual symbolism. He had a towering intellect, but he wasn’t put on this Earth just to lecture. Luckily for us, he was a friend, a fan, a family member around the great dinner table of the multiplex. With every outstretched thumb and clever quip and stroke of his prolific pen, Roger Ebert never let us feel like we were alone in the dark.

Catherine Edison:
I used to watch Siskel and Ebert when I was younger and always thought being a film reviewer would be such an amazing job to have. The show and Roger Ebert taught me that everyone has their own opinion and that sharing those opinions, no matter how they were received and no matter what they referred to, was an important thing to do. In Ebert I saw someone like myself who loved movies and because of that love, he had very strong feelings about the films he watched, whether positive or negative. I didn’t always agree with him, but through his show and his writing, Roger Ebert taught me that was okay, and in fact, kind of the point. He was a pioneer in a business that has exploded in the age of the internet and his voice remained strong despite the onslaught of so many Ebert wannabes. I respect the opportunity that Roger Ebert has afforded myself and my colleagues and am saddened to hear of his passing.

Ryan Mailley:
I can still remember watching Roger Ebert’s “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” on television as a kid. As I grew older, I began to truly understand the magnitude of how amazing this man was. I have and will always admire his writing, and his pure love for film. He is a staple to the film community and his writing will live on forever. Personally, he is someone I look up to the most and strive to be like when I am immersed in my writing. I will miss checking his website every week and reading his great reviews that almost always swayed me or attracted to me to seeing the newest films out that week.

Kyle Moody:
Roger Ebert was more than a critic. To many people, including me, he was a personal friend who started conversations with movies with his reviews. He helped me develop a vocabulary for describing movies that invites other people’s comments while remaining my own, and I could never thank him enough for that. Ebert was more than a critic because he saw more than just the screen. He saw the whole theater, the entire experience of the film, and he described all of it because he knew that this was why people went to the cinema. I’ll never forget his review of I Spit On Your Grave, which still stands as my favorite review of his.

The movies will still go on without Roger Ebert, but today and onward the screen will shine a little less bright without his light. I’ll miss you, Mr. Ebert.

Donovan Warren:
I never thought I’d write about Roger Ebert’s passing because I honestly didn’t see it coming. Most critics make news when they say something asinine (hello there, Rex Reed), but Ebert’s moments in the spotlight came from keen insight and for some brilliant statements. “Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.” I knew about Ebert before I even knew what film criticism truly was, before I had even heard of film criticism. I used to think that being a film critic was just writing about movies and why you “liked” them before coming to discover film criticism. But Ebert’s writings challenge such notions and examine films beyond how one simply “feels” about them. His death at the age of 70 came all too soon, but his legacy lives on: we’ll be talking about his film criticism for years to come, and film criticism itself continues and thrives thanks to his work.

Michael O’Brien:
Ebert was as much a part of my movie education as Speilberg’s T-Rex and Tarantino’s dialogue. Through reading his reviews each week, I began to look at movies critically, rather than just a passive viewer. From there, I went on to study film in a critical setting and much of that is owed to Ebert. The Paul Simon of film reviewing and later a just as prolific Tweeter, Roger Ebert remained a presence in my day-to-day consumption of film-centric content. His decline, this past decade, was difficult to witness. However, his passion for film remained as he, for a while at least, never missed a review. He was an impressive talent (even when he was wrong…Reservoir Dogs, anyone?) and he will be greatly missed. RIP Roger.

Carl Wilhoyte:
Roger Ebert, in 2005, infamously said that “video games are not art.” He later recanted his heresy in 2010, stating that COSMOLOGY OF KYOTO fit the bill and games could be considered art in a “non-traditional sense”. The irony of this is that back in the 1910’s and 1920’s, the medium he devoted his life to, film, didn’t enjoy even 1st Amendment Protection. Yet despite his apostasy, a lot of the time he was absolutely right. Sadly, many pieces of video game culture are utterly disposable. We needed a sharp, intelligent critique of our own medium from the outside to shake ourselves out of our insulated apathy and to start coming up with serious reasons defending video games. He was wrong once, right most of the time, and he was definitely one of a kind.

Roger EbertSource: Buzzfeed’s 13 Things Ebert Said Better Than Anyone

 

John H. Foote:
Ebert has been the face of film criticism for thirty years, his love of film was infectious. Never do I remember him ever being mean spirited or unfair, he told the truth about what he thought, and liked nothing more than celebrating the creation and release of a great film. We do what we do because of Ebert in some small way. I had the immense pleasure of meeting him several times at the Toronto International Film festival, and he was always generous with his time, kind and very funny. Even when he lost the power of speech, he would nod and poke when excited. He was still Roger. The controversial Pauline Kael might have elevated criticism to an art form, but she was never as kind as Ebert, and he never possessed her mean streak. He found the joy in reviewing that she never did, because he truly reviewed and did not dissect. I have always believed because he truly loved film and did not hold the artists he admired in contempt. Read just one of his reviews and the love of film shines through. Go back and listen to he and Siskel in the early days and begin to understand for both of them, with film, how deep was the love.

Karin Abcarians:
Roger Ebert is legend, many of us have him to thank for our love of movies. He was a brilliant writer and an amazing person, who loved film so much and his passion was beautiful. I only wish I could of had the chance to be in his presence and thank him for being a big influence in my life and others. He will be missed immensely. I wanted to pick a favorite piece that he did, but realized I love to many of his stuff and can’t pick a favorite. He was the man!

Jason Tabrys:
Roger Ebert was an astronaut for a film geek. If you review films and if you talk about movies as a job and/or as your passion, then you are constantly in Roger Ebert Fantasy Camp, and it is splendid to pretend to walk in his footsteps.

“I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny.”

You can read more of Jason’s thoughts on Ebert in his original post. 

Casey Carroll: 
Roger Ebert has been a strong force in my life since I was young. My parents would watch Siskel & Ebert and I would happen to be in the room. I was already very interested in filmmaking at this point and was very happy to find out that there were plenty of others out there that love films the way I did. Ebert has always been my favorite critic and I like to think he trained me for the writing that I now do. His opinion and views on film will be highly missed!

Chris Baldwin:
One of things I enjoyed most about Roger Ebert review’s was that even when I didn’t agree with him, even when his opinions on a certain movie were far removed from my own (most recently: 4 stars for Prometheus??? 0 stars for The Raid!?!), his reviews were always an absolute pleasure to read. He expressed his ideas with both a clarity and depth of thought that was remarkable. He knew what made movies tick, and he also knew what made movies tick for him. His evisceration of a bad movie was a sheer pleasure to read. And even when he took moral issue with a particular film he still managed to express himself with class and intelligence. (Go read his review of The Lovely Bones. Thank me later) I remember being a younger movie fan and patiently waiting for the Lexington Herald Leader’s weekend section that featured his reviews of new films, and I fondly remember watching Siskel &Ebert At the Movies early Sunday Mornings as well. In many ways, he was the first (and probably best) film studies teacher I ever had. However, his work didn’t just appeal to movie buffs like me, Roger Ebert played a huge role in legitimizing and popularizing film criticism for the masses, all kinds of folk’s loved to read his reviews, and people all over the world know what the famous thumbs up/thumbs down means in relation to movies. That’s a very impressive feat. Roger Ebert was a very impressive man, whose writing and love for film influenced and shaped my own love of film as well. He will be sorely missed.

Jim Napier:
Each week I would look forward to watching Siskel & Ebert with my parents. As I grew up I looked forward to watching it without them. Siskel & Ebert were movie gods, rock stars filled with knowledge about film. Roger Ebert is one of the reasons my passion for film flourished. I recall getting very angry that when a movie I loved was given a thumbs down by both critics. That show was one of the reasons I would beg my parents to take me to movies, and the reason I sought out others on my own. Roger Ebert and his passion for film will be sorely missed.

Gabriel Ruzin:
I’ve loved movies my entire life and consider myself lucky to be able to (sporadically) write about them, discuss them with friends… hell, I even co-host a horror film festival these days. I love movies so much that I’m enormously grateful even to be a little fish in today’s gigantic pond of film criticism. There are many people to whom I owe gratitude for my humble achievements in the field of cinema – my family, my friends, website owners who came across my writing and gave me a chance – but I’ve always owed an enormous debt to someone who I never met and, it turns out, will never have the opportunity to meet. That man is Roger Ebert.

As a child and a teen, I knew that I loved some movies and hated some movies, but I couldn’t have told you why. Not until I began watching ‘Siskel & Ebert at the Movies’. In the confines of a corner of Any Movie Theater, U.S.A., the master film critics from Chicago welcomed me into their holy sanctum, carefully taught me why some films worked and why some didn’t, and awoke my inner film appreciator. Gene Siskel left us many years ago (also, tragically, to complications from cancer), but Roger endured, welcoming rotating film critics into the At the Movies fold, including eventual permanent co-host Richard Roeper. All the while, he approached every movie with a keen eye and a fun, even mischievous, angle. Negative or positive, Roger’s reviews were never dull.

Through thousands of movies, his easy-going and conversational mood never wavered. He could not contain his enthusiasm for his favorites, just as he could hardly contain his eye-rolling chagrin when confronted with a stinker, but Roger was never mean or aloof or snobby. His reviews read like your friend elbowing you in the ribs and excitedly (or sarcastically) whispering to you in the next seat over in the movie theater. He explained and studied and analyzed, but never lectured. Roger was the film studies professor I never had. He made me see things that I never saw before. He helped instill in me a deep appreciation of film as a labor of love and showed me the people behind the camera who worked so hard to tell us the stories of our lives. Before I found Roger, film was a temporary distraction. Today, it’s one of my greatest loves. And I will always be in his debt.

In recent years, Roger underwent a ferocious and very public battle against a implacable enemy in salivary cancer. Many people in his place would have retired, or at least retreated from public life, as the surgery that extended his life a few years included the removal of much of his jaw. But he would not be dissuaded from continuing to do what he loved. Not only did he eventually resume his film reviews with the same wit and wisdom as before, but he also began writing about his health struggles with great humility and appreciation for life. Just two days before his death, Roger wrote his last post, announcing that his cancer had returned and that he would be forced to scale back his reviews. But there was no self-pity or despair; instead he joked that he would finally be able to only review movies that he knew he would like. Sadly, it was not to be. But Roger was Roger to the end and film critics and fans such as myself are all the better for it. I wish I had been lucky enough to know him, but denied that, I will say I count myself lucky to have known OF him.

I’ll miss you, Roger. May your screen in the afterlife be wide, your chair be comfy, and your popcorn be just that perfect buttery/salty combination. And please, God, no Adam Sandler movies. The man has gone through enough.

Roger EbertSource: Buzzfeed’s 13 Things Ebert Said Better Than Anyone

Share your favorite Ebert memories in the comments. While he may be gone, he will never be forgotten.

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The Author

Kristal Bailey

Kristal Bailey

With a soft spot for movies that fall into the “So Bad They’re Good” category, Kristal Bailey regularly watches B-movies, 80s comedies, and sci-fi from the 50s and 60s. She also refuses to grow up if that means she has to hide her love for Disney and Pixar films.

In her free time, she enjoys reading graphic novels or books that are soon to be turned into movies, watching hours and hours of television, and spending way too much time on Twitter.