Roger Ebert finally passed away after a battle with cancer. He still lived to 70, which isn’t too bad. He got a mention on some news shows, a byline in the papers and some clucks of the tongue from people that saw it. And then things went on, as they always will.
But Roger Ebert was special to me. And, no… I didn’t watch the show.
I’ll give you a little bit of background. I grew up right before the cellphone/Internet age, in fact, my family didn’t get the Internet until I was about 17, and we didn’t have cable. If you wanted information, you walked to the local library. Another peculiarity of my family was that I wasn’t allowed to watch television during the weekdays. So as a kid I devoured about two-three books a day, most of which I got from treks to the local library. (This is part of why I’m so weird!)
On the weekends, when I wasn’t otherwise occupied, I was either at my grandparent’s, where my aunt had assembled one of the greatest collection of bootleg movies in the Western hemisphere, or I watching TV.
Television is corporate now, and corporate means safe.
When I was growing, it was GLORIOUS! In the morning, you had cartoons on about five different stations, the classic ones, the clever ones. Then at about eleven o’ clock on Channel 48, the kung fu movies began. At noon, on Fox, there was pro wrestling, and then on Channel 57 and Channel 17, there were at least six straight hours of B-movies, rare horror and adventure films. At one, Fox started their own B-movie programming. At night, it switched to horror or superhero related syndicated shows, which ran until two or three in the morning, when the television used to stop running programming.
All of these were half-heartedly edited, if at all. And my only guide for information about them was Roger Ebert.
Roger Ebert wrote constantly. He wrote movie guides thicker than Bibles. In them, he explained movies without any of the haughtiness that critics usually use to separate themselves from their audience. The majority of what I’ve learned about film comes from Robert Ebert (and William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade) which influenced everything I’ve ever written on worked on that relates to movies.
And from when I was a little kid, not only did he do a pretty good job negotiating which movies were worth watching and why, but also gradually explaining why the good ones work, and how to replicate them.
Roger Ebert was the fairest minded critic I’ve ever seen. He recommended movies he didn’t even like, because he stuck to one standard, he insisted that a movie deliver on expectations for the audience. If you got what you wanted by the end of the film, he gave it a thumbs up. Unlike other critics, he actually wrote a screenplay that got made. And he wasn’t aiming for high art, at all, which was sort of endearing.
Because he was so fair-minded, there were certain films he championed that led me into new journeys. I knew nothing about Alejandro Jodorowsky, or that weird period where Scorsese did King of Comedy and After Hours, and when I was wondering whether to investigate Jules Dassin’s Rififi Chez Les Hommes, I immediately checked out his review.
When I read what people have written about him, especially in his own community, it seems reserved, too reserved, really. Ebert didn’t write traditionally structured reviews, because he wanted us to relate to them, and that turned some people off. He okayed some populist films, that snotty critics wouldn’t have. He was a middle-aged man that loved giant boobs and movies that had them, and didn’t hide them. He was a common man with uncommon talent, and that’s a lot for people to handle.
With Ebert gone, some of the magic of film has gone away. And Lord knows, we could use it.