Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert 1942 – 2013

Just yesterday I read a short article that famed film critic Roger Ebert had found out that his cancer had returned and that he was taking a “leave of presence” while he battled it.  He planned to scale back his work and only review those films that he truly wanted to see.  I then go on the internet today and I find that he has just passed away.  Needless to say, it was a shock.

I’ll let others detail his life accomplishments and awards (i.e. the first, and I believe only, film critic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize); I’m going to write about what he meant to me.

I first became aware of him in the early 1980s.  He and fellow critic Gene Siskel (who died in 1999) had a syndicated half hour show where they would give their famous “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to films that were being released that week.  I wasn’t yet watching movies to any great extent, but I liked listening to what these two had to say about them.  While I did not watch their show every week I did usually tune in to it when I thought of it.  And kids, this was in the days before the internet, so if your local paper did not have a film reviewer (which mine didn’t) then this was literally the only way to hear about movies.

Over time, and as I started to see more films, I found that I tended to agree with Ebert more often than I did Siskel.  As I grew older I watched their show less and less, but whenever I happened upon an Ebert review I would usually take the time to read it.

As newer critics came along they seemed to be a nastier sort of person.  I would get the distinct feeling that they would give negative reviews of some films solely because they had thought of a good insult they could make from the title of it.  While Ebert would certainly not hesitate to call a movie out if he felt it sucked, he seemed to usually do it with more class than the newer crop.

It may be strange for a person who has been writing his own reviews for more than two years, and who has seen over 6,000 films, to say this but I really don’t put much stock in ANY professional film critic that is out there.  They all seem out of touch to one extent or another, whether they are obviously frustrated screenwriters who are slumming it, or people who feel that a certain filmmaker did not pay enough attention to their “advice” on how to make their films better.  Ebert was the only one who I would even marginally pay attention to when he said a film was great or when a film was bad.  I didn’t always agree with him (Kick-Ass is a recent example where I completely disagreed with him – he hated it), but no one agrees with any other person all of the time.

I can’t say that I am the movie lover I am today only because of Roger Ebert, but I can say that listening to his (and Siskel’s) comments on movies made me want to see more of them.  That led to me discovering a whole other world that I could enjoy.

I will miss Roger Ebert.  Film lovers are the worse off for his passing.


  1. I wouldn't be a film critic or blogger if it wasn't for him. His understanding about films, whether I agreed or disagreed with his views, were unlike anyone. He was intelligent but also accessible as he can speak to the common person in his writings. His passing will leave a void that will be unfulfilled. If it wasn't for him, I don't think any of us would be writing or see the films that he helped champion.

  2. Excellent essay, Chip. Ebert was very inspiring to me as a writer. And I agree -- many film reviewers seem to thrive on being snarky. His reviews, above all, reflected his love for and enjoyment of movies. And he made no secret of the fact that his reaction to films -- like anyone else's -- was very personal. I always respected that.

  3. Very very nice (my Ebert entry will go up tomorrow). His place in not only film criticism but film as an entertainment medium is just irreplaceable. No other film critic has his sphere of influence.

    For me, it was his writing style I found myself drawn to the most.

    I definitely agree that his utter enthusiasm for film and a determination never to grow cynical about film is one of my big draws to him over other critics.

    I am very sad tonight. :(

  4. Well said. I feel like most of what I know about movies came from Ebert. It's ironic that his voice was stronger than ever after losing the ability to speak. He was a real digital trailblazer, and I will miss having his opinions in my life.

  5. What a nice tribute. He's been a big part of my own movie life since I can remember having one. I feel like I have lost a friend in some ways.

  6. @thevoid99, Quirky BookandFilmBuff, siochembio, Tim Riley, and Marie_dressler:

    Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your own thoughts on Roger Ebert and what he has meant to us.