Thursday, April 04, 2013
Yesterday morning I read that Roger Ebert was scaling back his regular reviewing output due to a recurrence of the cancer he'd been battling off-and-on for the past decade-and-change. While the longtime Chicago Sun-Times movie critic (the first to ever win a Pulitzer Prize) assured us the words would keep flowing as they had for more than four decades now, we learned this afternoon that the illness had claimed him, robbing us of one of our most important voices in film analysis. It's hard for me to fully express how much his work has meant to me, but what I wrote in a post from three years ago still applies:
"How would Ebert say it?"
For the many years I've engaged in film criticism, that's the question that's always prodded me ahead when I came down with an insurmountable case of writer's block. His ability to convey effortlessly what others try desperately just to sort out in their heads made me aware of how wide the vistas of film analysis could stretch. If not for that, I wouldn't have gone to film school. If not for that, I wouldn't be teaching film. If not for that, this blog probably wouldn't exist.
Roger Ebert made me love loving film.Really not much more I need to add. When I was a kid in junior high, watching Ebert's TV show with the Chicago Tribune's Gene Siskel (who was himself claimed by a brain tumor in '99) was a weekly ritual for me every Saturday afternoon on Chicago's CBS affiliate. I respected them both, though I was admittedly more apt to agree with Ebert. I guess that's why it eventually became part of my regular Friday morning routine to hit up the Sun-Times' site and read the latest Ebert reviews whenever they went online.
It's still a part of my routine, by the way. Or at least it was until now. The only difference was that I'd wait until after I'd written my own take on a flick before reading Ebert's. Like I was, I dunno, testing myself. It's strange not to have that ritual to look forward to anymore. Another realization I've come to after many, many years of writing film criticism is just how transitory it all is. There's an inherent impermanence one is forced to combat when writing reviews that will very likely be forgotten within a few weeks of being read.
But Ebert's stayed with me. Not just his general impressions or the generic "thumbs up/thumbs down," but rather the specific observations and specific turns of phrase, both of which I've gone back and sought out -- sometimes more than ten years after first encountering them. While I don't know that I'll ever hit that plateau as a writer, the mere fact that you're reading this now is a testament to the impact Roger Ebert had on my life. And I'll never stop asking myself how Ebert would say it.
Watch the intro below of Siskel & Ebert, which ran in syndication from '86 to '99: