It’s been a while, I know, and I was all ready to write about something I came across earlier in the week.
However, I feel the need to pay tribute to someone who’s work meant a great deal to me–Roger Ebert–who died today after a long battle with cancer.
The Eberts at an event I covered in 2007.
His death saddens me tremendously because he was a huge voice, not only in film criticism, but in life in general. His prose and wit were unmatched (except by his late-partner in crime, Gene Siskel), and there isn’t a film critic today who comes close to his abilities. He knew how to read a film, then discuss it in a way that wasn’t condescending or obnoxious.
Ebert was a writer, first and foremost, and that made him so good at his job. His love of film just added to that talent.
As most I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in the Chicago area, so watching Siskel & Ebert, and eventually just Ebert, was required of all Illinois citizens. Also, we had to read their columns to learn how to write criticism, and well, how to write in general. After Siskel died, Ebert was the only critic I paid attention to. Sure, Kenneth Turan, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis are fine, but…meh…their work doesn’t compare to Ebert’s.
I’ve met Ebert a few times and each meeting, he was kind, gracious and witty. The most memorable was years ago when I was a senior at the University of Wisconsin. My father had the same lawyer as Siskel and Ebert, and said lawyer had an open house at his fab, newly rehabbed greystone in one of Chicago’s tonier neighborhoods. I was an obnoxious, know-it-all film student who became quite verklempt when I heard my father say, “Oh Mr. Ebert, I’d like you to meet my darling daughter, Julia. She’s a film student at Wisconsin, and will be graduating in a few weeks. Hey, any advice you can give her would be GREAT! THANKS!”
Aaaand, my dad disappeared toward the bar.
This guy is gonna eviscerate me, test me on my knowledge and I’m gonna, like, dieeeee. Imagine my surprise when the exact opposite happened. Ebert and I spent the next hour or so discussing Kurosawa and how important his films are to not only the film world, but to the world in general. We discussed other film makers as well, but I believe that Ebert was touched by the fact that someone so young with an odd hairstyle, dug someone like Kurosawa. Siskel eventually tagged in and the two of us discussed Truffaut for another hour or so.
Needless to say, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
I could go on and on about Ebert, but I won’t. I do suggest reading his past columns and his essays on contemporary American life. He had a lot to say and the world will feel this tremendous loss for years.
I leave you with two things–one of my fave Ebert’s quotes, and a Sneak Previews/Siskel & Ebert episode where the two critics discuss the disturbing trend of violence toward women in films.
“’Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.” —Roger Ebert
And the clips–
Plus, a bonus out-take bit with Gene. Classic.
RIP, Roger. The City of Big Shoulders won’t be the same without you.