The Balcony is Closed

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.

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.

Thanks, dad.

Great.

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.

Damn.

20 thoughts on “The Balcony is Closed

  1. I am happy to say I stopped here and checked your blog out. I was at Susie’s abuse me and use me site and thought I would hang my hat here for a while. I enjoyed your article about Sickle and Ebert. I watched nks for in my early years and had no real clue of their wit and humor Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Please check out my work when you can Robert Nisander Aka Plot121

  2. 🙂 you were reading me while I was reading you. Ok, so it sounds weird, but your comment prompt is what I put on my sister’s baby shower cake when she was having her first kid. Anyway, I loved watching Siskel & Ebert so much, and then Ebert and whoever after that (Ebert was the draw). I agree with all the great things you said about Ebert here. The man was a great, great talent. And he knew what he was talking about; he knew film.

  3. Great story, about the cocktail party. Real people, and real genius, find a way to shine even in those situations.

    Nice contribution to the lore of Ebert and Siskel, thanks.

  4. I, too, grew up with the “dynamic duo” of film. Their on-screen battles should be required viewing for anyone critiquing ANYTHING. Some of their insult-trading was epic, but never rude or obscene. The biggest problem I had was, we were a Tribune house (at least, that was the paper my Dad found most common on the Metra), but I always preferred Mr. Ebert’s tastes. Heck, he actually LIKED sci-fi, whereas Siskel would cringe even at the mention of pretty much anything to do with sci-fi, even classic films.
    But the Trib did get in a nice parting tribute. Their editorial cartoons had a single frame, of two heads silhouetted by a movie screen, with the Siskel caricature saying “I saved you the aisle seat” to Ebert’s caricature. Perfectly understated, understatedly perfect.
    Godspeed, Roger. I understand Heaven upgraded to HD just for you.

  5. This entire post is made of awesome. Ebert’s writing is transcendent. (I regret that I haven’t made it to the Siskel Film Center on any of my visits to Chicago, but hope to someday.)

    And your banner pic? Where do you find such brilliance?

    I’ll be bach.

  6. Siskel & Ebert had such a great rapport. Thanks for posting these clips. I forgot how much I loved watching “Sneak Previews” in my youth, but I was a little disappointed that Spot the Wonderdog didn’t make an appearance. I suppose his presence would not have been appropriate for this episode. That is so cool that you got to meet S&E in your youth. What a perfect story to share today. I’m sorry to see Ebert go, too, but I’m grateful that he hung around as long as he did considering the magnitude of his illness. Maybe it was his love of film that kept him going?

  7. Spit out my drank on “This guy is gonna eviscerate me, test me on my knowledge and I’m gonna, like, dieeeee.”
    That’s incredible that you not only got to meet them but had a solid conversation. Ebert’s mom was my my dad’s landlord when he was at U of I. I believe the words he used to describe her were “down-home”

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