Friday, April 04, 2014

I miss Roger Ebert

Sound Opinions via Wikipedia
Roger Ebert died a year ago today.

My earliest memory of Ebert is watching him talk through his now iconic “thumbs up, thumbs down” reviews on television. Later, when I started writing about film myself, his reviews were usually the first I’d seek out when a new movie premiered or I was researching an older one. I enjoyed his interviews with actors and directors—and I will flat-out gush if you ask me about his interview with John Wayne. I’ve practically memorized his review of The Mummy; whenever someone can’t believe I list it among my favorites, I tell them what Ebert said:
There is hardly a thing I can say in its favor, except that I was cheered by nearly every minute of it. I cannot argue for the script, the direction, the acting or even the mummy, but I can say that I was not bored and sometimes I was unreasonably pleased. There is a little immaturity stuck away in the crannies of even the most judicious of us, and we should treasure it.
Roger Ebert was a generous critic. In a blog post in 2008, he noted how some people thought he was too generous. But he loved movies:
I like movies too much. I walk into the theater not in an adversarial attitude, but with hope and optimism (except for some movies, of course). I know that to get a movie made is a small miracle, that the reputations, careers and finances of the participants are on the line, and that hardly anybody sets out to make a bad movie. I do not feel comfortable posing as impossible to please. Film lovers attend different movies for different reasons, all of them valid; did I enjoy "Joe vs. the Volcano" more than some Oscar winners? Certainly.
Ebert was a common man’s critic—and many of us found in him a kindred soul when it comes to film. We found validation for our own love for and optimism about the movies, even (or maybe especially) the ones that others might not see as valuable. John Scalzi said of Ebert when he died: “What he taught me about film criticism is that film criticism isn’t about showing off what you know about film, it was about sharing what made you love film.” Me, too.

I also miss Ebert’s authentic and honest reflections about faith, God and religion, which he discussed openly on his blog. His reflections on Alex Proya’s Knowing birthed one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve ever read online.

I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic,” he wrote in his memoir Life Itself. “I am more content with questions than answers." A month before he died, he wrote, “I refuse to call myself an atheist … because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable.” I admired his willingness to live and grapple with questions; in some ways, it made it easier to live with and wrestle with my own.

A year after his death, I still catch myself typing his name into a search engine with a newly released film title. For this movie lover, Roger Ebert is greatly missed.

1 comment:

June said...

I miss him too! About eight years ago I went through his book, "The Great Movies I" and watched almost all the films he reviewed. I learned a great deal about movies and how to watch them from the book. And he never made me, the reader, feel stupid for not understanding a film.

I didn't enjoy "The Great Movies II" as much--I disagreed with a few of his selections ("Planes, Trains, & Automobiles" doesn't work as a great film for me).

Thanks for your thoughtful reflection.