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Monday, April 8, 2013

Remembering Roger

If you've watched the news, read the newspaper, or looked something up online in the past week chances are you've heard that our very own Chicago movie critic, Roger Ebert, has passed away.  Initiate sadness.  I did not know Roger Ebert personally so I can't really write up a memorial for him, what I can do is remember the times I've spent with him through his work.  I began watching Siskel and Ebert way back in the day when I was a child, it was very nearly my favorite show and I've continued to watch it throughout its various iterations (At the Movies, Siskel and Ebert and the Movies, At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper, etc.).  I sat down every weekend with such a joyous anticipation, ready to hear all about the new movies and whether they received the iconic "Thumbs up" or "Thumbs down", and even though I more often sided with Gene Siskel (who was my favorite then), after his tragic death, I slowly became attached to Ebert with his vast film knowledge and enjoyable writing style.  With the advent of social media, Ebert was able to take his writing to the next level.  He wouldn't just review films, he would Tweet about something that was interesting to him, or something that made him angry, or what was going on at a particular film festival he happened to be attending. allowed him to post his reviews to an even wider audience and also offered him the ability to post blog entries that may or may not have had anything to do with films.  Sometimes he would blog about current events, or science, or his personal life as a recovering alcoholic, really he would just blog about literally ANYTHING that interested him (as is the purpose of a blog).  I would read everything he posted with a voracious appetite.  Sometimes what I read made me mad, sometimes it made me happy, or sad, or excited, this was the appeal of Roger Ebert.  Even when I whole-heartedly disagreed with him, I still very much enjoyed reading what he had to say, I enjoyed his unique voice, even long after his cancer took his literal voice from him.  Roger Ebert was (pretty much) the only person I actually trusted with film reviews (regardless of whether or not I agreed).  I respected his authority on film in general and even though there is the ever present issue of "taste,"which varies from person to person, Ebert knew his stuff, and I came to know when he was reviewing completely objectively and when he was letting a little subjectivity get in the way (he was notoriously hard on horror and some sci-fi, but understandably so).  The film community has benefitted greatly from this man's existence and his loss has produced a giant hole, one too big to fill currently, but Ebert had "students" or rather, people that he trusted and admired as reviewers.  These people worked together to post reviews on his website over the past few months while he was dealing with his illness.  It isn't the same as reading Ebert, and it never will be, but hopefully one day I'll be able to extend that same level of trust to them.
The passing of Roger Ebert is one of the few celebrity losses that has actually affected me.  Much of my early love of film and the continued growth of that love (into what now could pass as an obsession), I owe to that man.  I watch films differently as a result of reading and learning from him, I am more observant, picking up on the things that work and don't work, learning to recognize patterns and devices that many directors use (and overuse), what can be said without words but merely moving the camera in a certain direction.  He has been an inspiration when it comes to writing as well, and I've even dabbled (amateurishly) at reviewing films, a profession I could see myself enjoying.
I'm not ready to move on to another reviewer yet, mainly because no one can match Ebert as it currently stands, but I know I will eventually.  My love of film will push me forward towards the others who share this same, deep affection for the moving image, it is a community, and there will always be someone willing to comment.
You were one of the best, Ebert.  You'll always have a "Thumbs up" in my book.
"And so, until next week, the balcony is closed."

Check out for more remembrances of Roger, and read his last movie review: Terrence Malick's To the Wonder.

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