Friday, April 05, 2013

The Balcony Is Closed

I've often mocked film critic Roger Ebert for his taste, his politics and the errors he made in his reviews, but I never questioned his enthusiasm for movies, nor his positive overall effect.  He has been the best-known film critic in the world for decades, and his promotion of films, old and new, started a millions conversations and set many on a path to find out more about the works in question.

Now that he's died, we can look back on a life well-lived.  He landed the slot of film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967 when he was in the mid-20s.  At the time, it wasn't considered a great position, but Roger made it a perch of prominence.  He also wrote the script for Russ Meyers' Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls in 1970, a film that, while trashy, some have ranked with the greatest of the decade. (In fact, he wanted to know who listed the film so highly and I sent him a letter with that information.  He wrote back thanking me.)

In 1975, only 33, he became the first film critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize.  His style was lively and personal--maybe too personal, as he'd give his emotional response, sometimes clouding objective analysis.  But he couldn't help it.  Movies excited him.  He also was, at least compared to most major critics, an easy grader. But then, Roger said he tried to take each movie on its own terms.

What truly made him famous was teaming up in 1975 with fellow Chicago critic Gene Siskel for Sneak Previews, a TV show looking at current releases.  They changed the name of the show through the years, but it was always Roger and Gene giving thumbs up or down, until Siskel died in 1999.

Roger continued with other critics filling Gene's seat, even if it was never quite the same. And in the internet age, now there were thousands of voices to compete with, but Roger's was still one of the loudest.

He not only saw and wrote about almost every major commerial film released in this country, he also published quite a few books, some on particular subjects (like Scorsese, though not all his books were about film), some collections of reviews and essays, some looks at classic movies and in 2011, a heartfelt memoir, Life Itself.

For the past decade, however, he had serious health problems, starting with thyroid cancer followed by a series of not-always successful operations.  The man whose careeer was based on speaking about films lost his jaw and the ability to speak. But he kept working when he could, and never lost his love of movies. More than anything else, that sense of passion about the cinema is what he leaves behind.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

rarely agreed but always read.

4:07 AM, April 05, 2013  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I only have one comprehensive movie review book, a tome from Ebert, purchased before the internet made it so simple to look up any film. Inthe old Sneak Previews, Ebert tended to demonstrate my tatses more than Siskel, but the two working together was always fun to watch.

Seems just Wed. they announced the reoccurence of his cancer and that he would be scaling back his reviewing activities. It must have been a much greater receurrence than the initial report let on - it sounds like he just had had enough.

7:13 AM, April 05, 2013  

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