The movie world lost an icon and a treasure last month with the death of Roger Ebert. There’s not much I could say about his career that hasn’t been noted over the past month: he democratized film criticism; he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reviews at the Chicago Sun-Times; he reinvented himself from newspaperman to a guru of the Internet, blogosphere and social media; and he refused to let his illness stop him from doing what he loved, reviewing films until the last week of his life.
I know I’m not alone in this, but I’ve always held Mr. Ebert in a special regard. When I was a teenager first discovering the wonder of film, I’d eagerly await every episode of “At the Movies,” the television show where he’d spar weekly with Gene Siskel, his rival critic from The Chicago Tribune. I tuned in religiously to watch movie clips and see whether a particular film garnered their trademark “thumbs up or thumbs down.” There was a particular joy in watching those two trade opinions and barbs, and many have speculated whether they really disliked one another off camera. I like to think of them as having been friendly rivals, although in my opinion, Gene Siskel could be annoying. So, for his patience, I also have to hand it to Mr. Ebert.
In many respects, Roger Ebert shaped my taste in movies. I went to college in Chicago in an era when many films were being made in and about the city: “The Untouchables,” “About Last Night,” and every film made by the late director John Hughes. It was an exciting time, and racing to grab the paper on Fridays to see what Mr. Ebert had to say about that week’s releases became a habit I maintain to this day (although now I do it on his website). While I didn’t always agree with him, he’s forever been my go-to guy for deciding whether and when I’ll check out a movie, from the smallest indie films to blockbusters.
What I loved most about Roger Ebert, though, is how much he truly loved the movies. He wasn’t a snob–he called the original “Star Wars” a masterpiece—but never shied away from blasting a bad film that wasted money and time. Mr. Ebert also believed that movies were, or at least should be, made-to-be-seen on the big screen in theaters. He understood, in his blood, how transformational the experience of movie going itself could be, and why it could never be replicated at home in the living room, no matter how big our flat screens get. As a busy mom who often finds refuge and renewal alone in a dark theater, I applaud that view heartily.
So thank you, Mr. Ebert, for sharing your life, your work, and your passion with all of us. You will be greatly missed. Godspeed.
Check out Roger Ebert’s compilation of The Great Movies. We’d love to hear which are your favorites.