Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert

 "The wonder of life and the resources of the imagination supply all the adventure you need."-Roger Ebert's review of "My Neighbor Totoro".

I think that quote describes Roger Ebert so well. He didn't only give me a review of a film, but often I would walk away from his reviews with new  ways to look at both film and life.  I'm a fan of a lot of things. Film directors, writers, and other creative types, but I think it was much more with Roger Ebert. I truly admired him. In fact, I once left a comment on Roger Ebert's blog and he responded to me. What a thrill! As I read tributes to him this morning, I see that it was not unusual for him to respond to his fans.

This makes the headline in the New York Times all the more true, "A Critic for the Common Man". That is true, in a lot of ways, because Roger Ebert wrote about the art form of the common man. Movies have meant a lot to me, and so have Roger Ebert. I have had a special relationship with both film criticism and film in general. I like a lot of film critics but there was something special about Roger Ebert's brand of film criticism. The way he wrote, I felt like I was talking with a friend, and not some cultural elite who was lecturing to me. I like the way that he loved movies the way they should be loved. He was emotional about them, he wasn't afraid to explain an independent film in simple terms to someone new to that wonderful world of art cinema, or explain to a snob why a dumb movie is worth their time, and sometimes entertainment is simply entertaining, and why that isn't a bad thing. He loved all sorts of films, and in that way, he was a friend to all sorts of people, and I felt like he was a friend of mine.  

I have to be honest. I have never had a relationship with a writer the way I have had with Roger Ebert. Sure, I've been a fan of many writers I've admired. However, there's something different about Roger Ebert. Maybe it was the way he wrote, but I also think through his writing, his reviews, his columns, books and TV shows, we got to know the man himself and quite honestly, he was a good one. Ebert was the kinda critic I want to be. A man who doesn't just show a love and knowledge of films in his work, but a love of knowledge of life and a love of knowledge. I admire him both as person, writer, journalist and critic. 

It wasn't just a film critic I read in the newspaper. It was the TV show I remember, watching "Siskel and Ebert" every weekend, growing up. When I became older, I started to read his reviews carefully, aspiring to write mine like his.  As "Game Of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin said this morning, Roger Ebert was a "a terrific writer" and I agree. He wasn't just a critic talking about movies, he was a writer, a real person, talking about film criticism. 

However, I also want to not just talk about Ebert the film critic. One of the great delights of Roger, was we got a sense through his writing, he was much more than his job. One of my favorite Ebert essays is in his "Great Movies" collection, on E.T., because it gave us a look at not just Ebert the film critic. It gave us a look at Ebert the man. Roger Ebert wrote this essay on E.T. as a letter to his grandchildren. He says thanks to his wife, he has step grand children, and went on to talk about how they reacted to watching E.T. for the first time. He also talked about his affection for them, and taking them to ride horses. Okay, maybe it sounds a bit sappy but that's one of the things I really loved about Ebert. We got a sense he was a friend, and he wrote to us like he was our friend, not just the snobby film critic sitting on a high perch, criticizing other people's work. He was a fan, he was passionate, he loved this art form, and he explained in simple terms, how art affects us. That's why Roger Ebert was so important. At the end of every episode of "Siekel and Ebert", they would say the balcony is closed. Well, I'm going to say, thanks to Roger Ebert, the balcony in our hearts and minds, will always be open. 

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