I didn’t know Roger Ebert personally. I’d like to believe I did, having consumed his reviews, commentary, and video clips with feverish gusto. As a burgeoning cinephile, my immediate reaction after watching any film is to make a beeline for rogerebert.com. “I loved this! What did Roger think?” or “Jeez, what tripe. I hope Roger tore this a new one.”
No, I didn’t know Roger, but the personal touch, the sincerity, and the dignity to his writings made me believe I did. His reviews seemed to spring directly from his reactions, something I envy in my own writing Who could forget his tirade against 1994 film North: “I I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.” That, dear readers, is a passion for movies.
But Roger wasn’t just some schmo with a cushy job. The man had a thorough understanding of film technique and history. Just listen to him dissect the marriage table montage in Citizen Kane, or find the heart and intelligence in The Big Lebowski. What’s more, he and Gene Siskel ran provocative specials on their program about race, gender, and sexuality in the movies. Social responsibility and film criticism? Together? Yup, that was Roger.
I’ve read critics from Shalit to Kael, but few seem to offer the combination of affection and knowledge that made Roger’s film reviews so memorable. Even when I disagreed with the man (1 star for Blue Velvet but 4 stars for The English Patient?!?), I found myself fascinated by the experience the film had created for him. He was a fine tribute to the art of opinion. And he was always open to changing his mind.
Alas, I never even made it out to Chicago, let alone met the man. But his work and his influence are my friends for life. And they always save me a seat.