Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Personal Tribute to Roger Ebert

No doubt anyone reading this had read plenty of other obituaries about Roger Ebert, his life, his work, and so on. I’m sure you’ve read plenty of personal stories from other film critics as well. I can’t match any of those in terms of style or experience- I’m just an undergraduate/soon-to-be graduate student trying to make it in the criticism game, something damned hard in this day in age. I can only express what Roger Ebert and his work meant to me, personally, my fear of this turning into a maudlin tribute be damned.

I chose my blog title, The Film Temple, because of my shared motto with my cousin Loren Greenblatt (of Screen Vistas): “Some people go to church. We go to the movies”. For us, Roger Ebert was the first great prophet and teacher for movie love- unpretentious, honest, and full of joy when he found a movie he truly loved. He perhaps didn’t inspire theories as much as Andrew Sarris or Andre Bazin, but he made film criticism accessible, fun, and still intelligent for budding cinephiles and experienced movie lovers alike. I watched episodes of At the Movies with Ebert and Gene Siskel (and later Richard Roeper) religiously, and the wonders of the internet have made both his print-reviews and his work on the show available to everyone. I’ve spent lord knows how many afternoons sitting around and watching his work, often taking notes. Sometimes Ebert’s work showed me the way to movies that I wouldn’t have found otherwise- Hoop Dreams, Aguirre: the Wrath of God, My Dinner with Andre, Drugstore Cowboy, Do the Right Thing, The Age of Innocence, you name it.

In my days as an often-sullen teenage movie lover, I’d often take a superior attitude when I disagreed with Ebert. “How could he hate something as great as Blue Velvet but go for something as overrated as Forrest Gump?” I read and re-read those reviews, and eventually something clicked, my first real lesson in criticism: what made a review great had nothing to do with whether or not I agreed with it. It had to do with honesty, clarity, levelheadedness, and wit. Ebert could only write openly about how the film affected him and whether or not it worked for him. I still disagree with both of those particular reviews and several others, but the fact that Ebert made me give a damn and better helped me articulate my views on film said something to his worth.

The most important thing about Ebert, though? He made it seem possible. Because of Roger Ebert, countless critics and aspiring critics first realized that they could spend their lives writing about an art medium they loved dearly and personally. Maybe they wouldn’t achieve his level of fame, but they could inspire other young film buffs and act as guides to movie lovers everywhere. They could write openly about their own movie love, add to the cultural conversation, and maybe, if they were lucky, they’d get paid to do it, too. Without Roger Ebert, I wouldn’t have a hope or a prayer that I could do this.

Thanks, Roger.

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