I first became aware of Roger Ebert when I was 17. I was studying film studies at college, and was required to do a presentation on a particular director or genre. I chose to do my presentation on Steven Spielberg. Given that it was to be my first time speaking alone in front of an audience for 10-15 minutes I was a little nervous.
We were required to find quotes from film critics and theorists to back up our arguments. After a little internet searching, I came across a man who wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. His name seemed to pop up on Google searches a lot, so I figured he must have a bit of a reputation. I found his website, rogerebert.com, and was amazed with what I found.
No one has been able to write with as much joy and passion as Roger Ebert. Here was a man who allowed himself to sink into the magic of cinema, and then once the credits started rolling, pulled himself out in order to put his thoughtful and unique observations onto the page.
Roger Ebert was born on June 18th 1942 in Illinois. He became interested in journalism in a very early age while at high school, when he started writing for science fiction fanzines. He attended the University of Chicago, hoping to get a PhD and seek work as a freelance writer. He started working for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1966 as a feature writer, until a year later he was offered a job as the newspaper’s film critic.
It all started with a favourable review of a Russ Meyer film, a man he would later become good friends with. During his early years as a film critic, he wrote a few movie scripts for Meyer, including “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” The film was very poorly received upon it’s release, and Ebert regularly joked that he was the brains behind the film, which has now become a cult classic. His other films for Russ Meyer included “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens”, which was classed as part of the exploitation genre. Ebert referred to Meyer’s films as “skin-flicks.” Ebert’s films were a clear sign of a man embracing the sheer thrill and enjoyment of the medium.
Roger Ebert became such a unique voice in film criticism that it wouldn’t be honest to say he formed the consensus on movies. In fact it was fairly common for him to have a completely different opinion to his colleagues. When “Jurassic Park” was released with wide spread critical acclaim for its visuals, Ebert was one of the few people who sounded sceptical about making a movie purely “to show us dinosaurs.” In one of the more recent incidents, Ebert received a lot of negative comments when he gave a full four out of four stars for the Nicholas Cage film “Knowing.” Critic consensus said it was a disappointment. Watch the film, then read Ebert’s review – you’ll see he was right.
He was a man who certainly embraced his right to free speech and creativity. His negative reviews were often so witty and scorching that they were compiled into a book, wonderfully titled “Your Movie Sucks.” One rather infamous review was for the low budget rape-revenge shocker “I Spit On Your Grave.” In it he tore into the idea that it was somehow a feminist movie, and gave a rather disturbing account of his horror when some male members of the audience during the screening actually started cheering the male characters on during the rape scenes. His last great zero star rant was given to the atrocious comedy “Movie 43”, where Ebert joked about his dismay when he took a pill someone told him would make him forget about the movie, and it didn’t work.
It was in television though where Ebert is widely thought of as a pioneer. He took to the screens with fellow critic Gene Siskel, where the pair frequently clashed in hilarious exchanges of opinion. After Gene Siskel died in 1999, Ebert started co-hosting his show with his close friend Richard Roeper.
His television career however came to an end in 2002 when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He had surgery, but later had to undergo a second operation in 2006. Complications left him unable to speak, and at one stage was in such a critical condition his doctors said he was “a breath away from death.” Remarkably, Ebert recovered and continued writing movie reviews, slowly returning to his usual 5-6 reviews per week output. He simply refused to allow his life threatening cancer to take away the joys in his life. That’s certainly a quality we can all admire.
2012 was the busiest year of Roger Ebert’s career, writing a massive 300 reviews, two blog posts a week, and several other newspaper and magazine columns. On Monday 1st April, he wrote his final ever piece on his blog where he spoke about “taking a leave of presence” to improve his health, and spoke of all the projects he was planning for the future. He passed away on Thursday 4th April.
Roger Ebert was one of a kind. There never will be a writer who soaks up the passion and ingenuity of the world’s most influential industry like he did. Thanks to the internet, his thousands of reviews will remain online for millions to be mesmerised and inspired. And so with that in mind, we will simply conclude with his concluding paragraph from his final blog post:
“So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”
Image reproduced from blogs.suntimes.com
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