When I first found out that Roger Ebert had passed away, I initially thought to myself, “I’m going to miss his Facebook posts.” That might sound like a slight against someone who redefined film criticism and took it to iconic places. But really, it’s an appreciation for all of his worldly interests, his Internet, social media savvy, and ultimately his strong and motivating passion for film.
Ebert dies with 46 years of film criticism to his name, 31 of them on television, mostly with his good friend Gene Siskel. Together, sitting in an empty, old-fashioned movie theater, the competing Chicago newspaper critics made movie watching more than just an “I liked it,” “That was dumb,” “It was cute” two second responsorial art. They engaged with films, analyzing silly sequels like “Jaws: The Revenge” to really discuss the logical flaws with the camera capturing an above-water shark’s point of view, or why Michael Caine’s dry shirt after getting out of the water is a serious and disrespectful, illogical mishap. For many people who didn’t head to the theater often, their banter would oftentimes suffice.
Of course, their five-minute reviews could also trod on your heart just as easily. When you love a film and you don’t know precisely why, Ebert, like many critics, could help articulate that for you, but he could just as easily tear it to shreds. “No good film is too long and no bad movie is short enough,” he said. When Siskel passed away, Ebert found a somewhat sturdy replacement in Richard Roeper, continuing “At The Movies” through 2008 as a worthy substitute. “Ebert and Roeper” was once the only thing I knew about film criticism, their names plastered over billboards and bus frames, always giving “two thumbs up,” sometimes “way up.” My naïve mind thought all Ebert did was just give films a point with an appendage.
He still worked for the Chicago Sun-Times but he was really a national critic. His prose had such a nice blend of intellectual thoughts and personal reflections, which I think invited his widespread reading crowd. Eventually he made it to his own webpage, a digital forum that housed his reviews and opinions. He didn’t just write about film though, posting videos, essays, articles, and anything else that fascinated him about the world to his blog. As I researched the decline of celluloid film within the industry last year, he affirmed my trade journal searching by writing, in essence, a love-letter to celluloid film and his disappointment in its slow evaporation. He most recently posted about the earth’s warming, gun control, and the latest YouTube fads, further enriching and spreading his voice that physically left him several years ago.
But it was those Facebook posts. He opened up a world of cinematic knowledge for me and consequently boosted many writers’ page counts by sharing their work. He led me to Jim Emerson, a former critic who writes a rich film blog and who sadly is also dealing with health complications. He promoted his “Far-Flung Corespondents,” writers from all over the world with thoughtful and intriguing perspectives and essays on recent films. He made me feel like an intellectual when he’d post articles from “The Paris Review” or “The Atlantic,” which I’d subsequently share and pretend that I’d found those articles in my own daily web scanning. When you can’t speak, you can’t eat normally, you can’t walk, reading and writing are the only fulfilling outlets. He was nice enough to share everything with us.
It will now be strange not finding him on my newsfeed, or seeing his outdated mug on RottenTomatoes anymore. Like many, that was where I felt I knew him, through his writing, his critiques, and his book of four-star reviews sitting on my desk.
But Roger, I’ve still got a bone to pick with you. You gave one of my favorite comedies “Old School” one star and in part of your review bluntly stated, “This is not a funny movie.” I think you’re completely wrong, but I want to thank you for eliciting such a pessimistic, insane opinion. I never had to defend “Old School” to anyone. I wanted to after I read your review. Part of loving something is defending it. Ebert knew that better than anyone.