A great man died today.
Roger Ebert, a man who can only be described as the greatest film critic in the English-speaking world, today lost his battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.
I heard the news on the radio today as I was driving home and I actually had to pull over and collect my thoughts. Roger Ebert has had such a tremendous impact on my understanding of cinema that my wife would often tease me by saying, “You should read Ebert’s review of the movie so you can know if you like it or not.” The funny thing is, that was almost true. Like any great critic, scholar, or teacher (and Ebert was all three) Roger Ebert had a gift, a genius for illuminating things in films that less perceptive viewers (which was most of us) would overlook. He also never feared going against popular consensus, creating some perspective on films that were perhaps more highly regarded than was truly warranted. I often did find that reading Ebert’s works I saw my own responses in a new light. If great artists like Stanley Kubrick helped turn film into a legitimate art form, great critics like Roger Ebert helped educate audiences about the aesthetic criteria by which to approach this new form.
Ebert was famous because he was a television personality, but I will always remember him as a great writer, since the vast majority of his work in cinematic criticism was in the written word. He was a master craftsman, one of the few critics whose work actually approaches the status of art in its own right.
So yes, my wife is partially true. Sometimes I don’t really know what to think about a film until I read Ebert’s thoughts on it. That is something I will never be able to do again.
Roger Ebert, rest in peace. You were a great man, who did something that every one of us longs to do in our short time on this planet: you left a part of yourself in countless people, including me. I have no desire to remove it.