Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Roger Ebert: My Role Model As A Critic

There are times in life when you hear about the death of a celebrity and you feel sad.  Then there are a few times in life when the death of a celebrity brings you a lot of heartache.  More than sadness, this loss truly affects your life.

Many people who have heard about the death of Roger Ebert feel sad.  To those who read his articles and turned to him for film recommendations, his loss means so much more.  It is the end of our trusted friend who we would turn to for advice.  We may not always agree with him, but we appreciated his rationale as to why he liked or disliked movies.

I remember the day I heard that Gene Siskel had died.  I felt sad.  I felt that Siskel & Ebert had ended.  No more discussion of films receiving “Two Thumbs Up” or “Two Thumbs Down.”  I felt like this was an end of an era.  In a way, it was.  The majority of society would hear that a film received “Two Thumbs Up” from Siskel & Ebert to show that both critics liked the film.  Could we really take as much pleasure in “Ebert and random guest?”  Not as much.

I could have viewed Ebert as the surviving member of a marriage, but with only Ebert remaining, he became MY critic.  Roger Ebert became the person who I would turn to for film recommendations.  I didn’t just see if he gave the film, “Thumbs Up.”  I would read the articles.  Film after film, I wanted to know what he thought about them.  I wanted to know his views.  Even if he disagreed with me on a film, I wanted to know why.  I wanted to hear his justification for a negative review and understand what he saw or didn’t see in a film.

Not only would I read his reviews for more than 13 years, but I even bookmarked his website on my phone so I could turn to it to read his opinion of different films.  Roger Ebert did not just have recent reviews, but he actually had years of previous reviews available for viewers to read free of charge.

If there is one reason why I think that people should have turned to Roger Ebert to see what he thought of films… it is because he was a great guide to finding great films.  Some critics are too tough on movies and give the majority of them negative reviews.  Some critics are too generous with movies and give too many of them a perfect score of 4 stars.  Roger Ebert was fair.  He was neither too tough nor too generous.  He knew that if he gave a film 4 stars, it would bring a lot of positive buzz to that film.  He was not going to do that unless if he felt that it was truly special.

If there is a second reason why his film reviews were worth reading… they were well written and entertaining.  Sometimes it is easy to like or love something, but hard to describe it with such passion.  Roger Ebert is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.  Almost 40 years later, I am so grateful that he received that honor early in his life instead of having to wait years for such recognition.

Most people do not know this… Roger Ebert was unable to speak or even eat food for years.  He had battled cancer for years.  I remember that he had battled cancer, but then I found out a few years later that he had been completely unable to speak.  I was reading his reviews for years without realizing what he had truly gone through.  He could no longer talk.  He would have to be fed through a tube.  In such a difficult physical state, it would be completely understandable if he had retired.

He did not.

Roger Ebert continued to write film reviews.  He continued to work full time.  Unable to speak, he still had his eyes to see movies, his ears to hear the dialogue, and his hands to write the reviews.  Cancer may eventually take his life, but it was not going to stop him from writing reviews.  He could continue to do this while many daily readers, myself included, had no idea that he was mute.

After a few years of him being unable to speak I learned of his struggles.  I appreciated what he was doing even more.

The world has lost the most famous film critic.  For me, I lost my favorite one.  I hope right now Roger is up in Heaven watching some new movies with Gene Siskel.  Roger is able to eat the popcorn and able to have a friendly verbal banter with Gene over their opinions of each film.
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