The news broke on Thursday the 4th that the premiere voice in film criticism had passed on. Roger Ebert, age 70, passed away due to complications with cancer. He was in the midst of arranging hospice care when he simply smiled at his wife Chaz and passed on during chemo treatment. He, at least, went peacefully.
It has taken me nearly all the weekend and part of today (Monday) to even organize my thoughts regarding this. I did not know Roger Ebert on a personal level but I followed his work most of my adult life. His writing was a constant source of inspiration and his personal strength in the face of such awful adversity regarding his health was even more fortifying. This was a man who lost of his jaw and the ability to speak thanks to cancer. This was a man who fell and hurt his hip only to later learn that his prior cancer had come back in his damned bones. He did not falter, though, but instead dove into the world of social media and became an ambassador for the power of it.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at his funeral today, "Roger spent time sitting through all those bad movies so we wouldn't have to." His yearly output was staggering and the volume of his legacy was nearly 50 years in the making. No other film critic has won the Pulitzer Prize but Ebert did. The terminology "thumbs up" wasn't even in the vernacular of popular culture until we had Siskel and Ebert on our TV screens. It's now a gesture synonymous with approval and, for movies, there isn't a much better endorsement than a thumbs up from the Great One.
One of the most arresting and uplifting moments of the last few years came in Roger Ebert's talk at the TED conference in 2011. He spoke on losing and regaining his voice through the embrace of technology.
His spirit was infectious and his love of movies so hard to ignore. It was through his reviews and his annual yearbooks of film reviews, essays and other smatterings of prose that I discovered within myself just how important movies were to me. I don't just love movies. I look at them as one of the most pure forms of human expression possible. I totally disagree with him on the issue of video games as art but I can't fault the guy for that. I can't even be mad at him for that. Just a differing opinion much like how he and Siskel were at odd all the time yet were such good friends.
Richard Roper, the later co-star to Ebert in his TV ventures post Siskel reflected on his friend, Roger's ability to write comparing him to "a musical genius sitting down at a Steinway. It just flowed out of him sometimes faster than his fingers could even keep up." I've always held myself to the standard of Ebert when it comes to writing in terms of criticism but just in being an author in general. He is one of my personal beacons and to lose a voice like him was a much bigger blow to me than I could have ever anticipated.
My words are paltry in comparison to those of other much more eloquent minds and, frankly, I know my opinion means little. Ebert touched a lot of lives in his seventy years of existence. He helped influence the lexicon, inspired countless critics and was just a phenomenal human being.
I could finish with some pithy bit about sitting in Heaven with Siskel arguing about movies. That'd be cheap. I know, for a while, I will feel lost when it comes to films without his voice being there as a guide. The night of his death, actually, I spent it catching a screening of Evil Dead which, probably, he would have hated but despite his rather abject distaste for the genre he still offered fair reviews for pretty much any and all movies he sat through. He defended his side and he did so with grace. His presence online allowed him to interact on such a personal level with fans and other critics alike that it was a treat to see him work. He didn't give in to trolls nor did he ignore truly insightful commentary from others. He often promoted and uplifted those of us amateur hour rookies who were trying to make their name.
Mr. Ebert you will be missed greatly. It is sad that you will not be around to see the next Tarantino, the next Scorcese or the next revolutionary filmmaker to come down the pipe but what you leave behind is a legacy that far exceeds any that has come before it or will follow it. You were a giant, Roger. We'll see you at the movies, friend.