Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Love or Hate 'American Sniper,' We're Brought Together By Its Bad Fake Baby Love or Hate 'American Sniper,' We're Brought Together By Its Bad Fake Baby 'Girls' Outrage Tracker: Season 4, Episode 2, 'Triggering' 'Girls' Outrage Tracker: Season 4, Episode 2, 'Triggering' 'Better Call Saul': 'Breaking Bad' Prequel Accepts the Charges 'Better Call Saul': 'Breaking Bad' Prequel Accepts the Charges Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' 'Girls' Outrage Tracker: Season 4, Episode 1, 'Iowa' 'Girls' Outrage Tracker: Season 4, Episode 1, 'Iowa' The A.V. Club's 25 Best Sitcom Episodes of the Past 25 Years: 'Seinfeld,' 'The Simpsons' and More The A.V. Club's 25 Best Sitcom Episodes of the Past 25 Years: 'Seinfeld,' 'The Simpsons' and More First Reviews of Johnny Depp's 'Mortdecai': Scraping Bottom With a Waxed Moustache First Reviews of Johnny Depp's 'Mortdecai': Scraping Bottom With a Waxed Moustache At Last, the Four-Hour Cut of 'The Hobbit' You've Been Waiting For At Last, the Four-Hour Cut of 'The Hobbit' You've Been Waiting For Not at Sundance? Watch 14 Festival Films Via Sundance's #ArtistServices Not at Sundance? Watch 14 Festival Films Via Sundance's #ArtistServices 'Strange Magic' Reviews: Yup, That's Late Period George Lucas, All Right 'Strange Magic' Reviews: Yup, That's Late Period George Lucas, All Right Daily Reads: Stop Pitting 'Broad City' Against 'Girls,' How Political Pundits Warp 'American Sniper,' and more Daily Reads: Stop Pitting 'Broad City' Against 'Girls,' How Political Pundits Warp 'American Sniper,' and more Meet the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Ebert Film Criticism Fellows, 2015 Meet the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Ebert Film Criticism Fellows, 2015 Criticwire Classic of the Week: Jim Jarmusch's 'Dead Man' Criticwire Classic of the Week: Jim Jarmusch's 'Dead Man' The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" 'Disney Deaths' and 'Big Hero 6': How Children's Stories Process Loss 'Disney Deaths' and 'Big Hero 6': How Children's Stories Process Loss 'The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore': A Ways to Go, But Its Aim Is True 'The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore': A Ways to Go, But Its Aim Is True Daily Reads: Movie Monsters That Look Like Genitalia, Why It Feels Like There's Too Much TV and More Daily Reads: Movie Monsters That Look Like Genitalia, Why It Feels Like There's Too Much TV and More Daily Reads: Stop Calling Tom Hanks an Everyman, 'Blackhat' as Michael Mann's Lonely Film and More Daily Reads: Stop Calling Tom Hanks an Everyman, 'Blackhat' as Michael Mann's Lonely Film and More 'Justified' Season 6 Reviews: After a Stumble, It's Back in the Saddle 'Justified' Season 6 Reviews: After a Stumble, It's Back in the Saddle Daily Reads: Is There Middle Ground for 'American Sniper?' Why 'Selma's' Oscar Omission Matters and More Daily Reads: Is There Middle Ground for 'American Sniper?' Why 'Selma's' Oscar Omission Matters and More

Roger Ebert: The Early Years

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire July 1, 2014 at 10:06AM

A look at Roger Ebert's earliest reviews reveals the great critic trying to find his voice, and sometimes failing.
0
Ebert

With the release of Steve James' "Life Itself" approaching this Friday, this is a week for many to look back once more over the career of Roger Ebert. At The Dissolve, Noel Murray begins at the beginning, looking over some of Ebert's earliest reviews. Given that it involves going back more than 40 years, it's not surprising that some of the judgments have aged poorly, as has the authoritative, quasi-mandarin tone that became less common as Ebert grew both more confident and more generous in his writing. Of Andy Warhol's "Chelsea Girls," he writes that "Warhol has nothing to say and no technique to say it with," which is not only wrong but preposterously overreaching. (Really, no technique? Nothing to say?) It recalls Ebert's priggish pan of John Waters' "Pink Flamingos," which as late as 1997 he plainly declined even to engage with. The review is addressed to the film's 25th anniversary rerelease, but for the most part it sounds as if Ebert is holding to judgements he formed in 1972.

“Pink Flamingos” was filmed with genuine geeks, and that is the appeal of the film, to those who find it appealing: What seems to happen in the movie really does happen. That is its redeeming quality, you might say. If the events in this film were only simulated, it would merely be depraved and disgusting. But since they are actually performed by real people, the film gains a weird kind of documentary stature. There is a temptation to praise the film, however grudgingly, just to show you have a strong enough stomach to take it. It is a temptation I can resist.


It seems strange that an enthusiastic fan and collaborator of Russ Meyer's would harrumph at Warhol's and Waters' brand of debauchery, but then as Murray points out, Ebert's criticism was always personal:

In review after review, week after week, year after year, Ebert let slip little details about his Illinois upbringing, his political leanings, his habits, and his hobbies. While the New York critics were staking out rigid ideological positions and savaging each other in print — fighting battles that seem far less important now than when they were raging — Ebert was coming at movies as a curious, studious, passionate Midwesterner, applying a little humility and a lot of honesty, to keep his confidence from slipping into cockiness.


Part of what's fascinating about trawling through Ebert's early reviews is seeing him find that balance, even, perhaps especially, when he fails. It heightens the contrast to his later years when, even if he could sometimes be generous to a fault, he rarely slapped down a movie as if it wasn't worth his time.


E-Mail Updates