June 18th was Roger Ebert's birthday. The late film critic, who passed away on April 4th of this year, would have turned 71 today.
To mark the occasion, RogerEbert.com has all kinds of new articles, including a contest to finish a short sci-fi story Roger wrote while he was in the hospital and a lovely list by new RE.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz of the "Eight Films For Which Roger Ebert's Reviews Made a Difference."
Around the web there were several other tributes to Ebert the critic and the writer, like this one at Movie Mezzanine, and this lovely personal story by Steven James Snyder at Time. At this point, though, I don't think you need a mediocre writer like me to tell you what a great writer Ebert was; the man won a Pulitzer Prize, reviewed movies for more than forty years, and wrote more than a dozen books. His skills were self-evident.
My instinct at times like this is to instead hail Ebert (and Gene Siskel) the TV host. So many of my peers still blame "Siskel & Ebert" for dumbing down film criticism and ruining the field forever. But the show inspired countless young critics (myself included) and brought films and film criticism to audiences that may never have found either without them.
Not a week goes by that I don't spend at least a little time on SiskelandEbert.org or YouTube watching or rewatching vintage clips from the show. The conversations, arguments, and observations by Gene and Roger still hold up. I could -- and will -- listen to these two men talk about movies for the rest of my life.
As a brief tribute (and an excuse to watch more "Siskel & Ebert") here are a few clips to enjoy, chosen almost completely at random from recent uploads to YouTube. These are not the best reviews from the history of the show (I did a piece like that for IFC.com with my colleague Stephen Saito on the occasion of "At the Movies"' cancellation by Disney), nor the most influential (see Seitz's list for that). These are just a few excellent ones I sampled today.
Even bad movies were opportunities for good criticism on "Siskel & Ebert." I love how this review of "The Mighty Ducks" becomes a referendum on racial stereotypes in kids movies:
Here Siskel and Ebert succinctly dismantle the American version of "Godzilla" -- even as an ill Siskel comments on the film from a hospital bed. They also consider the fact that they'd been written into the film as the Mayor Ebert of New York and his aide Gene.
I enjoyed hearing Ebert describe the joy that old Disney animation continued to bring him as an adult in this 1981 review of the rerelease of "Cinderella:"
Here's a cool clip I'd never seen before: Ebert, sans Siskel, filing a news report for Chicago's WMAQ on the "Rocky Horror" cult and its sequel, "Shock Treatment." Ebert correctly predicted the sequel's fate:
And just because you can't do a "Siskel & Ebert" retrospective without a Siskel and Ebert argument, how about this disagreement over "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy:"
There are hundreds more clips like that on YouTube and SiskelandEbert.org to watch (I'm off to enjoy all 45 minutes of Siskel and Ebert on "The Howard Stern Show"). Browsing through them sounds like the perfect way to spend a June 18th. Happy birthday, Roger.
Read more of "The Thinking Molecules of Titan" and "Eight Films For Which Roger Ebert's Reviews Made a Difference."