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Film Critics Remember Roger Ebert

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 5, 2013 at 9:17AM

Memories and appreciations from some of the men and women he inspired.
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Roger Ebert at the opening night of Ebertfest 2011.
Roger Ebert at the opening night of Ebertfest 2011.

To honor the life and legacy of film critic Roger Ebert, Criticwire invited the members of our Criticwire Network to share with us any tribute they saw fit. Many sent links to their full obituaries and appreciations elsewhere -- which we're currently collecting and will share in another post later today. In the meantime, here are some of the shorter comments from our Network.

Rest in peace, Roger. You've inspired a generation. Here is just a small portion of the proof:

LAST UPDATE: April 7th, 12:00 PM -- with contributions from Ethan Alter, Jason Bailey, Bruce Bennett and Robert Levin

Ryland Aldrich, Twitch:

"As a child, Roger Ebert's TV show 'Siskel & Ebert' was my introduction to film criticism and really any world of film outside the multiplex. The syndicated show used to come on well past my bedtime, but my father would tape record the weekly broadcast for us to watch. I very clearly remember the pair discussing a little black and white film called 'Clerks.' I was eventually able to track the film down on a VHS tape that was recorded from the laserdisc. I watched the film repeatedly, soaking in the DIY spirit. That discussion between Siskel and Ebert ignited an interest in me that would eventually developed into a career-defining passion for indie cinema. Thank you Gene. Thank you Roger."

Ethan Alter, Television Without Pity:

"While I never had the good fortune to meet Roger Ebert in person, I do have two memories that, in some small way, indicate the impact his work had on my life.

Fall, 1988: Realizing they had a 10-year-old budding movie enthusiast on their hands, my parents gift me with a copy of Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion— the just-published 1989 edition with Ebert flashing his famous (though not to me, yet) thumb atop a stack of VHS tapes—for Hanukkah.  I open the book at random and start reading a review, followed by another, and another, and still another.  The writing is elegant, witty and entirely accessible, the words of a fellow film lover sharing his enthusiasm (and, sometimes, derision) in print.  The following year, I join my elementary school newspaper as an after-school activity and decide what the quarterly rag really needs is a movie column.  My first-ever review is of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 'The Bear' and I enjoy writing it so much, I think,  'Huh…I’d kinda like to keep doing this.'

Spring, 2000: I’m in my final year of film school at Northwestern, winding down my tenure as film editor of the campus newspaper and putting the finishing touches on an independent study project that explores the impact the Siskel & Ebertprogram had on film criticism.  I manage to secure a press ticket to a special University of Chicago screening of Woody Allen’s 'Small Time Crooks' that will be followed by a Q&A with Allen—one of my movie gods—and Ebert.  The movie is so-so, but the post-screening discussion is marvelous, with Ebert holding court in grand style, engaging Allen in a natural, off-the-cuff conversation and encouraging questions from the audience.  The opportunity to be in the same room—third row back from the front, no less—while a professional inspiration and a favorite director converse is a thrill and, in a way, a kind of graduation as I prepare to pursue film criticism in the 'real world.'"   

Ali ArikanDipnot TV:

"I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed on Thursday night when my phone rang.  It was Bilge Ebiri, and I made a mental note to send him an email letting him know that I would call him back. Then my phone rang again, and it was Elcin Yahsi, my friend and sometime-editor for Istanbul's Sabah daily. As I picked up the call, I turned to my girlfriend and said: 'Oh, god. I think it's Roger.' Elcin replied: 'I am so sorry.'

I don't recall the conversation Elcin and I had then. I don't recall hanging up. I don't recall collapsing down on the sofa. And I don't recall when I started to cry. But crying I was, sobbing, tears streaming down my cheeks, as an uncontrollable sorrow penetrated deep into my very being. My eyes drifted to the shelves in the living room. I never had to look for one of Roger's books; I knew exactly where they were. I stood up, and picked up his Great Movies compilation. I read for ten minutes, and then called Bilge. His usually mellifluous voice was full of sadness. We talked, exchanged a few stories, and then he said: 'You know, what's also important is that he plucked so many other young writers out of relative obscurity and championed their work. The onus is on you now.  Now is the test."'

Yes. Now is the test.  Now is the time to write.

I have been reading obituaries by many of Roger's fans, friends, and colleagues, and a lot of them highlight his prolificity. He loved writing about movies almost as much as he loved watching them. After one of his personal heroes fell, Roger would produce an eloquently written obit almost instantaneously, full of admiration and never mawkish. I have to write two obituaries for him, one in English and the other in Turkish. I am on a tight deadline. And I am finding it hard not be maudlin in the wake of his passing. This insurmountable challenge for me would have been nothing to him. Grace came to him naturally.

He was a kind and generous soul. Our personal friendship dates back to 2003, when we started having a conversation on email about a particular scene in 'The Godfather.' It's somehow fitting that the scene in question was the Don's funeral.

I am filled with memories. And I am filled with love for not just Roger, but my extended family that I made through my friendship with him. I could tell you about the first time I met him.  Or how he pulled a prank on me on a night I was feeling particularly vulnerable. Or a particular piece of advice he scribbled down on his notepad that I now have hanging on my wall.

But I don't have the time. I have an obituary to write."

Jason Bailey, Flavorwire:

"He wasn’t a New York critic, bitchy and mean like Rex Reed or John Simon, and he wasn’t an LA critic, cozy and eager to please. He and Gene Siskel were Midwesterners; Roger wrote for the working-class Sun-Times, and when he appeared on your television, chubby, bespectacled, and sweater-vested, he was like your smart uncle who was always recommending something great you’d never heard of."

Bruce Bennett, Wall Street Journal:

For a handful of Reagan-era Labor Day weekends I flew out west from New York to meet up with my brother Rob, his wife (and widow) to-be, Cindy and some of their friends to drive from their home in Denver to the annual Telluride Film Festival. I have no idea what the festival is like now but back then it was a programming mystery box of tributes (largely overseen by the late, great Bill Everson) and contemporary releases whose actual titles weren't revealed until you got there. To the best of my recollection, Roger Ebert never missed a Telluride weekend. More miraculously, he somehow managed to seemingly be at every screening of every film regardless of overlapping venues and showtimes and the surrounding hype or the obscurity of the individual picture showing. Even more surprising to me was that despite being a fixture on national television at the time, Ebert would engage anybody there about pretty much anything.

In movie lines, at breakfast - pretty much anywhere in Telluride except in a darkened theater - Roger Ebert was always completely approachable and ready to talk. He had a boyish, gregarious quality that his more professorial 'Sneak Previews' persona only hinted at and was always funny or insightful or both depending on the tone of the encounter. Once, while waiting in line for a film (Paul Cox's 'Man of Flowers', maybe...?) Ebert tried to break up my sister-in-law by making a whooshing jet plane sound and zooming his hands past her when she took off her sweater. Realizing that she didn't get the reference, Ebert smiled broadly and asked, “You didn't see 'Jet Pilot'?” The Joseph Von Sternberg (and Jules Furthman and Howard Hughes) RKO Cold War potboiler had played the festival that year as part of a Janet Leigh tribute. If you've seen it, you know what Ebert was referring to (if not, it's at about 3:25 here). Cindy hadn't, and Ebert laughed hard by way of apology and moved on to talking with us about the weather. It was disarming. He just seemed nice.

The same year, or maybe the year after, 'China Lake', a polished short film about a rogue cop caused a stir among the more squeamish at Telluride for its depiction of various grindhouse grade acts of violence. The cop was played by Charles Napier – Baxter Wolfe in Russ Meyer and Ebert's 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' – so I made a beeline for Ebert when I next saw him. He praised Napier as the perfect Russ Meyer he-man actor and 'Cherry Harry and Raquel' as a very underrated film. Our dual enthusiasm for Napier's filmography led us to the actor's performance as a space hippy named Adam in the 'Star Trek' episode 'The Way to Eden' and an impromptu duet rendition of as much as we could each remember of the song that Napier's Adam sings in it. 'Headin' out to Eden, yay brother...'

My only non-Telluride encounter with Roger Ebert was during the 2011 New York Film Festival. I'd successfully pitched a local broad sheet preview to a NYFF Pauline Kael symposium and screening that assembled boxed quotes from esteemed film critics on the topic of Kael. A quick search of Ebert's website revealed his 1975 Kael piece 'On Art & Trash, Life & Lice' and after reading it I had to include him, even if a phoner was out of the question. Ebert's email replies to my individual questions were thoughtful and affectionate – he recast the 'legendary feud' between Kael and Andrew Sarris as a forgivable act of self-promotion by Kael, recalled social occasions with her warmly, etc. I particularly liked his response to a boilerplate query about Kael's journalistic legacy. 'Perhaps critics are less guarded and protective, and more willing to jump in with both feet,' he wrote. That epitaph applies Roger Ebert's work pretty well, too. Though, I'd hasten to add 'and he did a hell of a singing Charles Napier impression.'"

Danny Bowes, Movies By Bowes:

"We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try." --Roger Ebert 

"Many try. You succeed." -- Humphrey Bogart

Tom Brueggemann, Thompson on Hollywood:

"The word that comes to mind most about Roger is his generosity. Though he was someone who made his living having opinions I found that in nearly all my encounters he was as open and helpful as he could possibly be, every bit as much after he how found success and fame as much earlier in his career. He championed specialized film in a significant way earlier than most critics, and treated a wide range of them in Chicago locally with an enthusiasm that made a big difference. When I programmed some obscure New Yorker films while in college (Northwestern), he reviewed them in the Sun-Times. Throughout the 1970s, he would emphasize 'art film' releases that had small ad budgets and might not even have been big deals in New York earlier if he thought they were worthy, often being responsible for making them successes. (The opening of the Andre Gregory documentary at Film Forum this week reminds me how it was Roger's discovery of 'My Dinner With Andre' that led to that film's national success after it had failed to catch on in New York, a very early example of how influential he went on to be. I booked specialized theaters in Chicago during the 1980s at the height of the Siskel/Ebert partnership (which was also a fierce rivalry). The reality of the way both men wielded power, and more importantly the higher readership for the Tribune (where Gene wrote) for our audience, meant Gene more often was fed news first when it came out. Roger once complained about this, but did so in a way that was totally devoid of anger or personal rancor. It was typical of him -- he was a positive person in personal encounters as much as he came across in his writing. He refused to take it personally. I can't imagine dealing with the devastating hand life dealt him over the past decade and coming across with the vitality and optimism he showed. As significant as a force as he was as a critic, his personal courage will be what will he his legacy."

Josh Brunsting, The CriterionCast:

"As a 24-year old writer, I think it's safe to say that most of the time I've been able to read, I've been reading Ebert. More so than his actual writing, I'll always remember his passion. Be it his passion behind each word he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times, each word he threw at his various 'At The Movies' co-hosts (particularly Gene Siskel who, if there is a heaven, he's hopefully bickering with in a balcony somewhere up there), or the various words he wrote when he adapted to the growth of the internet, his true love for cinema forever changed the way I looked at film as an art. Also, the way he championed everything from documentary cinema to anime, Ebert has proven to be as much of an influence on the film world as any of his peers. While his word will always live on, its his love and passion for cinema that will be as timeless as the way he fought cancer for over a decade, and did so with a punk rock energy, seeing the web as a way to only grow as a writer. This one's tough. I feel like a father figure, for me if not this entire generation, has been taken from us."

Marc CiafardiniGoSeeTalk.com:

"As a kid I grew up in a house filled with love and reverence for film. Some of my earliest memories were watching the old Adam West 'Batman' show. But before it came on there was always this show about these two guys sitting in a theater discussing (and arguing) about movies. Yes, it was 'Siskel & Ebert.'

I was too young to know what movies they were talking about as well as understand their criticisms but I always understood and loved when they gave their trademark 'two thumbs up.' But, even at 5 years of age, what really resonated with me were the times when Roger Ebert would throw an arm over the chair, turn round and start talking directly to me; well, at least that's what it felt like. Simple but effective, that was the beauty of his approach; his reviews were more of a discussion rather than a dissemination of an irrefutable opinion.

It was his approach to film that made it more about what was good and what was bad. He taught us not to take a film at face value but to challenge it, encouraging us to get a conversation going (it was probably a subconscious reason we call our site GoSeeTalk with a tagline that's simply 'Welcome to the conversation'). Further it showed us that film and reviews of them can be intelligent but also very acceptable.

It's that delicate balance that he walked again and again. He also showed us, part of his job really, that it's OK to not like something (when he didn't care for something he had no reservations about letting us know or letting a film have it). With his articulate but casual approach to his work he became a symbol of the film journalism world, a friend to every household and an example to many, many people.

Film and opinions of film will always be subjective and with the warm invitation 'see you at the movies' he was something an icon, a legend and someone who could appeal to any and all film fans. He'll be sorely missed."

Erik Davis, Movies.com:

"I grew up watching my father watch 'Siskel & Ebert,' and during the commercial breaks he'd always turn to me and continue their conversation about a particular movie with this little kid who had no idea what he was talking about most of the time. I was just excited to see my father, a workaholic who wasn't home much, attempt to share this passion he had for movies with me, even though I couldn't offer much in return.

To this day the greatest bond I have with my father is over our mutual love for movies. It was through Ebert that my father learned how to engage me in a way that brought us closer together in times when we spent hours and sometimes days apart. That's the thing I most respect about what Ebert accomplished. Not only did he have this uncanny way of connecting with people, but he also taught them how to connect with each other. With their colleagues, their spouses, their mailmen, and in my case, their families. Thank you, Roger."

Edward DouglasComing Soon:

"I would be full of crap if I were to go on and on about how Roger Ebert inspired or influenced me as a film critic. Sure, I watched his show with Siskel diligently in the '70s and '80s before I moved to New York but by the time I was writing movie reviews in 2001, Ebert was already doing the show with Roeper and frankly, I felt that they had become a little too much about studio glad-handing and giving quotes to less than quote-worthy movies. On the other hand, Ebert specifically championed many great indie films I might never have checked out if not for his raves and the longer I wrote about movies, the more I appreciated Ebert and what he's accomplished over his career.

To think that yesterday marked 46 years at the Sun-Times is just mind-blowing and makes my ten years at ComingSoon.net seem like a drop in the bucket. But it was after Ebert was stricken with cancer and left the air when I really started to respect him because he took to the Internet and Twitter like no other print/TV critic before him. His writing got better and better, more introspective and less about pleasing the studios and maybe that also had to do with his age and experience. His resourcefulness and his strength at fighting against the debilitating nature of his cancer was inspiring for sure. I even joined The Ebert Club because of my newfound respect for him.

The first time I encountered Roger Ebert in person was at the Toronto Film Festival right after he had his jaw removed and any thoughts I might ever have of approaching him and introducing myself went out the window because I could never think of a way of going up and talking to him without it feeling awkward. I do have to say that the few times that Ebert quoted one of my interviews on his blog or retweeted something I had written were proud moments for me because it told me that he knew who I was even without us ever meeting face to face and that was enough for me. He was a great man and his influence and inspiration towards my colleagues and close friends is something that will never depreciate nor will it be something I ever take for granted."

Mark DujsikMark Reviews Movies:

"When Roger Ebert entered a theater, people applauded.This is not some generalized statement; it was an actual event I witnessed. At a public screening last year at the local multiplex (Forgive my memory, but these things do start to bleed together), Ebert came in and slowly, deliberately made his way to his seat.  Before he sat down, some people -- not critics, mind you, but members of the general public -- rose and began applauding. It was a spontaneous and incredibly touching moment. Everyone loved Roger, and we still do."

Mario Alegre Femenias, Primera Hora:

"I had the opportunity to cover the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010. It was my first time at a film festival. There I saw and interviewed some of the biggest stars working in cinema, but I was never stunned by them, like some people are in the presence of celebrities. On my first day at TIFF, while I waited for an early P&I screening of 'The Town' to begin, two rows in front of me Mr. Roger Ebert took his seat with his wife Chaz. It was then that I discovered the true meaning of the word 'starstruck.' I didn’t have the guts to say hello to him that day nor the day after, when I sat even closer to him during 'Black Swan.' What would I say to him? "Thank you? It’s an honor?" When the film ended I walked down the steps and got really close to him. He looked at me, smiled, and gave me a slight nod. And that’s it. That was my close encounter with one of the most renowned film critics in history. It’s not a great anecdote, but for me it was a great moment. I was covering one of the biggest film festivals in the world, surrounded by some of the best critics and, amongst them, was Ebert, the one that showed me that to write a good review you had to put a little bit of yourself in it, so the reader knows who you are and where are you coming from. For that and more, I’ll be forever grateful."

James Frazier, Critic Speak:

"Roger Ebert's incomparable brilliance as a film writer wasn't because of his profound expertise on cinema, but in the way his work allowed the reader to feel they shared that level of insight. To read his reviews was to understand how film works, to join him in celebration of the medium. No one had the impact on my development as a writer (not just film critic) that he did. In high school (and beyond) I poured over Ebert's reviews, memorizing not just his scores and opinions, but desperately trying to soak up his style. How was he able to so beautifully express that vast spectrum of emotions that movies bring out in us? And Ebert was just as astute and entertaining when discussing dull or mundane films as he was when savaging one he despised or praising something that stirred his soul.

Ebert's death closes a chapter in the history of film criticism. There are now no living film critics with anywhere near his level of fame or impact. His takes on movies were pervasive, affecting the views of cinephiles, general audiences, and other critics in equal measure. Ebert's reviews often became part of the lore and the history of the films they discussed, such as his writing on 'Bonnie and Clyde,' 'Dawn of the Dead,' 'I Spit On Your Grave,' and 'Blue Velvet.' Casual and hardcore movie lovers alike could never go long without hearing his name. 'What did Ebert think?' is a question asked frequently in circles that go well beyond cinephiles. It's a strange thought that there will be no more words from him, no more discussions about what he thought of Friday's new releases. I spoke to him several times through email, a couple of times through his blog, and he twice answered questions of mine in his Answer Man column, which were then printed in his yearly review collections. He was the rare person that I didn't know, but that I will greatly miss."

Jon Frosch, France24.com:

"Roger Ebert was the critic who made me want to be a critic. From a very young age, I bought his books and read through every one of his reviews (including his pan of 'Blue Velvet' and his rave of 'About Last Night'). I even used to scrawl down my own mini-reviews on looseleaf paper, each with a 0-to-4 star rating (including half-stars, per Ebert style): my effort to mimic the master. His passion for cinema was infectious, and his ability to express plainly why exactly he felt a certain way about a certain film was unmatched. He valued subjective reaction as much as technique, and that has been his greatest legacy for me as a critic. One film can be dazzling on every formal level, but leave you feeling cold, empty, and unresponsive, while another movie can be clumsily made but so sincere or funny that you can't help but love it. He was totally unapologetic about his opinions, and that is part of what makes the best critics compelling. He was also a proudly unfashionable critic, and I admit that as I developed my own critical voice, I drifted away from his reviews, paid less attention to his tastes (which seemed to me to become increasingly soft and indulgent), and read other writers with much greater interest. (The exception was his Great Movies series, which consisted of invaluable assessments of why certain classics matter, and featured a greater focus on style than could be found in his regular reviews). But despite that, in my mind and heart, he remained for me the towering father of all film critics: the most committed, the most passionate, the most honest, the least pretentious, the most pure -- in retrospect, the one with the least to prove, and perhaps the most to offer."

Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters:

"I recall a moment, when I was still a grad student and just starting out as a critic, seeing everything I could, reading everyone I could, and admiring RE's generosity of spirit and fine writing. I happened to attend the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, when 'Sex, Lies, and Videotape' won the Palme d'Or. Being a newbie, I couldn't get into any big film screenings, and so I went to all the small ones I might fit into each day. In one especially teeny venue, I found Charles Lane's 'Sidewalk Stories,' and I was one of about five or six people in the audience. One of the others was Roger. The reps on hand were giddy, thrilled and nervous, greeting him with special offers of food and beverages -- which he put off, very politely. The reps then waited, for pretty much the entire screening, watching him watch. When the film was over, the lights came up and Roger turned to the girls at the door and nodded his head and smiled. They were jumping up and down as they thanked him. He was gracious and lovely and left the theater as quietly as he could. He wrote a nice review. The film won the Prix du Public. And I was impressed that you might be a powerful figure in the business and still attend to emerging filmmakers with remarkable ambitions and no money, be sweet with anxious reps, and even say hello to grad student newbies. I never forgot it."

Todd Gilchrist, Movies.com:

"I’m not entirely sure exactly when I started reading Roger Ebert’s reviews for the first time, but it was shortly after I graduated from college that I began reading them, without fail, every single Friday. I thrilled at the prospect of reading one of his critiques, because I felt like they were always informed, insightful, and yet fully accessible; he was a cinephile whose thoughts were fun to read and easy to understand. That sounds simplistic, but what I mean is that he had a way of deconstructing the language of cinema, its impact, and his reaction to the art form in a way that helped me comprehend it better, a skill which I certainly tried to bring with me when I started writing professionally. Moreover, he helped me commit to the one point of view that I knew I could sustain as a film critic: what is the emotional effect of what I’m watching? There are wordsmiths infinitely more gifted than I am and academics whose knowledge of film history, technique and language greatly outpaces mine, but he helped me appreciate the value in my writing, if I simply wrote about how movies made me feel, and then tried to figure out what about them made me feel that way.

When 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' was released, I was among the first critics to write about it, and I described it as 'the most movie I’d ever seen,' referring to the volume of content that was being blasted at me as I watched it. Incredibly, Ebert quoted me in his review of the film, which, regardless of the gentle ribbing he gave me about even vaguely championing it, was among the greatest highlights of my professional life. But several days later, he wrote an essay about the reactions he’d gotten from his negative review of the film, and, shockingly, mentioned me again. He called me 'Todd Gilchrist, a most reasonable critic at Cinematical,' and it was possibly the best compliment I’d ever received about my writing. That is, until he and I shared a short exchange in the comments section of that same article. After telling him that I was having “most reasonable” printed on my business cards, I sort of reiterated the point that I was trying to make about the movie which he’d goofed on a bit in his review. His response:

Ebert: 'I was trying to make amends for having in an earlier draft quoting that line but taking it out of context. In terms of your review, it makes perfect sense, as your reviews always do -- although I'll bet you a shiny new dime it doesn't outgross 'Titanic' or 'The Dark Knight.' I've also written defenses of movies simply because they were so much of a muchness. This one, for me, was way, way too much of so much of a muchness. Readers: Click on Todd's name to see his review at the always-interesting Cinematical site.'

His discourse was civil. His language, assured and confident, but respectful and complimentary. It was then and is now a reminder that disagreement doesn’t have to be disagreeable, and that the best we can do professionally and personally is articulate our point of view, and do our best to help others understand, whether or not they agree with it."

Eric HavensDownright Creepy:

"When gathering my thoughts on the loss of Roger Ebert I realized that his real legacy is based on how unremarkable my attachment to the man was. I never met him, never shared a room with him, or interacted in anyway. I was just a kid who would wake up Saturday morning, shun cartoons, and turn on 'Siskel and Ebert.' These two men taught me what films are, that they deserve to be discussed, analyzed, and even argued about. The fact that my Ebert story is so standard, no special attachment beyond my own cinematic development, proves the impact the man really had on not only the film world, but on whole generations of humanity. The world, and the films within it, are all a little bit better because Ebert was part of it. That is the legacy of Roger Ebert. And I think we all thank him for it."

Peter HowellToronto Star:

"What Roger Ebert really brought home to me as a critic was that film appreciation isn't about affirming personal likes and dislikes, or biases and prejudices, but rather opening yourself up to the art as a whole. He could bring as much passion to assessing an Adam Sandler movie as he could to one by Abbas Kiarostami. To talk with Roger was always to talk about movies, one way or the other.

When he came to Toronto in late 1996 to promote a new book of his writing, I had a lunch interview with him. We had barely sat down at the table before he told me of an insight he'd had that very day: that 'The English Patient' and 'Casablanca' had similar plots, only reversed. I'm still pondering that one.

Roger did have a talent for making you think, especially when he was convincing you of the merit he'd found in a movie that other critics might have dismissed. Film was a constant adventure for Roger. I'm forever in awe of his energy, industry and insights. I shall miss him, and I know I'm far from alone in that feeling."

John Keefer51Deep.com:

"I was actually fortunate enough to have Mr. Ebert watch two of my short films. He even tweeted one once. From time to time I would e-mail him just general notes, questions, complaints about life and sometimes he would be gracious enough to respond. My favorite thing he ever said to me, when I asked if you ever get a handle on what life is, was, 'You never stop running.' I will always miss him."

Gabe Klinger, Cinema Scope:

"It was common to run into Roger walking down Lake Street in Chicago during business hours on a weekday. He was usually rushing to press screenings at 70 East Lake. You'd say hi and he would offer you a nugget or two of wisdom and then turn a corner and disappear. In the mornings he could be quite chatty. After lunch he was back at the screening room in his track suit, quiet. He filed his pieces quickly, didn't waste any time talking to you if he was in a hurry. There was always a newbie college paper critic at screenings looking in his direction. 'Oh, wow, there he is,' they must have all thought. Roger liked being present and never carried the air of a celebrity. He could have asked the studios to book private screenings for him but he preferred to be with other critics.

On the morning of September 3rd, 2001, the news came in that Pauline Kael had died. We were watching 'Mulholland Drive' at Lake Street. Roger, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and others began to recall Kael, sometimes affectionately, sometimes not. Lots of insider stuff about National Society of Film Critics meetings. Lake Street felt like a private club in these moments. Roger was definitely the dean. He sat in the first chair in the back row as you enter the room.

In 2002 I applied for press credentials with the Toronto International Film Festival and received a letter saying my request had been denied. I told Roger this. He called them and put in a good word. The festival publicist at the time called me immediately and said, 'You don't know Roger Ebert!' I said, 'Yes, I do, in fact.' She couldn't believe that an Internet writer no one had ever heard of could be associated with Roger Ebert. I wasn't the only one. He did such favors without thinking twice.

Roger listened. He auditioned Ignatiy Vishnevetsky by eavesdropping on conversations at Lake Street. He would sit silently while you aired your opinions, and occasionally take you to task for something. One year I visited Ebertfest in Urbana to meet Bulle Ogier and Barbet Schroeder. I had never interacted with Roger outside of the Lake Street context and suddenly the small world of Chicago critics in a dark room was enlarged tenfold. There were legions of fans there -- for a film critic! And lots of big name filmmakers and actors just hanging out. Hard to believe. A culture that Roger had managed to create in this small place where he came from. I always found it impressive with his fame that he remained loyal to his midwestern roots."

I can't believe he's gone. Can't say much more."

Eric Kohn, Indiewire:

"Whenever I encountered a movie for the first time as a teenager, I would immediately check out Ebert's review and determine whether I agreed with it. Many can relate to that ritual, I'm sure. But what I found fascinating about Ebert's style was that he managed to come across as a sincere movie lover while still placing his own moral code ahead of his aesthetic judgements. That's a tricky line for anybody to walk in any discipline. At worst, sometimes it seemed like Ebert was smitten with a movie simply because its spiritual dimension was pure, but you could still appreciate his enthusiasm and the prose that came out of it. 

At best, however, Ebert was the best ideologue who ever watched movies for a living. That's why he was such a terrific television presence. It's one thing to take a stance in print, which is an inherently one-way street. But when Ebert lectured you, stared you down, and didn't just make his point but forced it into your mind with Jedi-like finesse -- well, that was something else. I'm partial to this episode of the show in which Ebert defended John Carpenter's 'Halloween.' Within six seconds, you're hooked by way of Ebert's emphatic cadences and the abrupt realization that he's made a great point: 'There is a difference between good and scary movies and movies that systematically demean half the human race.' And just like that, I became a discerning horror fan. Every time I've been legitimately freaked out by a movie, Roger can take partial credit. He gave us reasons to love movies at all costs."

Gary KramerGay City News:

"The line of Ebert's that always sticks with me is 'Sooner or later, everyone comes to Ozu' When I see an Ozu film, I'll think of him."

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/The Cinephiliacs:

"I've been trying to collect thoughts all day, and none of them feel worthy. I remember when my family home first got Internet, I would wake up early every Friday to use the computer before school specifically to read Roger's reviews. Up to last week, I always check certain websites to read writers on film on Fridays. The websites have changed based on my own tastes and conceptions of cinema, but the only one that always remained constant was www.rogerebert.suntimes.com. There's much more I could ramble on about, but I'm sure he would prefer something smart and pithy, so I'll leave with one thought: Roger didn't 'review' movies; he reflected on life through them. I already miss his voice dearly."

Jonathan LackWe Got This Covered:

"Roger Ebert was a personal hero to me, and I consider him a major, incalculable influence on my writing. I'm a little emotionally battered today by the news, and having just written a long tribute to the man, I feel I have little more to say. But if you want to look at my tribute article and quote from it, please feel free to."

Max LalanneSmell of Popcorn:

"It hurts me to say that I have never watched an episode of 'Siskel & Ebert.' I can't say that I always read Roger Ebert's film reviews with religious regularity, nor does he rank as the most influential person in my life who inspired me to start writing about film. I didn't grow up with his commentaries on cinema. So while I can't write my memories of the man like so many others have done eloquently and beautifully, I can state the truth. And it is that I have never truly considered Ebert a part of my life until the genuinely shocking moment yesterday where his death was announced. It sounds cheesy and forced to say that's when I realized he was always a part of my young life, in an unique and strange sort way, just as my love of film is, and I don't know if it is true. I really don't know at the moment. But then you have the facts to look at -- that Roger Ebert helped make film criticism popular, important, worthwhile. All while being an unfailingly kind, inspiring figure to thousands all around the globe and a wonderful human being in general. And then I say, of course, I write about film because of Roger Ebert. Everyone who was born after a certain date in the 20th century does so, and will continue well into time. Isn't that just sensational? And I think the best way to honor his legacy, and his accomplishments, is to continue writing about movies in the best fashion one possibly can. I will strive to do so, and will dedicate my next piece of criticism to the man, the one and only Roger Ebert. Rest in peace, and thank you. I'll see you at the movies."

Joanna LangfieldThe Movie Minute:

"One of my most important professional tricks is acting: acting as if I am on some kind of par with people I admire, trying to make them comfortable enough to relax and acting as if I am not quietly going nuts inside, channeling the little girl who is pretty much beside myself, just being in the same room with them. When I first met Roger Ebert, I pulled out the acting chops. Big time. Frankly, our introduction could have gone real bad, real quick. Ebert and Siskel were leaving PBS. Sneak Previews was being re-cast. And I flew into Chicago, two days before my wedding, to audition. I didn’t get the job, but I did get to sit in Roger’s 'balcony chair' and talk movies. It was pretty amazing. A few months later, I found myself sitting behind Roger at a screening in New York. After several deep gulps, I introduced myself. He nodded in response. His friend, however, seemed more interested in chatting and told Roger how much she enjoyed my radio program. He mentioned to her that I had almost gotten his old TV job, too. I think I mumbled something about how cool it was to be on his set and wished him well with his new program. The movie started and I pretty much shook through the whole thing. As we were leaving the theater, Roger clasped his hand on my shoulder and said good night. I think that’s when I started breathing again.

Over the years, I was lucky enough to spend more time with both Gene and Roger. We even got into a few lusty discussions about a film or two. And what a treat it was, hashing it out with men who cared so passionately and respected the art, not just of film, but also of criticism. There weren’t as many people writing about film then and certainly far fewer of us fighting the good fight in the broadcasting arena, but Roger and Gene, in conjunction with their written work, also proved longer form critical analysis could also be popular, stimulating television entertainment.

I was shocked when Gene died. Even knowing how much Roger had endured these last years, I was shocked to hear he had passed. It just didn’t seem possible that this man, who loved his life, who loved his wife and family and who loved film with such enduring undeniable energy, would no longer be sharing it with us, even if simply through his salient (and often, surprisingly political) tweets. Everybody is trying to find the best stories, memories, quotes with which we can honor him. Here’s a good one: he and I were walking down 57th Street, in between screenings. Yes, we were talking film when we passed an elderly woman, looking confused and frightened. Roger dove right in and not just joined me in helping her figure out the maze that is Manhattan, but he also offered to hail her a cab. She had no idea who he was, except a fine gentleman."

Robert LevinamNewYork:


"It’s hard for me to put into words exactly what Roger Ebert has meant to me, to my career, to the person I am today. The shredded, worn-out copy of his 1996 Video Yearbook, which sits next to about fifteen other Ebert books on my shelf, says more than I ever could. There’s also the souvenir T-shirt my family gave to guests at my 1998 Bar Mitzvah. On it, there’s my picture, cropped into a Siskel and Ebert image. Our thumbs, naturally, are up.

There’s not another author I read more growing up; there’s not another man I watched more on television. Roger’s extraordinary writing, his unparalleled ability to get at the core of a movie with clear, deceptively simple prose, ignited my passion for the medium. I’ve internalized his writing to such an extent that my memories of certain movies are inextricably tied with the words he wrote about them. I can’t think of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ without recalling Roger’s 'bruised forearm movie' concept; E.E. Cummings’ 'You Shall Above All Things Be Glad and Young' and '2001: A Space Odyssey' are forever connected because of what Ebert wrote.

On television, Roger was no less of an icon. 'Siskel and Ebert' wasn’t just my favorite TV show, the program that inspired me to launch my own website (now defunct) with a friend that featured both of our takes on new releases. It taught me how to build an argument and defend it, how to convey my thoughts concisely and powerfully. It helped me see the value, the joy, in friendly debate, and drove home the fact that there are few things more pleasurable than talking about movies in an interesting, thoughtful way.

I never got to meet Roger Ebert, never had the chance to tell him any of this myself. But even as a young, impressionable movie fan turned into a working film critic; even as my hero became a colleague of sorts, his influence only grew. In his last years, Ebert provided us all with a blueprint of how to live and die with dignity; how to accept our mortality and live life as fully as possible until we breathe our last breath.

In his 2011 Salon article 'I Do Not Fear Death,' which has circulated quite a bit since Thursday, Roger wrote: 'I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.'

Two thumbs up for a job well done."

Have a memory of Roger Ebert you'd like to share? Email it to us at critic@indiewire.com or leave it in the comments section below. And click below for Page 2 of our Ebert remembrances from the Criticwire Network.

This article is related to: Criticwire Survey, Roger Ebert Fellowship , Roger Ebert (1942-2013)


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