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Remembering Roger Ebert

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 5, 2013 at 12:40PM

On Thursday, the film world lost a true titan. And it wasn’t a director or movie star or producer that warranted the kind of heartfelt and universal response we saw that afternoon -- it was a film critic. There were disarmingly earnest Onion articles and political cartoons and a statement from President Obama. All of this spoke to the singular power, impact and importance of Roger Ebert. Those of us who write about movies professionally were obviously hit pretty hard by yesterday’s news, and at The Playlist, we wanted to each contribute our personal thoughts about what the man meant to us. We encourage you to do the same below.
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Roger Ebert
Diana Drumm: As America’s most beloved film critic, Roger Ebert touched generations with his witty yet approachable passion for the movies. Being popular not populist, the Pulitzer Prize-winner was loved and respected by the public and fellow critics alike. Ebert had a way of saying things better than anybody else, and you didn’t have to be a film snob to appreciate it. He gave clear and succinct criticism while still exuding a glow about watching movies that has been lost on more jaded film critics, and fearfully may be lost on future generations of moviegoers. That isn’t to say Ebert condoned all filmmaking for movies’ sake, he didn’t always give his trademark “thumbs-up.” Some of his snarkier digs include, “I will one day be thin, but Vincent Gallo will always be the director of ‘The Brown Bunny,’ ” and, from his infamous review of “North,” “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it.” He was honest and we loved him for it. As he wrote, “Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions never lie to you.” Emotions over his passing have poured throughout social media and stand as a testament to his life and work. He will be sorely missed. If there is a heaven, Roger Ebert is up there this very moment watching “Citizen Kane” and eating vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream. 

Kevin Jagernauth: In the mid-to-late ’80s two things happened that would forever change my life, in ways I probably didn’t realize it at the time: my parents finally bought a VCR and I discovered “Siskel & Ebert At The Movies.” My memory is fuzzy, so I don’t remember exactly when ‘Siskel & Ebert’ became a weekly ritual, but it did, and I followed the show as best as I could, even as its time slot would seem to change week-by-week. But in those two bickering friends, I saw two men who were obsessed and passionate about cinema, and their enthusiasm undoubtedly impacted me profoundly.

In fact, I was becoming an obsessive myself. With a VCR that could record, it suddenly opened a world of opportunity for me. Each week I sat down with the TV guide and a highlighter, looking up the movie listings (particularly the late-night programming) and marking what I needed to record. (Remember when A&E used to show film noir in the early morning hours?) I made tapes upon tapes upon tapes of movies of almost anything you can imagine. And with ‘Siskel & Ebert’ I moved into the age of the DVD and internet, using them as a guide to track down the movies I needed to see. Somewhere along the way I became a cinephile, and there is no question that ‘Siskel & Ebert’ -- with their debates, feuds, praises, and championing of a variety of pictures -- made movies mean so much more to me than I can articulate in any coherent manner. Simply put, they made them matter.

I may not have kept up with him in recent years as much as I had in the past, and perhaps I even took him for granted, thinking he’d be around forever. It really seemed like he would be. I remember seeing Ebert in his later years at TIFF and Cannes, his wife Chaz usually by his side, and I regret not introducing myself and letting him know how important his work is to me. However, Ebert was like a cinematic pen pal, a friend from afar who understood how a movie could get under your skin and into your brain and burrow its way into your heart and never let go. I spent last night at a movie screening, and with the lights down low, the tiny, packed theater became a hushed, communal space of shared experience and feeling, and Ebert, from the first day he sat behind a typewriter, understood why this was special and unique. I hope wherever he is now, that magic is still with him. 

Roger Ebert
Deborah Bosket: Some of my earliest memories about movies are of watching “Sneak Previews” and “At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.” I remember watching 'Siskel and Ebert' at home every week, always trying to predict whether a film would get "two thumbs up" or not during their discussions. That show fostered a love of film in me at a very young age; I highly doubt I would’ve gone through my ‘Godfather’/gangster movie phase at age 13 without it, and my obsession with film would not have grown into what it is today.

Kristen Lopez: I can’t recall the one specific moment where I declared “I want to be a film reviewer,” but I’m damn sure Roger Ebert helped me along, and I’ve always cited him as a key influence. I own and have devoured all of his written works, and every film in his Great Movies series is on my Netflix queue. Roger Ebert taught me to appreciate films, and I’m not sure that without him I’d be the film connoisseur (in my mind, at least) that I am today. Ebert’s Facebook page has been a must-read for me, and I think that’s why his death shocked me so. He recently posted something at the end of March with little indication anything was wrong. I’m shocked and saddened, but grateful to have him as my inspiration. Goodnight Roger, the world is smaller because you’re gone, but better because you were here. You’re one of a kind, and have inspired a young girl to believe that her pen can make a small difference. Rest in peace.

Roger Ebert
Cain Rodriguez: Even though we were born forty years apart and in different states, I always felt a strange kinship to Roger Ebert. He was a schlubby man who loved movies and I was a schlubby kid who loved movies. It was as simple as that. Growing up in an immigrant and working-class neighborhood, I didn’t exactly study the works of Pauline Kael, so Siskel & Ebert’s landmark show was the first outlet for cinematic discussion I had. I initially stumbled upon them while surfing TV late one night and was drawn in by the weird image of two older men (who weren’t exactly made for TV) sitting in chairs with a screen behind them. It was as if I had stumbled into their living room, if their living room had a large movie screen. As I got older and the internet became more easily accessible, Ebert’s were the first reviews I read. It wasn’t that I necessarily agreed with him (or even saw many of the films he had), but I was attracted to the obvious love he had for cinema in its all incarnations, from the highest-brow to the trashiest genre film. This was a man who loved “Anaconda,” for goodness’ sake. Even when I went through my pretentious phrase I never forsake Ebert who, even though I never laid eyes on the man, I held dear to my heart like the mentor I never had. I don’t think I could ever truly explain how much he meant to my gooey, sappy heart so I’ll just end with one my favorite Ebert quotes: “It takes more nerve to praise pop entertainment; it’s easy and safe to deliver pious praise of turgid deep thinking.” So long, sir, we’ll forever live in your shadow. 

Charlie Schmidlin: I spent the majority of my teenage years in Chicago at the film institution Facets Multimedia, where every visit to their offices also took me past a framed B&W picture of Roger on the wall inside. The picture grew to be a consistent, comfortable presence in my time there, just as Roger’s tremendous output -- from “At The Movies” to his illuminating and personal blog entries -- similarly found its way into countless lives.

Another charming aspect to Facets as a venue was its main theater, lined with seats demanding a clever placement strategy -- or else a three-hour film would advise your back as much by the final reel. When I commented on the seats to Roger, who attended and taught at the cinema often, he recalled when “[Facets co-founder] Milos Stehlik was hiding his screenings in a former church. You brought your own pillows; the pews were hard.”

His straightforward response hinted at a shared history that I was only beginning to comprehend, and a tactile, grounded perspective that always made his work so meaningful. Most of all, it served as a gentle reminder to move past any qualms about the screening environment, and to simply enjoy what we as an audience patiently come to see -- the art of cinema itself.

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


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