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Why Roger Ebert was Unique; The Web Says Goodbye to Our Most Famous Critic: Memories, Writing and Video

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood April 5, 2013 at 3:03PM

The reaction to Roger Ebert's death has been overwhelming and gratifying. The major news networks, CNN, Frontline, you name it, they covered it. Every single movie site or reviewer or blogger or anyone who cared about movies weighed in.
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Chicago Tribune, Ebert drawing
Chicago Tribune

The reaction to Roger Ebert's death has been overwhelming and gratifying. The major news networks, CNN, Frontline, you name it, they covered it. Every single movie site or reviewer or blogger or anyone who cared about movies weighed in.

Here's the deal.

Ebert was the most famous movie critic who ever lived. No critic will ever be as famous again, because his need to share his passion for films via television and text was so huge that there was no room for vanity or putting on a fake face. Audiences responded to his honesty--and the fact that he and Gene Siskel were genuine rivals. That was lightning in a bottle. Ebert was the new model film critic who took to the web like a duck to water because he was always about honest, forthright engagement.

He wasn't speaking to film fans from on high, lecturing to them about what they should like. He was enthusiastically sharing what he loved. He liked to discover new talent like Michael Moore (he responded to Moore's plea to go to the first "Roger and Me" screening that no one else was seeing at Telluride) and Errol Morris, who credits Ebert's review of "Gates of Heaven" with his career.

And he did something with his fame, as Moore pointed out on CNN, that no one critic can do today: he reached the mainstream. That's significant, because while film criticism is alive and well on the web, fewer critics have been able to build national followings the way Ebert did. No other critic has been able to make television work for them, either. All the would-be "At the Movies" have failed--and Ebert couldn't keep a movie review show going without his own full-throttle voice.

What looking death in the face did for Ebert was free him from caring about how he was perceived, or being worried about writing about topics other than film. On the web he could write about anything, and so he did.

Here's Ebert's famous article "I Do Not Fear Death," from 2011, and here's his winning cartoon caption for the New Yorker. Here's our obit.  And it looks like "Hoop Dreams" filmmaker Steve James plans to continue with his Ebert documentary, "Life Itself."

Below, a sampling of what the internet and media world are saying in memoriam of Roger Ebert.

This article is related to: News, Video, Roger Ebert (1942-2013), Roger Ebert Fellowship , News, The New Yorker


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.