I was getting ready to leave work when Nick Newert, editor extraordinaire, texted me. Three words that I had hoped to never see together. Not for a very long time, at least. I have, as long as I can remember caring about movies, admired Roger Ebert. I thought he was eternal, like a god sent to smite the detritus of Hollywood and banish it to some sort of underworld, the nighttime there illuminated by a single, dim star. There hasn’t been a time in my life where Ebert wasn’t a presence when talking about movies.
He was vocal about his love of good films, and his displeasure of the bad ones. But it wasn’t just “films.” Roger Ebert loved the hell out of movies. Fine films, campy trash cult hits, and everything in between. How many other people could have called Citizen Kane their favorite film, and at the same time wax nostalgic about writing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? The films he loved are the films we all love. I have not yet met one person that says The Godfather is a bad movie. Some may have issue with its pacing, but they don’t think it’s a bad film. If you find someone that says The Godfather is a bad film, do us all a favor and tell them they’re wrong. If you, fair reader, think it is, then you are wrong. Disagree? Too bad. Ebert gave it four stars, so it must be good.
Or maybe not. For me, Roger Ebert made it okay to disagree with someone about a movie. He only gave Jurassic Park three stars. If it were my review, I would give it all of the stars, forever. But I don’t watch it the same way a critic would. He could analyze every last details, and still enjoy it with childlike glee, or grown up admonition, and expertly, both. I was watching the Blu-ray the other day, and while that is a movie that has held up well, I think I agree with three stars. If that annoying little kid had been stuck to the electric fence when it turned back on, then definitely a fourth star. And a whole lot of thumbs all the way up. So, maybe that’s not the best example.
In an interview with CBS News in 2006, he was asked what made a movie great. “I feel it,” he said. “I even sometimes feel a tingle in my spine. Honestly, it an almost spiritual feeling.” We’ve all felt that. Every single one of us has that movie that just pulls us so deeply into it that we feel a connection beyond seeing a good movie, but a truly great one. And watching five-hundred or so movies a year gave him a whole lot of chances to find those great films.
Roger Ebert had the perfect job. Can you imagine watching movies all day, and having someone pay you for it? Who wouldn’t want to do that? For a man who led such a charmed life, I still feel bad, thinking of all the hours he spent, forced to watch the bad movies.
But those bad movies, as much as they were a drag on his day, have always brightened mine. I know I’m kind of a terrible person, but the truly awful, scathing reviews will always be my favorite. Along with the class and civility, Mr. Ebert brought one of the sharpest wits to mass print since Mark Twain. Plenty of obituaries will give you examples, and if you’re on Twitter even half as often as I am, you’ve already read plenty of them today.
The world didn’t stop today because Roger Ebert isn’t part of it, but I think that there is a definite sadness. If you’re on Twitter, you’ve seen it. The list of people paying their respects is growing. You know you’ve made a name for yourself when the President of the United States makes a statement expressing his sadness at your passing. For a film critic, that’s not too bad.
I think Nick smmed it up best on Twitter:
Man, that really brings me down. Never again will I be able to read “I’ll see you at the movies.” And for that, I am truly sad. Rest well, Mr. Ebert.
Written by: Craig Newert