Remembering Roger Ebert

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From the moment we all learned of Roger Ebert's death yesterday afternoon, the internet has been absolutely overrun with fond remembrances and loving tributes of the man who shaped so many of our relationships with the cinema and the world it better allows us to discover. Quite frankly, I've never really seen anything like it, so far as deaths in the movie world are concerned, and the tidal wave of tearful goodbyes is a remarkable testament to the kind of man that Roger Ebert was, and the impact that he had on so many of our lives in so many different ways. In fact – at this point – I feel as though the greatest contribution we here at Film.com can make to that dialogue is not to deepen it but rather to make it more accessible. So here is your guide to celebrating the life of Roger Ebert. It can hardly be considered comprehensive (indeed, only a complete archive of his reviews could be considered comprehensive), but hopefully this will at least suggest the influence and decency of the man we lost.

We will continue to update this post throughout the day.

- Film.com's Calum Marsh wrote our official eulogy. An excerpt:

You might think of film criticism as frivolous. If you write it for a living or for a hobby, you know it can feel that way. It’s like that old Vonnegut quote: the critic puts on a full suit of armour to attack a hot fudge sundae. There are times when I feel that the effort isn’t worth the result, that expending so much time and energy on thinking and talking and writing about movies has no real consequence or gravity. It’s hard to think that film criticism could help anybody or make anybody happy. But Roger Ebert did something to make others more than a little happier: he wrote with generosity and courage, with openness and conviction, with intelligence and wit, and those who read him weekly or monthly or once in a blue moon were thus entertained, informed, moved. We disagreed with him. We were convinced by him. We made “two thumbs up” the definitive shorthand for judging a movie. Roger Ebert, frankly, was an inspiration, and I know that I am not the only professional film critic who can say with absolute certainty that I would not be one if it weren’t for this one great man, this incredible, singular voice.  (READ THE FULL POST HERE)

- Our Jordan Hoffman e-mailed me the following words:

I was drawn to Roger Ebert in a very specific and perhaps not very nice way. When flipping channels one day as a boy (and this meant standing near the TV and actually turning a dial) I zoomed past two men sitting in theater seats talking to one another. My father, who likes to imitate voices, demanded I go back.

“Oh, I love this guy,” he said. He was speaking of Gene Siskel and his thick Chicago accent. To we New York/New Jersey Jews his inflection seemed like a put-on. Siskel's highest praise for a film was to call it “smart” and that dipthongal “a” cut through the room with the might of a Lake Michigan wind. For the rest of the night my Dad and I were mocking Gene Siskel's speech patterns until my mother rolled her eyes and said “George, don't encourage him.”

Thing is, beneath the funny voice I definitely got a kick seeing two guys talk about that week's new releases. It was a time when movie clips weren't just a click away, let alone an informed opinion. And since my parents were strangely permissive about what movies I was allowed to see (“Quest for Fire” in a theater MESSED me up at age 8, but seeing Early Man discover the missionary position was, to my lunatic mother, educational) I actually had an awareness of what they were talking about. I was also right with them when they pleaded with viewers to try and see “smarter” films.

Obviously I stayed with the pair when “Sneak Previews” became “At the Movies” and they became big stars. Ebert's doorstopper “Home Movie Companion” was read backward and forward and was a tremendous guide when I was granted my first Blockbuster card. Their appearances on Letterman were appointment viewing and they absolutely killed as guests on the Howard Stern show.

My favorite memories from the show include the way he handled a clearly corporate-led programming decision concerning “The Phantom Menace.” It was an all-“Star Wars” episode, post-Siskel, where Lucas' films and their legacy was discussed. Lucas was there and new clips were unveiled. After a fever pitch of hoopla the show ended with Ebert's review. It was positive, but not a full-blast rave – certainly not the fireworks a TV producer would want after a lead-in like that. I'd like to believe that was Ebert sticking it to the Man a little bit. Also, the time Bill Clinton came on to yap about the Japanese film “Shall We Dance” was a pip.

I don't have just one favorite film critic, but Ebert was certainly one of my first. His acceptance of new media greatly impressed me, and I think his commentary track for “Casablanca” is truly sublime. One gets the sense that Ebert was a bon vivant through and through. His opinions were often rooted in classic liberalism and he was frequently on the front lines for good causes. Considering the “I'll keep fighting” tone of his final column, his passing came as a tremendous shock.

- The Onion's capsule obituary was a profoundly beautiful moment in an outlet that, by its nature, doesn't really do beautiful moments:

CHICAGO—Calling the overall human experience “poignant,” “thought-provoking,” and a “complete tour de force,” film critic Roger Ebert praised existence Thursday as “an audacious and thrilling triumph.” “While not without its flaws, life, from birth to death, is a masterwork, and an uplifting journey that both touches the heart and challenges the mind,” said Ebert, adding that while the totality of all humankind is sometimes “a mess in places,” it strives to be a magnum opus and, according to Ebert, largely succeeds at this goal. “At times brutally sad, yet surprisingly funny, and always completely honest, I wholeheartedly recommend existence. If you haven’t experienced it yet, then what are you waiting for? It is not to be missed.” Ebert later said that while human existence’s running time was “a little on the long side,” it could have gone on much, much longer and he would have been perfectly happy.

- Matt Singer, a true critic's critic and the man behind Criticwire, wrote an extraordinarily moving tribute on the blog:

Back when MySpace was a thing, you had to fill your profile with all these tidbits of information: favorite movies, books, television shows and so on. There was also a spot at the bottom to list your heroes. On my page -- which still exists, if you want to fact check me on this -- I wrote two names: Roger Ebert and Spider-Man. It was a joke, but it was one of those jokes that's also the truth; Roger Ebert was my hero. And now he's gone, dead at the age of 70. PLEASE READ MATT'S FULL POST HERE.

- Indeed, Criticwire is probably the place to go for tributes to Roger Ebert, today. 

- On the lighter side, this supercut of all of Siskel & Ebert's cameo appearances on "The Critic" is an hysterical celebration of those two men, and the world they represented. This thing always makes me cry from laughing, but yesterday it made me cry from the other thing.

- And Vulture has just published an article by Al Jean of "The Simpsons," who writes about what it was like having Ebert in the studio to play himself on "The Critic."

- Then there's this fantastically spirited clip from the Sundance premiere of Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow," in which Ebert did not sit idly by when a comment during the post-screening Q&A rubbed him the wrong way. A wonderful reminder of Ebert's fiery passion for cinema, which – despite the fomenting tide of cynicism and despair around him – never dulled in the least bit, not even during the final years when cancer robbed him of his jaw but most certainly not his face. Especially not during those years.

- A friend in Chicago started the Ebert Quotes Tumblr, "How They're About it" (referencing Ebert's maxim that "Movies are not about what they're about, they're about how they're about it").

Here's a sample quote, from Ebert's review of Kieslowski's "Red."

"Think about these things, reader. Don't sigh and turn the page. Think that I have written them and you have read them, and the odds against either of us having existed are greater by far than one to all of the atoms in creation."

- Deadspin's Will Leitch had a remarkable personal history with Ebert, and the story he wrote about his relationship with the film legend in 2010 is as vital a read as anything that has been written in the last 24 hours.

- The New Yorker celebrates Ebert's fond obsession with their cartoon caption contests, which he entered 107 times before finally winning last April. And the Chicago Tribune appropriately ran this new cartoon:

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- Roger Ebert's editor and friend Jim Emerson wrote about his unique dynamic with Ebert, and how he will go about editing Ebert's final review, a critique of Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder," which will run next week.

- Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, who had a well-documented friendship with Roger Ebert, called in to Chicago's WBEZ radio yesterday and spoke on the air about his dearly departed friend. The last few seconds are particularly heartbreaking, as one of the most formidable titans of contemporary cinema, the man who was once shot during the middle of an interview and shrugged off the metal lodged into his flesh as an "insignificant bullet," begins to break.

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- Movie Mezzanine's Sam Fragoso wrote about meeting his hero, a story which exemplifies Ebert's gracious spirit and his completely selfless kindness. An excerpt:

About a year ago I had the great pleasure and fortune to meet my hero at Ebertfest, Roger’s annual film festival held in Urbana, Illinois (his hometown). Nervous and anxious, it took 20-minutes of me convincing myself that I needed to go up and speak to him.

Hands shaking, knees trembling, I handed him my copy of his beautiful memoir, Life Itself, along with my business card. I still remember the exact words I wrote on the back of that Duke & the Movies gold and navy card: “Roger, while your voice may be gone, your words will live forever. Thank you for everything.” He read it, handed it to Chaz, looked at me, and then smiled. I will never forget that smile.

Months after the festival ended I received a supportive email from Roger saying he read my reviews and that I have a future as a writer, film critic or not. Without any hyperbole intended, that was, unequivocally, one of the best days of my life. He didn’t have to reach out to me, but that’s just the kind of person he was.

- Martin Scorsese's statement regarding Ebert's passing:

The death of Roger Ebert is an incalculable loss for movie culture and for film criticism. And it’s a loss for me personally. Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted – at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. There was a professional distance between us, but then I could talk to him much more freely than I could to other critics. Really, Roger was my friend. It’s that simple. Few people I’ve known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. I know that’s what kept him going in those last years – his life-or-death passion for movies, and his wonderful wife, Chaz. We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn’t make the loss any less wrenching. I’ll miss him — my dear friend, Roger Ebert."

- The Daily Beast has collected what they feel to be Roger Ebert's 10 best zingers. Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 11.07.21 AM

 

- Matt Singer relays a story about one of the times that Siskel pranked Ebert, the former screwing the latter out of a date with a Hollywood starlet.

- Siskel and Ebert appear on "Nightline" in 1983 to praise "The Return of the Jedi."

- Salon re-published this essay from Ebert's memoir "Life Itself," in which he wrote about how he did not fear death. Here's an excerpt:

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

- President Barack Obama remembers Ebert in this official statement:

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- 8 amazing (and uncensored) minutes of Siskel & Ebert squabbling during as they try to film a promo for their TV show. Hilarious.

- Wesley Morris, the only other film critic to have won a Pulitzer Prize, offers his tribute to Ebert on Grantland. Here's an excerpt:

"Moviegoing is basically a passive pastime. You buy the ticket, head into the theater, sit, behold, and leave — happy, sad, mad, moved, amped up, let down, confused. The movies happen to you. But Roger Ebert, who died yesterday at 70, happened to the movies and, by extension, he happened to us. For a quarter of a century, he sat across from Gene Siskel and changed the act of moviegoing and popularized the art of movie criticism. He and Siskel started talking on television in 1975, the same year Jaws changed the art of popular moviemaking. How's that for parallelism? Siskel and Ebert: both the great white shark and the Steven Spielberg of tastemaking."

READ MORRIS' FULL POST HERE.

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- Criticwire's Steve Greene explores Ebert's memoir, "Life Itself." 

If there’s any doubt that Roger Ebert had talent as a screenwriter, look at the fact that the chapter on his first days as a film critic comes exactly a third of the way through his memoir, "Life Itself:" a perfect act break. 

The first 22 chapters of Ebert’s account of his own life, before the one titled "My New Job" where he describes the genesis of his title at the Chicago Sun-Times, focus on a number of more personal areas beyond the career that would make him a household name. Although he intersperses a few anecdotes from his later life, particularly some storybook tales from his marriage to his wife Chaz, he doesn’t single out any particular review before he arrives at the critic part of his chronology.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who hosted "At the Movies" when Ebert revived the show, writes a farewell to his friend.

 Dear Roger,

I’m not going to pretend that we were close; nonetheless, you were my friend. You were generous and supportive, and I never properly expressed to you how much your generosity and support meant to me. You were the only person I’ve ever asked for advice.  

When I learned that you’d died, I had just filed a review for you website. I was about to start wrapping up one for this site—a pan of Simon Killer. I no longer feel like working on that review. I don’t feel like writing about bad movies at all. I want to write about good movies and good people.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.