Roger Ebert passed away today. While I have not had the honor to meet this man, it is as if I knew him. For more than thirty years I’ve read his books, watched him on TV, and read his reviews on line.
Tomorrow is the opening of the Sarasota Film Festival, and while Mr. Ebert will not be present, I will be shocked if those of us attending the Opening Night ceremonies at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall are not asked to offer a moment of silence in his memory.
I recall a sense of excitement in seeing a new book written by Roger Ebert on the shelves at my local bookstore. I loved his anthologies and collected works. There was a pleasure in reading the words of our nation’s most popular film critic. Even if I was reading about a film I’d seen 5 or 10 or even 20 years ago.
His style was not one of formal film criticism. It was like talking about the Yankees/Red Sox game, or may be the subject was Da Bears, with a bunch of guys at a bar. But with Roger, the topic was film rather than baseball, or sports.
As a younger man, taking a date to the movies, my movie experience was about when to put my arm around her shoulders, or when to hold hands. Unlike Mr. Seinfeld, I did not make out at Schindler’s List. But I did at other movies. But for Roger Ebert, his prime activity at the cinema was to watch the films.
In college, I drank beer, played intramural basketball and softball, and didn’t study. While Roger may have looked bookish, and was a tad roly-poly back then, and maybe he did guzzle a beer or two, but in reality, Ebert took his studies seriously and ultimately graduated from the University of Illinois in 1964. While he was accepted as a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, the need to support himself sent him out looking for work. He was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times as a general reporter in 1966, and then later he took over the job as the Sun-Times film critic in 1967. A job he performed magnificently, he even won a Pulitzer Prize, and held until his death.
If you are reading this then obviously you enjoy comparing notes about film, or are interested in another guy’s opinion. Or maybe you just want to find out what a film is about, and is it worth seeing. And if talking about or reading about, or learning about films were your thing, then Roger Ebert was likely your best resources. I know he was for me.
Do you remembering turning on your TV to watch Siskel & Ebert discuss films on their long running TV Series At The Movies. While I can’t quantify the amount of influence that show and Mr. Ebert’s written work had on me, I can say that this is 2013, and here I am writing about film and doing it for free.
Roger will now join his old partner Gene Siskel, and I’m sure they are somewhere still talking about films, and will do so as long as movies are made.
Like that Pan-Am jet plane behind him, Roger Ebert has passed into history. He was born on June 19th, 1942. He died today, April 4th, 2013 and he will be missed.