Roger Ebert achieved a level of success most cinephiles could only dream of; a career that notably includes involvement in film writing, a Pulitzer Prize, a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, a body of work with the Chicago Sun Times, an incredibly impressive blog and online legion of devotees, and most importantly, Siskel & Ebert.
Siskel & Ebert taught me so much – more than you might expect. As a kid, I watched the show every Sunday evening and it was consistently one of the highlights of my week. What I could see on the show was two friends who were intelligent and well-spoken and loved the movies. While they were friends, they often disrespected each other, they would throw punches when necessary, and they never backed down when they shared their strong, vehement opinions. It was funny, exhilarating, charming, and a great lesson about friendship: that beneath huge disagreements and a lack of fear of sharing opinions, there were , a constructive argument, a display of passionate defense, and mostly, that you can have a career writing about and loving movies. Or, hating movies, which was often the case. Roger wrote about film up until just a few days before his passing. His love of film, regardless of countless surgeries, and losing his ability to eat and speak, never wavered.
As a film student, Roger Ebert’s work was hugely influential on me. In fact, my love of watching him on TV in a battle of wits with Gene Siskel was my inspiration for getting into the field of Film Studies in the first place. I remember thinking to myself, there are people out there who write and speak about film for a living – something I’ve never been able to achieve in my own life, something I may never achieve in my own life, and something that is difficult for anyone in the arts. But Roger did it. For 46 years, he did it.
Roger Ebert owns such quotes as “Josie & the Pussycats are not dumber than the Spice Girls, but they’re as dumb as the Spice Girls, which are dumb enough” and “…[The Dukes of Hazzard] is still another TV program I have never ever seen. As this list grows, it provides me with more and more clues about why I am so smart and cheerful”. He is searingly witty when he laments and he discusses films he adores as if they’re the loves of his life. Roger Ebert is not just a “film critic” – the kind you read in the evening paper. He is a writer’s writer. Someone who provides entertainment that has the capability to match the entertainment about which he is writing.
Roger Ebert supported the Democratic Party and the election of Barack Obama, positive representation of African Americans in cinema, the elimination of “intelligent design” in schools, more exhibition for independent and foreign films, and a higher rating for violent films than films with mild sexual content. His criticisms, articles and blog entries extended beyond what they were and entered the realm of social advocacy. I deeply admire what he showed the world throughout his career: that there is more to entertainment than entertainment itself; entertainment is communication and communication can help heal the world, or at least move toward positive change and the preservation of knowledge.
So thank you, Roger Ebert; your amazing career, your bravery, your fights for equality and social justice, and the sheer quality of your output has been a simply wonderful gift to my life and the lives of many others. You will certainly be missed.