Pop-Break’s staff pays tribute to the modern era’s most prominent film critic, who died Thursday following a long battle with cancer …
Earlier this week, Roger Ebert published what would be his last column in the Chicago Sun-Times, ending with:
“So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”
Ebert’s work left its mark on critics and film/pop culture enthusiasts the world over, and the Pop-Break staff shares their thoughts:
BILL BODKIN, Editor in Chief
No one will ever confuse movie critics with rock stars.
Yet, when you think of movie critics, your mind immediately thinks of the bespeckled face of Roger Ebert.
The man is synonymous with the profession of movie critic. Yet, I see him as a man that is misunderstood by the masses. He became so known for his ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ criticisms that the fact he had really thoughtful and insightful opinions kinda gets forgotten. When you take a minute to actually read what Ebert writers, you realize this man is a tremendous writer — someone who was not only able to eloquently emote about movies but his life and his battle with cancer.
For entertainment writers everywhere, Ebert is the gold standard; he’s who we strive to be — a man who’s work is read by millions, who’s opinion and approval are sought after by Hollywood and a man who could write beautifully in the best of times and the worst of times.
ANN HALE, Horror Editor
Roger Ebert was not a horror fan. Perhaps that is an understatement as he shot down nearly every horror movie I ever loved. With that said, there were a handful of horror films that the man liked, all of which were credible choices. Amongst these films were The Night Of The Living Dead, Scream and my personal favorite: Halloween. Of this film, Roger Ebert said “Halloween is directed and acted with a great deal of artistry and craftsmanship.” John Carpenter is, in fact, an artist and for Roger Ebert — a man who despises the slasher film–to recognize it is enough of a reason to find the man credible.
Thumbs up to your incredible career, Mr. Ebert and I hope your afterlife is filled with nothing but your favorite films.
JONATHAN ELLIOTT, Marketing Director
I have two things I want to share about Roger Ebert.
The first is about his passion for film; Ebert did what great teachers strive to do, in that, by sharing his love of film in a language that was at once witty, and smart, and accessible, he elevated the American public. He made it safe for all of us, regardless of film school backgrounds or a lack thereof, to feel comfortable in expressing our views on cinema, from the highbrow to the lowbrow and all the nobrow in between. He turned the dinner table conversation about what we might want to see at the movies this week into an informed and spirited discussion. He got us talking not just about which films affect us or leave us cold across dozens of genres, but also WHY those films do what they do.
It’s so easy for a critic of the arts to build an Ivory Tower around their opinions; as a theater and TV critic, I’m often surprised how many of my peers seem to, well, hate the whole of the medium for which they’re charged to review, educate, and inform the public. But Roger … the sheer love he had for cinema was so palpable. When a review was good, you could hear him cheer in-between each sentence. A few years ago, my then-boyfriend issued a condemnation of E.T., without having seen it. I persuaded a rental of the film, after passing along Ebert’s review:
“This movie made my heart glad. It is filled with innocence, hope, and good cheer. It is also wickedly funny and exciting as hell. E.T.—The Extra-Terrestrial is a movie like The Wizard of Oz, that you can grow up with and grow old with, and it won’t let you down. It tells a story about friendship and love. Some people are a little baffled when they hear it described: It’s about a relationship between a little boy and a creature from outer space that becomes his best friend. That makes it sound like a cross between The Thing and National Velvet. It works as science fiction, it’s sometimes as scary as a monster movie, and at the end, when the lights go up, there’s not a dry eye in the house.”
The joy in those words is so vivid; he had a real gift for capturing the exact magic of a great film in just a few column inches.
And when he hated something, that same power of his called out the problems, and you could feel him seethe; no one wants to watch a bad film, and Ebert often wanted the stinkers he took in to be better than they were. His amazing pan of Valentine’s Day stays with me:
“Valentine’s Day is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it’s more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date.”
The second great lesson from Roger Ebert is about how we live, and in turn, how we die, and what makes both of those experiences count. In March 2010, after years of publishing his column and hiding from public view in a leave of absence from his television show, Ebert was the subject of a candid, heartbreaking and moving piece in Esquire, in which we saw exactly how his cancer had ravaged his appearance and his life. It robbed him of his jaw, and his voice, but not his words, as he still found ways to communicate and express, perhaps even more vibrantly, his love of films, on a regular basis.
The link above says it better than I can hope to, and I hope you click on it and read it; the lesson here is that, in facing a disease that took from him, inch by inch, so much of what we often define as core parts of “being human,” Ebert still fiercely did what he was put on the planet to do. That’s perhaps a bigger impact on me than his body of work; as I struggle with my own life-limiting illnesses, I’d do well to remember that, as would we all.
There are no barriers on this earth sturdy enough to keep us from doing the things we love.
Thank you, Roger.
JASON STIVES, Senior Editor
If Roger Ebert taught me one thing it was that it was okay to really like something. Often through the years and still to this day I get chastised by friends for looking at movies as more than just entertainment. To see films beyond whether they are just good or bad implies a sense of snobbery to some that I still can’t understand. Ebert with his plain spoken yet lively views on films showed that loving an art form could be deep and meaningful even if some thought otherwise. It wasn’t just if a movie was good; it was how it transcended the moment just past leaving the theater and how you thought about it the day after and for many years to come.
JUSTIN MATCHICK, Contributing Writer
Roger Ebert had one of the longest and most famous careers in the history of film criticism. His writings were an inspiration to me and millions of other aspiring critics and reviewers. He has written some of the wittiest, most beautiful, most damning, and most influential pieces of criticism of all time. But it is not a single review or anecdote about film that has stuck with me over the years. In a piece written for Salon two years ago about having to face death head on in the wake of his cancer diagnosis and surgeries, he spoke about his thoughts on the afterlife.
“I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state.”
He spoke of death not as a period at the end of a sentence but as a comma, allowing us to catch our breath before continuing on with what we have to experience. My views on the afterlife and death have forever been altered thanks to the writings of Ebert in the last years of his life, and for that, I am forever grateful.
LUKE KALAMAR, Staff Writer
I feel like I’m in the minority with saying this but I don’t think that Roger Ebert had an influence on me as a reviewer. I’ve never read his work outside of reviewing movies and didn’t even know about him getting cancer until I saw how it affected him physically. What I did know about him was that he was an incredibly intelligent film critic who really knew his stuff. If he said a movie was good, chances are it really was. He also introduced me to the term “two thumbs up,” which I’ve used countless times since I was a child. So while he may have not influenced me professionally, he indirectly convinced me to see a ton of films and create a lot of memories. I’ll miss Roger Ebert, and his passing will leave a massive hole in the film industry that will probably never get filled.
DANIEL COHEN, Film Editor
When I read today that Roger Ebert had passed away, I literally just responded with ‘dammit.’ I’ve watched a lot of Siskel & Ebert reviews, and honestly, there isn’t one review I can really single out, as all of them were just consistently great.
What I loved about Roger Ebert is that he never seemed like he had an agenda, or preconceived notion on what a movie was going to be based on the genre, or who was involved. He just went into a movie and watched it. If it was good, bad, or just okay, he would figure it out later, like a critic should. There are so many critics out there who give certain reviews because they are playing fan service, or just want to be the contrarian.
We know who they are, I’m not going to name them, because that’s what they want.
But the thing I loved most about Roger Ebert is that the guy was simply passionate about movies. In every single review he did, whether it was Fargo, or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, he just got so damn into it … and that for me was inspiring.
BRENT JOHNSON, Managing Editor
Most people know Roger Ebert for the TV show he hosted with fellow Chicago newspaper critic Gene Siskel — and whether their thumbs would give a movie clout or not. But more than anything, Ebert used the pages of the Chicago Sun-Times — and later RogerEbert.com — to help make print movie criticism a populist art form. He didn’t write for the intellectuals. He didn’t write blurbs for those rushing to the theater. He wrote with crystal-clear passion about his love — or hate — for movies. That is why he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. That is why his reviews are so relatable.
That is why he’s my favorite entertainment writer of all time. Every time I saw a film, the first thing I did when I got home was read his review. Always after the viewing, never before — I didn’t want to taint my opinion heading in. But I did want to see if Ebert saw things the way I did.
Read more of Brent’s reflection here.