Our society's culture critics have often tended to be a little, for lack of a better word, hoity-toity. Cooler than thou, if you will. They wax eloquent about that dense philosophical metaphysical book you couldn't get through once (but they just finished for an “enlightening” third time). They rave about that indie band you've never even heard of, and sing the praises of that art house film that put you to sleep.
Roger Ebert (Wikimedia
Roger Ebert was not your typical cultural critic. Intellectual and gifted writer though he was, he was a movie critic of the people. He loved Argo. He loved E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Minority Report and The Godfather. He loved Citizen Kane (his vote for the "most important" movie of all time) and Fargo and Juno. He loved the movies we actually watch – and we loved him for it.
That love shows in the huge reaction to Ebert's death yesterday at age 70. We knew it was coming – he had fought cancer since 2002, and recent surgeries had stolen his voice and altered his appearance. But he cheerfully carried on, using his blog as his voice and assuring his public that he was "not going away" even though he would be scaling back his work as Chicago Sun-Times film critic.
The fans who spent 46 years reading and watching his movie reviews wanted to believe that Ebert would be around for a long time yet. We've missed Gene Siskel, Ebert's friend and partner, since his death 14 years ago. It seems hard to believe that both men are now gone. The two best-known film critics in the country, they helped shape our view of the movies – and, of course, they helped us decide what to see.
This 1986 photo shows Roger Ebert, right, and Gene Siskel in Los Angeles. Ebert, the nation's best-known film reviewer who with fellow critic Siskel created the template for succinct thumbs-up or thumbs-down movie reviews, died Thursday, April 4, 2013. He was 70. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)
The Siskel and Ebert partnership that lasted more than two decades began locally in Chicago when the competing reviewers – Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and Siskel of the Chicago Tribune – were tapped to host local PBS program Sneak Previews. The two played off of each other as they sparred, using their often differing opinions to spark riveting discussion. As the show became hugely popular, it moved to network TV and national syndication, becoming Siskel & Ebert At the Movies. The partners' commentary on the latest flicks was smart and useful and, often, funny:
After Siskel's death in 1999, Ebert carried on – first with an array of guest hosts, then with regular partner Richard Roeper. And in recent years, as his health failed, he turned more and more to the written word, maintaining an amazingly broad database of movie reviews at his blog. Until the end, he was eloquent and funny – noting recently that current film The Host includes dialogue that "will possibly be found humorous by some people."
In the wake of Ebert's death, anyone who's spent any time on social media has surely been seeing reactions like Oprah Winfrey's:
Roger and Gene together again. End of an era.
Or like Glenn Close's:
Sometimes you loved him. Sometimes you hated him as you do every critic. But I was thinking – I think that a great critic is somebody that has a real love for what he's criticizing, and I think he was that.
Many praised his genuineness (“Roger Ebert was the real deal!” tweeted Samuel L. Jackson), and at least one saddened fan noted his kindness:
Even when he was very weak he held an elevator door open for me at the River East Movie Theatre. He was a class act and that is all too rare. God bless Roger and his family.
– Diane OLeary, Chicago, Illinois
Others, including many of my Facebook friends, shared a favorite quote – such as Ebert's beautiful last words to his fans:
Thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies.
The movies will miss him. So will we.
Written by Linnea Crowther