Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger And Out

Roger Ebert, the nation's most well-known film critic, passed away today at the age of 70.  Ebert, who reviewed movies his entire career at the Chicago Sun Times, was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.  The show he co-hosted with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune ("Sneak Previews") was what first got me hooked on movies, something which I will always be grateful for.

In 1975, Ebert was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.  Passion, sarcasm and and spot-on wit were the hallmarks of his criticisms and writing.   In 2005, Rob Schneider insulted L.A. Times movie critic Patrick Goldstein for panning "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo", labeling the critic as unqualified because he had never won the Pulitzer Prize.  Ebert publicly intervened by stating that, as a Pulitzer winner, he was qualified to review the film, and bluntly told Schneider, "Your movie sucks."

At the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, a white audience member at a screening of Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow" asked how Asians could be portrayed in such a negative light and how a film so empty and amoral could be made for the Asian American market.  Ebert jumped up to defend the Taiwanese filmmaker saying,  "What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is that nobody would say such a thing to a bunch of white filmmakers: how could you do this to 'your people'? This film has the right to be about these people, and Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to represent 'their people'!"

In his review of Martin Scorsese's "The Passion of Christ", Ebert wrote that the MPAA's R rating of the film was "definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic."

Ebert concluded his review of Rob Reiner's 1994 comedy "North" in classic fashion:  "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

Ebert's wit and insight were also evident in numerous interviews and other writings throughout his 46-year career.  On film making:  “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough" . . . On life:  "Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you" . . . On the internet:  "Doing research on the web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly." . . . On human nature:  "A depressing number of people seem to process everything literally. They are to wit as a blind man is to a forest, able to find every tree, but each one coming as a surprise." . . .  On film reviews:  "Movies can be about anything.  So can our reviews."

And finally, on the subject of death, Ebert had this to say in 2010:

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.  What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, 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.

In his last review, Ebert panned the made-for-tweens movie "The Host",  saying that it was was "top-heavy with profound, sonorous conversations, all tending to sound like farewells."   Ebert worked until almost the day of his death, working on reviews, updating his blog and preparing an upcoming book.   His last written words, posted on his blog two days ago, are heartbreaking to read: 

"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."

Thank you for your life, Roger.

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