KAMERA OBSCURA: In memory of Roger Ebert

The Daily News

 The world of film criticism lost its most important and influencial voice with the death of Roger Ebert yesterday. During his time writing for the Chicago Sun–Times, Ebert helped create the modern movie critic. Anyone trying to review movies certainly owes something to the work of Mr. Ebert.  

Ebert started writing for the Chicago Sun–Times on April 3, 1967 and churned out almost 200 reviews a year, an absurdly high number. In fact, his most prolific year was this past one, when he wrote 306 film reviews on top of a few blog posts every week, despite his failing health.

Ebert perhaps became most well–known for his review show that he ran with rival Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel. The duo started with a local show called “Sneak Previews” in 1975—the same year Ebert became the only critic to win the Pulitzer Prize—that eventually grew into the popular national program “At the Movies.” Ebert and Siskel captivated national audiences with their banter and forever immortalized the “thumbs up, thumbs down” method of reviewing films. 

Ebert’s influence, however, went beyond just his national presence. He had a great talent for writing reviews that showed his passion for films while at the same time being entirely conversational. I always felt like Ebert was in the same room talking with me as I read one of his reviews. You could know very little about film and still really appreciate what he had to say. Even if he wrote a negative review—unless it was one of his really negative reviews but we’ll get to those in a second—Ebert still held to a philosophy that he would write a balanced enough review that a reader might want to still see the movie if it interested them.

Then there are Ebert’s scathing reviews, which are an art form in themselves. I recommend reading any of his collections of worst reviews but especially his reviews of “Transformers 3” and “Deuce Bigelow: European Gigelow.” These reviews were hilarious but never crossed the delicate line of being pretentious. Ebert’s words always felt honest, his vitriol organic rather than merely showy. 

Ebert also probably never got enough credit for what a progressive thinker he was. Ebert always talked at length about important issues in his reviews and typically stood up for minority voices in film. His review of “Do the Right Thing” and the way he stood up for a group of Asian–American filmmakers during a screening of “Better Luck Tomorrow”—which lead to the film being distributed by MTV—are great examples of this.

Personally, Roger Ebert was the first critic I ever read consistently. Obviously I’m not alone in this but the only reason I write a column for the Daily News or post on my blog is because Mr. Ebert really did inspire me to look at movies differently. When I was young, I always wanted to understand what made movies great and what made movies terrible and Ebert really helped me in this regard. I guess in this sense I just want to say thanks to Ebert, who has been an inspiration and role model for me. We lost a great voice yesterday, but I also feel I’ve lost a friend who just loved talking about movies. 

Perhaps Ebert’s last words were the most appropriate. On Tuesday, April 2, Ebert published his last blog post explaining that he would be cutting back on his writings due to his bad health. He explained that he could now do what he always wanted and just review films he personally wanted to. Ebert ended the post by signing, “See you at the movies.” Even at the end, he still expressed his love for movies, just one more reason why Roger Ebert will be remembered as one of the most important critics in the history of film. 


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