Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert (June 18, 1942 - April 4, 2013)

This morning I have found out that Roger Ebert has passed away from cancer. It's a resounding wave in the film community with this occurrence.
Roger Ebert was not just a film critic. He was not just a Pulitzer-Prize winner. He was one of the first film critics to introduce the study of cinema to many of today's filmgoers, critics, filmmakers or writers.

I'd be lying if I said I was a huge fan. I wasn't. He was no Pauline Kael to me. At least he's better than Peter Travers.
But I'd also be lying to say that I didn't find an impact in his form of review for movies in mine. He sort of directed me to many films that I would have believed necessary in study of. I actually spent a good year of mine (either 2009 or 2010) watching movies reviewed in his 'The Great Movies' series of books and then reading his entries on them afterwards.
It allowed me to see where we saw eye-to-eye, where we didn't but I would understand where he was coming from, and where I kind of was not enjoying what he was saying.

Later, because I really wanted to hate myself, I did the same with 'Your Movie Sucks' and 'I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie'.

Don't gimme dat look...
I was not a frequent watcher of his show with Gene Siskel (and later Richard Roeper, when Siskel himself sadly passed away in 1999), but I remember my first experience with this show was when Spider-Man came out in 2002. My parents were visiting a friend from Egypt who had moved close by in Miami and the review show happened to be on screen.
I then saw an archive episode of their review of Pulp Fiction on my copy of the movie.
Both times Ebert seemed to somewhat disagree with my opinion on certain films (Spider-Man in the first episode and Reservoir Dogs, which was given a retrospective look, in the other) but always had a convincing way to backup his argument.

One particular review I was not a fan of was his review of Kick-Ass, which came off to me as him condemning the portrayal of violence, rather than reviewing the movie in itself. He either gave it one star or no stars (I cannot remember). At the same time, it goes to show this man for what he is, a brilliant writer who uses his skills in treating cinema as literary as possible in a manner that allows him to speak how he feels about a film, without regards to the outside acclaim or negativity a film will receive. Whenever he's go against the popular opinion of a movie, it never occurred out of rebellion, but solely out of his personal opinion.
When Ebert's watching a movie, he knows what he likes and what he doesn't like and won't change it.

After all, he always remarked that he would try to make his reviews of films "relative, not absolute." While he's not the best at it (he had a lot of bad things to say about a lot of decent horror movies), the fact that he always attempted to keep that aspect is completely admirable.
It's something I myself try to do, at least when I feel I have a proper knowledge of the genre or style enough to do so.

I will admit I did have an enjoyment out of seeing his feud with Vincent Gallo progress, after a scorching review of The Brown Bunny and especially laughed out loud when I was reading his review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. At least they had made their peace with each other a while ago.

His own opinion towards the video game medium were, in a way, distasteful but understandable. He seemed to always have a distaste for the idea that video games can be considered a powerful form of storytelling (Clearly he has never played the Uncharted, The Legend of Zelda or Bioshock series of games), but granted, it's an old-fashioned mindset that I'm sure many agree with (and that I, at one point, did myself).

None of these change the fact that he set a new way of filmgoing to be accessed to the mainstream audience. His review tv shows and articles in the Chicago Sun-Times are quite frankly a godsend, however bourgeois you may call them to be. Now, an entire American layman audience and a full-time cinema student society can have a balancing point and a way to communicate ideas and sympathies with each other, because Ebert had found a way to mesh his own learned film sensibilities and the guy inside of him who just wants to be entertained together for better.
When the original The Last House on the Left was released in 1972, he was the very first to recognize its connection with Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece The Virgin Spring, unlike many who just saw it as senseless early torture porn.
When Werner Herzog was losing recognition, Ebert fought to keep him in everybody's eye, as an admirer rather than a snobby 'YOU NEED TO KNOW WHO HE IS' connoisseur of arts.
Ebert had always kept a lot of classic films of all different cultures relevant and in the loop of the modern filmgoer.

But, of course, one cannot forget that, in the later part of his career, he fought cancer til the bitter end, just to keep his art of review to the appeasement of all his readers. An 11-year fight with its ups and downs. It's sobering a bit to remember all the sad images of post-cancer Ebert and notice that he still has a smile on his face, even when he can no longer speak or eat, that his jaw and throat were no longer his.
It's fortunate to know that he was able to continue a life with these disabilities. It's unfortunate to remember some people cannot...
I will always remember his 2010 statement when he decided not to undergo anymore surgery...

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.

Within his 70 years of living, the man has made a mark on how we can view films and will always be held among the likes of Pauline Kael as having revolutionized the opinions of the cinematic world, even if I may resent it. When I watch a film, it's hard for me to look at a film outside of its technique or storytelling (something I've had friends beat me over the head for doing).
Ebert never had that problem. He saw films as a whole and judged them based on that and other things. He always seemed to be able to predict how a film will fare in history (sometimes he wouldn't, like Die Hard or Blue Velvet).
And he seemed to have enjoyed himself throughout his life, even despite his most certainly painful bouts against cancer and surgeries. If he had to give the life experience a rating, I think he would have given it Two Thumbs Up.

"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."

1 comment:

  1. There goes the guy whose name I've seen in 95-98% of the films I would check out in Wikipedia, among many other critics as well, whose majority of his film reviews I would find agreeable as well. Though he isn't really my inspiration of having this hobby of being a film critic, I've seen his name many times to think that you could actually make a career out of it. A year ago is when I kinda started reading some of his film reviews, though it would be for a glance or just a quick scan and that's it.It's amazing that despite having cancer, he was still able to make film reviews for the people. He lived a good life this dude