Sad news today. After a long battle with cancer, Roger Ebert passed away at age 70. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his film criticism in 1975; one of only three film critics to receive that honor. His multiple tv shows with Gene Siskel were popular and influential. He was arguably the most influential film critic of all time. He was a very gifted writer who was smart but never stuffy. Like Steven Spielberg or Tom Hanks he was hugely accessible and brought critical film analysis to the masses.
I remember becoming fascinated with “Sneak Previews” in 1980 which ran on PBS channel 48 here in Cincinnati. Hearing Ebert and Siskel discuss films was hugely influential on me. Sometime in the mid-80s I bought my first Roger Ebert book of reviews/essays and I read it cover to cover. His writing style was always entertaining as well as enlightening. He was as eager to sing the praises of a monster movie like Q: the Winged Serpent (1982) as Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973). He had a special fondness for Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) and I remember seeking out and finally watching it when I was in high school; it became one of my favorite films of all time.
Good film critics open our eyes and help us see things we might have missed. They provide insight and context. Movies can be rewarding on so many levels beyond the simple structure of the plot or the pretty faces of the actors. It takes an open mind and critical thinking. Roger Ebert was supremely gifted at helping the viewer notice the less obvious qualities of a given film. He did it in a way that was always informed by enthusiasm and passion. He was not overly-scholarly or pretentious.
A few memories:
I remember passionately disagreeing with him once. He panned Empire of the Sun (1987) and I wrote him a letter. I was 17. I don’t remember what I wrote but I am certain I would be embarrassed if I read it now. I just re-read his original review and I still disagree with him.
He was an avid home-video enthusiast and I remember first hearing about HD television from him in one of his books. He was influential on me buying my first laserdisc player too.
I had the privilege to see him and Martin Scorsese talk movies in Columbus. He was funny and came across as just a fan wanting to talk shop.
Thank you Roger Ebert. To quote the character of Prince Feisal in (another of your favorite films) Lawrence of Arabia (1962): “What I owe you is beyond evaluation”.