It’s hard to overestimate the influence and impact of Roger Ebert.
People talk about Pauline Kael with hushed reverence now, but what made Ebert so great, certainly the greatest movie critic in my lifetime, was his ability to communicate in a language everyone could understand. I don’t know if that was always true of Kael.
People said the thumbs-up thumbs-down thing helped to dumb down film criticism. On the contrary, I think Ebert’s work, both in print and TV, democratized the profession and helped the public become more comfortable with talking about movies.
He was so good at what he did, so knowledgeable and gifted, but never did I feel his reviews were too highbrow or academic or clever. This is a guy who won the first Pulitzer given for film criticism.
I loved how he embraced social media. He was able to share a thoughtful perspective on life right alongside his passion for movies. Accordingly, I feel like in the past decade I got to know him a bit as a person. And the grace with which he managed his health challenges was an inspiration. I’d say he made more of an impact on Twitter and Facebook after he lost his voice than he did on TV all those years.
Earlier this week I read how he was planning to adjust his schedule while he was being treated for another bout with cancer. He talked about how he hoped to continue to see movies, albeit fewer of them, and still review them. Check out all the comments at the end of the post I linked to above. Here’s someone who reached people in a way far beyond a shared interest in a popular art form. And he never stopped. He was always looking forward.
There’s no way we’d have any film criticism on TV without Ebert and his old friend Gene Siskel — though there isn’t much of it these days, I grant you that. I’m going to show up on TV Friday morning (CTV Morning Live in Nova Scotia, shortly after 7am, for those interested) to talk about movies, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can manage even a small bit of the kind of charm and intelligence Roger Ebert brought to onscreen film talk.
I’m really going to miss him.
One other thing I want to mention, something many folks may not know. Ebert co-wrote this campy classic, Beyond The Valley of the Dolls. And it’s very much worth seeing: