Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Balcony Is Closed: RIP Roger Ebert

A few months ago, Roger Ebert made the decision to bring in a team of critics that included Richard Roeper, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Nell Minow, among others to review the movies he was not able to watch, due to health reasons. Earlier this week, Ebert announced that he would be taking a leave of absence, because the cancer he was fighting a few years back returned. Now he's gone, dying from complications from this returning cancer at the age of 70. When we see death in such a fashion, we have to believe that something more was going on in the process, but Ebert remained optimistic and that's all we can ask from arguably the greatest film critic of all time.

Roger Ebert began his career as a film critic for the Chicago Sun Times on April 3, 1967, celebrating his forty-sixth anniversary just yesterday. In 1975, he became the first critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, helping him garner an even larger name in the market of cinema. This name grew larger when he teamed up with long time colleague Gene Siskel of the rivaling Chicago Tribune with their show Coming Soon To A Theater Near You. From there, various of collaborations occurred in the At The Movies in which one would review the movie before both of them would discuss... or debate... the film. For nearly the next twenty-five years, the two would engage in heated and entertaining discussions. Unfortunately, Gene Siskel died in 1999 from a brain tumor at the age of 53. Ebert began teaming up with various critics before teaming up with Richard Roeper, who became the co-critic for the series. Ebert's health issues began with thyroid cancer in 2002 and then a stronger cancer that required surgery in 2006. This surgery left Ebert without much of his jaw and the inability to consume food or speak. Ebert did, however, return and produce as much as he have ever produced. He kept up with a new world of internet presence through blogging and Facebook. He even made appearances on his series, Ebert Presents At The Movies, which was his newest revival that unfortunately did not hold up to the demands of public broadcasting.

Roger Ebert's reviews were always top quality. He had passionate things to say about good films and blunt things to say about bad ones. It was Ebert that admitted he "hated, hated, hated this movie" (which he said about the 1994 film North) and wasn't afraid to tell Rob Schneider that, "your movie sucks!" (which he was referring to Schneider's 2005 film Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo). I always looked forward to reading what Mr. Ebert had to say about the upcoming films each week. I visited his website every Thursday when new reviews were hot off the press and collected his books, from the yearly editions to the special editions. Reading his reviews did something that I feel was the most important trait a critic, whether it be of his caliber or someone simple like me could do, review like you were having a lunch conversation with someone about a film, but at the same time make it professional enough for the general public.

I am going to admit, and proudly so, that when I engaged in writing in the opinionated, column format, I had Roger Ebert on my mind. Of course, I would write my reviews like I was putting a piece of my own personality and taste in it, but Ebert taught me that I don't have to be stiff with how I write. All I have to do is present my topic to the best of my ability and have a good time doing it. Even if this means cracking humorous lines here and there.

A big regret of mine will be never having the ability to meet him in person. It would have been an honor to meet him, even if it was just seeing him in person and not necessarily having a regular conversation. Mr. Ebert has, however, answered two of the questions I had asked on either his page or the Ebert Presents At The Movies page. One was a question I had about how Gene Siskel never had a review collection and why I couldn't find his reviews, which it turns out his reviews were never collected. The second was one I asked just a few months ago about how his team of critics still had the "Ebert rating," which I was wondering if they were writing with his opinion or writing their own. Ebert mentioned that it should say "Critic's rating." Both of his responses came within a day, which I really thank him for. It's an honor to have him answer these questions, even if Facebook makes this task slightly easier.

Roger Ebert was the critic that brought the interest of film criticism to television, his use of the "thumbs up and thumbs down" became a trend, and our outlook of film changed drastically because of his ideas for enlightening our interest in the cinema. His final review was for The Host, which was a film based off of Stephanie Meyer's novel. Those who are anti-Twilight may cringe to such a fact. His last written piece, however, was an emotional announcement that he was taking a leave of absence. His last line, appropriate enough, was "See you at the movies." Many of people feel that this is a sign of the end, given that Gene Siskel announced he was taken a few months off for a brain tumor operation he did not survive and Andy Rooney announced he was retiring but may make occasional appearances before dying a month later. This sign was true.

Roger Ebert will go down in history as a complete innovator to the world of criticism in general, let alone film criticism. Plenty of my friends who write reviews sight him as an influence, which I totally join them in doing. While people may deem that he is arguably the greatest film critic of all time, I'll admit to believing that he is, in fact, the greatest film critic of all time. He has been for the last forty years and will continue to be for the next forty years and beyond.

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