Thursday, April 04, 2013

Tribute: Roger Ebert (1942 - 2013)

Today marks the sad end of an era. 

America’s most prominent and well-known film critic, Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013), has passed away at the age of seventy.  He will be missed, and the summer of 2013 just won’t be the same without his movie reviews.  In this time of sadness, I can't help feeling selfish.  There are so many Roger Ebert reviews now that we'll never get to read, debate, and appreciate.

I grew up watching Roger Ebert on Sneak Previews (PBS) and then on the syndicated At the Movies and finally on Siskel and Ebert at the Movies.  When I went to university in the late eighties, I took several of his Year Film Review books with me...and devoured them.  His movie reviews were addictive, and informative.  I especially liked how Mr. Ebert approached each movie he reviewed with humor, with passion, with fairness, and with abundant love.

But as a horror movie fan, there was even more to admire in Mr. Ebert’s reviews than my description above suggests.  

For instance, I always appreciated the fact that Roger Ebert didn’t categorically look down his nose at the genre as a whole.   He gave positive notices to John Carpenter’s Halloween, as well as Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972), and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978).  

Despite the famous Night of the Living Dead (1968) kerfuffle, Mr. Ebert was actually a long-time friend to the horror film, and always approached each new scary movie with an open mind.  Sometimes -- in the final analysis -- he got it wrong, but that’s an occupational hazard for all film critics, this one included.

No one gets ‘em all right.

The important thing is that Ebert’s reviews universally made logical sense.  

In some fashion, a good critic is one whose arguments you can identify with and follow, if not necessarily agree with, and that’s the kind of critic Mr. Ebert was.  You could always understand his thinking, and his writing was clean and crisp.  His reviews communicated his love of film, and negative reviews were more often about his disappointment than about cruelty or snark.  That’s a (worthy) model I have always tried to emulate.

Roger Ebert had a long and distinguished writing career. He wrote reviews in The Chicago-Sun Times beginning in the late 1960s, penned fifteen books, and was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975.  He has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has been termed (by Forbes) America’s most powerful pundit.

I have been reading Roger Ebert’s reviews for the better part of twenty-five years, and will miss his humor, decency, and enthusiasm for the art of film.  I have read, probably a dozen times each, every Star Trek movie review Mr. Ebert ever wrote, and it pains me to know he won’t get a crack at reviewing Into Darkness this summer. 

Roger Ebert’s positive review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 was a powerful one for this young reader.  In fact, it was one of the most powerful reviews I ever read because it went against the grain.  Mr. Ebert showed me in that review that as a well-known and widely-read critic (or as any kind of critic, for that matter…) you don’t have to go with the flow, you don’t have to think how other critics think, and that if you just clearly enumerate your reasons for appreciation, others will raise their hands in agreement.

I imagine that today the great Roger Ebert rejoins Gene Siskel in Heaven’s auditorium.  Those two beloved  film critics are sitting in that balcony together and discussing -- and perhaps arguing about -- the magic of the movies.

Rest in Peace, Roger Ebert.  Thank you for the years -- and decades -- of great reading and great television. 


  1. Hear, hear, John. Hear, hear.

  2. Anonymous6:43 PM

    John, well said, we all will miss Roger Ebert as we still do Gene Siskel.


  3. Anonymous8:19 PM

    The passing of an era. Pauline Kael, Gene Siskel, and Roger Ebert were the only critics that I ever considered worth listening to. I may not always have agreed with them, but their arguments were usually valid and their writing impeccable. I've never had any notions of being a film or drama critic. That is not one of my particular skills. But a skilled critic can be a joy to read. There's one less joy out there now.

    The balcony is closed.

    Terri Wilson

  4. Anonymous1:43 AM

    What a shame. He was a real fighter, and went through some very difficult times. I read a story on him a couple years ago and when he lost his friend Gen Siskel it crushed him. It truly had a deeply profound impact on him when he died. And then to see what had happened to him with his cancer - what a shame. He was a very intelligent man, and one of the few critics I truly respected. I was very sad to hear this news.

    In terms of sci-fi cinema, he often could see an intelligent sci-fi film when others bashed them and gave them no credit. An example is Knowing, which the majority of pro critics totally bashed, yet Ebert gushed over. It was because of his review and later thoughts he posted on it that led me to see it, and I was so happy I didn't listen to other critics, as I found it an incredible film. He had a real appreciation for cinema of all types. He will be greatly missed by many.

    A note for fans of DVD/blu-ray commentaries - his commentaries on the DVD/blu-ray of Dark City is an absolute pleasure to listen to from beginning to end, as he literally discusses the film scene-by-scene, often shot-by-shot. It truly showcases his love and appreciation for cinema. A must-listen.

  5. Anonymous11:36 AM

    Siskel and Ebert (and not any of Ebert's other partners) were excellent critics because theyie reviews told mre precisely that which I needed to know. And that is wheter or not I would enjoy the movie (whether they did or not is beside the question).


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