“I’ll see you at the movies.”
With that line came the end of a show, blog post, and now, a life. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert passed away yesterday after finally succumbing to an 11 year long battle with thyroid cancer. This debilitation, although taking away his ability to speak, didn’t remove a voice that has impacted all movie fans around the world.
I remember the first time Roger Ebert even came into my existence was upon watching the popular movie reviews show Sneak Previews which aired on PBS. At the time, it seemed insane to dedicate a program that revolved around talking about and rating upcoming films. It proved to be a huge success, however, thanks in large part to the chemistry between Ebert and fellow critic Gene Siskel.
These two shared a knowledge and passion for films that was incomparable. From the heated discussions to the iconic thumbs up / thumbs down system, Siskel and Ebert made names for themselves as the purveyors of intelligent opinion. They literally would make or break a film depending on which way their outermost digits were pointing. Not since Julius Caesar has a thumb carried so much weight in power.
In 1999, Gene Siskel unfortunately passed away which left Ebert in the driver’s seat with rotating co-hosts. Although Roger could certainly hold his own, the show’s desperate attempt to recapture that same magic with the original duo ultimately lead me to stop watching. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Richard Roeper or any of the other critics who would fill in the opposing seat. They were just no Siskel and, therefore, couldn’t spark the same level of dialogue with Ebert.
A nerve was struck in 2005 when Ebert made the claim that video games aren’t art nor can they ever be. His statement on the medium being inferior to others such as film and literature caused a backlash of naysayers who tried to prove otherwise. These responses ranged from babbling outcries to conscientious rebuttals. Examples were even brought up, Shadow of the Colossus and Flower, in order to show the famed critic the error in his judgement.
I’m just going to say right off the bat that I do believe video games are art. Anything that can be created and has potential to be creative in nature is considered to be a part of that broad spectrum in my book. With that said, I can respect Roger Ebert standing by his opinion on the opposite end of the argument. This was a man who admitted having very little experience with video games and even less interest in playing them. Simply put, it was past his time. Take what he says on the subject with a grain of salt.
It was after suffering from thyroid cancer that Roger Ebert showed his true strength and resolve. Here was a man most renowned for talking about movies on television only to have that basic ability taken from him. Despite this, he took it upon himself to post movie reviews on his web site as well as maintain a blog on related topics.
It was around this point that I grew a large amount of respect for Ebert. Here he was not missing a beat, watching almost every movie released, and giving us his opinion followed by a star rating. Was it his passion? A sense of responsibility? I would make the argument that it was both.
It’s easy to see Ebert loved what he did through his own words whether it was gratitude for great film or disgust for the ones that were a waste of time. The responsibility part may throw some people off, however. I want to say that the man was aware of his impact. Every review or opinionated piece would hold a sense of validity when folks see who it came from. With that power, Roger Ebert tapped into our curiosity and amazement of all manner of film from the limited release indie flicks to big budget summer blockbusters.
I have to admit that writing this post has been rather difficult. At first, this was going to simply be about an announcement that Roger Ebert was going to decrease his workload due to health issues. Shortly after that, he’s gone. Death has a funny way of derailing one’s plans.
You will be missed, Roger. The amount of joy you brought in this world through intelligent discussion is far greater than I think even you could have anticipated. You were and still are an inspiration to me and many others who work towards building an audience through expressed opinion. Take care and say hello to Gene for us.