While at work today, I stopped and checked my phone to find a text from one of my friends: ‘ROGER EBERT IS DEAD WHAT THE FFFFFFFFFF?’ Despite the unconventional wording, the message still knocked the breath out of me. One of the most inspirational people of my life had died.
By the time I was conscious of who Roger Ebert was, his co-host Gene Siskel had already died. As my love of film grew, my respect for both Siskel and Ebert followed, and I found myself seeking out episodes of At the Movies to watch. I even ripped the audio files from reviews and listened to hours worth of their discussions on long drives or trips. Numerous books were bought and articles were read. I’d always wanted to be a filmmaker, but Roger Ebert made me want to be a critic.
Film critics have always been divisive, yet Roger Ebert managed to appeal to both devoted film-goers and the general public. In a profession that was viewed as full of elitists, Ebert stood out as both relatable and dignified. It didn’t matter what the general consensus was, if Ebert liked a movie, he’d give you a valid argument why. Ebert may be best remembered for co-creating the simplistic “thumbs-up/thumbs down” review system, but he was also an extremely talented writer that wrote long, detailed examinations of films.
Following his co-host’s health problems and death, Ebert soon experienced health problems of his own. Cancer left him a sick and fragile man. But no matter what the setbacks were, Ebert continued to review films up until his death. Film has always served as escapism, and Ebert continued to be transported to different worlds no matter what was happening in is own. Concerning his death, Ebert had this to say in 2011:
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.
It was only yesterday that Ebert wrote another post concerning his plans to continue reviewing films despite his worsening health. Sadly, Ebert’s plans for the upcoming Ebertfest, a kickstarter to bring back At The Movies, and movie video game will have to go on without him. His death even comes during the making of a bio-documentary about him being made by Steve Zallian, Steve James, and Martin Scorsese are making.
Ebert’s death serves as the end of an era. No critic ever has or ever will make as big of an impact as he did. Now our film-critiquing comes from a generation inspired by him. Ebert’s rise in popularity gave myself and all other film critics the exposure to do what we love, and continue to in his absence. Film criticism will live on, but it will not be the same.
To honor Ebert, search out other articles about him and film in general. There are thousands of other writers who are passionate about movies, almost all of whom are better than myself. Read his reviews, especially his Great Movies series. There’s even an ‘Ebert Store,’ full of some of his favorite movies, as well as his own books.
I could write more about Ebert, but it’s already been done better by many others. He was an inspiration and role model, and he will be deeply missed. I’ll end with the final words Roger Ebert ever wrote, found in his post from yesterday.
So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.