Thursday, April 4, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert (1942 - 2013)

As long as I can remember watching movies I remember watching Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on their show At the Movies. Though I was only ten years old at the time I remember when Gene Siskel died in 1999. While things were never the same without Siskel, Roger Ebert soldiered on and the reviews continued. The internet made Ebert more accessible than ever to his fans, especially since he was a regular Twitter user. For the past few years I made it a weekly habit to check Roger Ebert's website and read his latest reviews. Despite Ebert's failing health due to his battle with cancer, we got one final review from Roger Ebert just last week: The Host. While it's too bad that his last review had to be of a movie he didn't really like (2.5 out of 4 stars), this is a reminder that Roger Ebert watched and reviewed all kinds of movies in his lifetime. Before I write about a film on this blog I usually look it up on Roger Ebert's website or the video repository of At the Movies episodes at to see what he thought about it. I am able to his to find his reviews for the most of the movies I watch!

Roger Ebert was not just a great film critic but a wonderful writer and a very funny man. Ebert became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and also the first to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Roger Ebert entered the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest for years. Although he didn't win until 2011 his submissions were always great. His voice appearance with Gene Siskel on the animated TV show The Critic (see above picture) is absolutely hilarious. Ebert's reviews of bad movies were often very funny and sometimes I looked forward to reading them more than his reviews of good movies! Here are a few of my favorite quotes Roger Ebert reviews:

"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica."
"Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo makes a living cleaning fish tanks and occasionally prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie."
"Young men: If you attend this crap with friends who admire it, tactfully inform them they are idiots. Young women: If your date likes this movie, tell him you've been thinking it over, and you think you should consider spending some time apart." - Battle: Los Angeles
"If you recall the lore from the earlier films, you'll know that marriage to Edward means Bella must become a vampire herself, which any groupie who has slept with Gene Simmons will understand." - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

The best moments on At the Movies were usually when Siskel and Ebert disagreed with each other. The episode with the Full Metal Jacket vs. Benji the Hunted argument is a classic since it is not only funny but also brings up some good points about film criticism such as expectations of the viewer and the fairness of comparing different types of films to each other. It was very amusing when one of them had an unpopular opinion, such as Gene gushing over Carnosaur or Roger praising Cop and a Half.

Although I love Roger Ebert there have been many times when I disagreed with him. Ebert gave 2 stars to A Clockwork Orange and undervalued The Thing and Blade Runner. On the flip side Roger gave Anaconda 3 and a half stars and liked the first Transformers movie. In my review of My Bloody Valentine I discussed how both Siskel and Ebert viewed the glut of early 1980s slasher movies as the result of an anti-female sentiment from the creators and fans of these films. I think that simple answer for why we saw so many of these movies was that Halloween and Friday the 13th were very popular and it was cheap to make movies in a similar vein that would turn a quick profit.

Even when I have a differing opinion from Roger Ebert, I still feel that like its having a debate with a friend. Part of this is because he and Siskel used the medium of television to come into our homes. Instead of just telling us about a scene the two could actually show it to us to prove their points. Later on Roger Ebert would use the internet to welcome film goers into the discussion by being active on Twitter and having open comments for people to voice their opinions on his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times. Even Ebert's reviews include the rating of his readers right next to his own. While websites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have a similar feature, it isn't quite the same as you are comparing your score not to another person, but an aggregate of critics. With Roger Ebert it felt like I was having a conversation with a friend about films, despite never having met the man. This personal connection to everyday people was very important and part of the reason he is so beloved by many film fans.

Watching films from now on will be a bit different for me. I'll still have the old reviews and videos but whenever a new movie comes out I will wonder "What Would Roger Ebert have thought of this film?"
Before I got overwhelmed with other commitments I made it a point to seek out films on Roger Ebert's Great Movies List and write about them on this blog. Although no more movies will be added to this list, I will make an effort to see as many of them as I can when I get the chance.
Roger Ebert was always entertaining and his enthusiasm for film was contagious. Thumbs up and four stars to a fantastic film critic, writer, and movie lover.


  1. Wow, that was pretty moving.

    I like how you highlighted the fact that Siskel and Ebert were entertainers, as well as critics. A lot of the time, I felt like I was learning about proper criticism as I watched At The Movies, especially during moments like the example you gave with Benji the Hunted and Full Metal Jacket.

  2. Thank you!
    Siskel and Ebert did a great job of making film criticism fun while also engaging with their audience and reminding us that everyone has an opinion.