Legendary film critic Roger Ebert lost his long battle with cancer this week, at age 70.
Ebert was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and then become really famous when he was paired with rival Chicago film critic Gene Siskel in 1975 to cohost a movie review show on PBS.
As a geeky movie-loving kid, I grew up watching Sneak Previews and At The Movies and Siskel & Ebert At The Movies and whatever the hell else they called it (hey, they changed that show around a lot); these guys were smart and funny and clashed like egghead siblings. They made the "thumbs up, thumbs down" judging famous.
Ebert was probably the best known film critic ever, period. And he was entertaining... as in his review of Basic Instinct 2, a truly crappy movie which yes I saw, he said "I cannot recommend the movie, but ... why the hell can't I? Just because it's godawful? What kind of reason is that for staying away from a movie? Godawful and boring, that would be a reason!"
I remember staying up late to watch them guest together on Johnny Carson. And falling asleep cuz it was too late for me.
I later discovered Ebert's columns, and then later still his blog and twitter, which were wise and sharp and funny, and increasing political. Smart man.
Ebert was a bachelor until age 50, then married Chaz, a divorced black attorney with kids and dogs and a big loud family. His writing about her was magical... "She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading."
Ebert wrote many books, including collections of reviews and the awesome I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie series. Then in 2011 he published an autobiography called Life Itself, which I listed as my fave book of the year. It is an amazing read, warm and smart and goes beyond just the movies, talking about culture and travel and race and ambition and love and cancer; if you haven't read it yet, do so for sure.
In his last review, published this weekend, for the flick To The Wonder, Ebert wrote a last sentence that could be applied to him as well:
There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.
Rest In Peace, Mr Ebert...