Finding the right words to pay tribute to someone who’s passed on is always difficult, even more so when that person is someone you’ve never known, but respected immensely. Sadly, that person is renowned film critic Roger Ebert.
I can honestly say Roger Ebert was a man I didn’t always agree with. We had more than enough one-sided yelling matches when it came to genre film ratings, but something always kept me coming back for more. That something was pure and unabashed honesty.
Whether he loved or hated a film, Ebert never held back on what he thought and nearly always backed it up with solid reasoning. It’s a quality that’s actually rare in the world of film criticism nowadays, where hatred and misinformed criticism are abundant.
When we agreed, it was a wonder to read through every scene analysis he came up with, nodding to myself and yelling, “Yes! Exactly!” Even when we were at odds, I was still curious, because that’s exactly what a great writer does: keep you coming back for more.
For those living in a world where film is everything, he meant something. Being a kid and waiting to see those thumbs up and thumbs down, or just sitting in front of your TV to watch Ebert chatting it up with Siskel or Roeper about the latest flicks, has almost been a rite of passage into the film criticism world.
Heck, every year around February I’d refresh his website constantly waiting to see if I could outguess his Oscar predictions just once – and wouldn’t you know it, I did. While that seems like something completely miniscule and pointless in hundreds upon hundreds of reviews, it’s still something that gave a budding writer like me confidence.
It’s really those little bits of inspiration all around the world that really add up to how much of an influential presence Ebert was. There’s no doubt in my mind that thousands of others found their budding interest in film affected by Ebert’s writing.
A good friend of mine who also studied English and Film at the University, Francisco Pedro, told me something that really hit me after Ebert’s death. “Once his voice was gone and Ebert was reduced to writing online, he went from just being a Pulitzer Prize critic to a guiding voice in my life. I could still hear his voice in his writing.”
It’s a voice that will continue on over the years, guiding budding young film lovers and critics to find wonderful classic works, especially through his Great Movies pieces.
All those willing to look at art through a critical lens will find something to appreciate in the writing that Ebert has left behind. Anyone who can bring humor, grace, and intelligence into their words and opinions like he did, and is able to provoke people into thinking deeper about their film experiences is a man worth respecting and looking up to.
So, here’s to you Roger Ebert. Regardless of our differences, your writing will always have a place in my heart, and I’ll always be thankful you gave us “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” along with every word of film criticism.