I imagine every single newspaper across the nation, as well as every single film blog on the internet, is paying tribute to Roger Ebert today. The flood of eulogies are more than deserving for a man who helped legitimize his profession, and served as a passionate voice for films as small as Hoop Dreams, and as big as The Dark Knight. I never met Roger Ebert, but then again, I’m sure most of you never occupied the same space as he did. Nonetheless, I felt unequivocally close to this mammoth of a man.
Part of my connection stems from my fascination with his “At the Movies” show with Gene Siskel. I usually say my love for film blossomed after I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, but I truly believe the seeds were planted when I spent Saturday evenings watching Siskel and Ebert emphatically and intelligently debate about the current batch of films invading multiplexes. In part I enjoyed the show because it introduced me to a far-reaching, usually eclectic batch of films. But the most enticing aspect of the show was its conversational tone. Sure, these two men had film knowledge seeping out of their pores, but, ultimately, they were just two everyday men discussing whether they liked a film or not. Pretension need not apply.
As the internet started taking shape, and Roger’s funneled his reviews to his site, I followed like a dog earnestly follows his owner. Once again, Roger’s reviews and writings warmly greeted me with a conversational tone that made it seem as if Roger himself was sitting in front of me, delivering his cinematic sermon. Certainly, I didn’t always agree with Roger’s opinions, but I deeply respected his ability to circumvent condescension while igniting debate. Even more so, I respected how he unapologetically tethered his emotions to a film.
Unfortunately, he’s gone now, and what we’re left with are hundreds upon hundreds of reviews, essays, and video clips. I wish we could see Roger tackle the films of the future, but in the very least, we can sit down, pull up one of his reviews, and have one more conversation.
*One of my favorite reviews by Roger, revolves around The Tree of Life. It perfectly captures the emotions I felt while watching the film. Somehow, someway, he manages to poetically condense Terrence Malick’s impressionistic film into a few choice paragraphs.