It Was Always About the Movies: Roger Ebert (1942-2013)


I don’t talk or write about film much because I knew I could never write about film as well as Roger Ebert. I’m not talking about his ability to give quick blurbs and four stars. I’m talking about his ability to express, pretty accurately, how I felt about these films. He was a far, far better writer than I will ever be.

There is a saying that people do not grow up and aspire to be critics. That’s not true- it may not have been my first career choice, but if a music magazine or website offered me a place as a critic, I’d jump at it.  The appeal of criticism isn’t to tell people what’s good and bad about things, it’s to write about how art makes you feel. If it makes you feel like crap, then you say so. Most critics never write things like that, but when they talk about what makes their heart sing, the poetry they write is exquisite. Kael did it. Sarris did it. Siskel did it. Ebert was the king of them all.*

But as magnificent as all that wonderful criticism could be, it was after the cancer took his voice where he really bloomed. In 2008 he began Roger Ebert’s Journal. Here he wrote essays about movies, but often spoke out about politics, music, life itself. He wrote smart essays, some questionable opinion (yes, Roger, video games can be art).  He opened these to comments and his comment section was full of other smart, passionate people who attempted to keep above the usual internet fray.  Sometimes they would write passionate essays about movies, music, life of their own. And he read the comments. And he responded to them personally. And occasionally, he would read your blog. The day I read his comment that he had read my blog, I wept. Because most people don’t ever comment on THIS site, let alone comment about it on their site. I threw  a thank you note up for the many Ebert fans who did come by and say hi, and read through a post or two on his recommendation.  He was a generous supporter of other writers, and wonderfully supportive of film makers and other people who would use his blogs as a starting point for talking about what hurts they had and what joys life was bringing them.

He was thoroughly engaged in life right until the end. He announced on April 3 he was stepping away from watching all those movies.  The note from his widow, the formidable Chaz Ebert, that sits atop his blog now breaks my heart. Few people are good in this world. Roger Ebert would be the first to say he was not one of them- the man wrote extensively about his flaws as a human being. But he really was, precisely because he had the self-awareness to admit he was human, and that informed his writing so beautifully. Below Chaz’s note is Roger Ebert’s last post- he was not going down without a fight, and the post outlines his intentions. I hope that some of these projects will continue, but I understand if  they do not.

I have written this with a heavy heart and dampened eyes, but I know that I will always have the writings, the memories of At The Movies, the books, and the copy of Casablanca that Roger supplied the commentary for.  I missed his voice. I will continue to miss it for the rest of my life.

Thank you, Roger, and Godspeed.

My thoughts always with Chaz Ebert and Roger Ebert’s family. And of course, hugs, love, and peace to all my fellow Roger Ebert fans.

 

 

*Understanding please, for Pauline Kael  and Lester Bangs are geniuses of the medium of criticism as well.

 

UPDATE:

Since the Ebert blog was moved from the Sun Times website several years ago, the link no longer works.

This comment from Roger Ebert is still one of the greatest things that ever happened. I still fundamentally believe in most of the things I wrote about in my original comment. I need to get back there. Clearly I was in a healthier space before I tried to obtain something I don’t deserve.

Thanks again, Roger. I miss your words.

I am alone. I am alone in the sense I have no real relationships with adults anymore. I have my three kids, but my breakup with their father was so painful in so many different ways I have decided to just be alone, with them.

Even as a child, though, I isolated myself. I had an unhappy childhood that turned into an even more unhappy adolescence. I surrounded myself with books and music ( and later, films and good TV). It’s telling that my single favourite Beatles song is “Eleanor Rigby”.

I generally dislike being around people. I find “people” as a concept to be noisy, cruel, and dishonest. This is clearly an extension of how I viewed my immediate family as a child. Why does a six-year-old go and hide in a bedroom with the door closed and listening to the Kinks records she borrowed from her friend’s older sibling? Why doesn’t she play with the neighbour kid, the one who once shoved her so hard off a swing that she still feels like she’s pulling sand out of her palms? Why doesn’t she hang with her family- the meek, quiet mum who never stands up for her when her father is screaming in her face that she is stupid and a waste of space because she didn’t fold the towels correctly, while her brothers sit and watch whatever cartoon is on, having defeated her in a democratic vote? My childhood is really not that much different, I think, than others of my generation. We were born in the 70s, before helicopter parenting became the rage and the corporal punishment aspects became distasteful. My father had a nasty temper, and as horrible as the spankings could be, the yelling was worse, because he would always call me names.

I have always wondered if the victims of bullies- both the ones at home and the ones they meet out in the world- adapt to being alone as a way to cope. I’m certainly more distrustful of people now, especially after my breakup with my ex. But when faced with the idea of my children growing up and leaving me, I’m not afraid of being alone. I’d like to find someone, but I no longer worry about it. I see the chance to travel where I want, since I will still only be in my early to mid forties when my kids are all grown. I see the chance to do the things I was wanting to do at twenty, only at forty, with more financial security and with a greater appreciation for what I am witnessing.

It’s not that loneliness never comes up. It does. Adult conversations are rare for me. That’s where the internet comes in handy. I have four friends I have cultivated relationships with. These relationships have left the web and have turned into gifts sent across the world and hand written letters that express the same sentiments in a more personal way. The web has actually facilitated the four relationships I cherish most in the world. It was our choice to take them and expand them. We are all currently plotting a trip together ( difficult to arrange, especially when two of us have young kids). I was able to make these friends in the place where I myself feel the most comfortable- in my own space. They have done more than any friend I have had in making consider leaving my comfort zone. They encourage me to write and be out there more while considering my own personality. They know I’m prone to crippling depressive episodes and I am generally a curmudgeon ( I prefer misanthrope myself to curmudgeon). It’s hard for me not to be completely honest about these things, as they tend to creep into my day-to-day correspondence. They know about my migraines, my love of tequila and Cheetos, the fact that I have had a ten-year crush on Jason Segel that is inexplicable until you realize that I really value funny above all else in another human being. I’m actually more honest with them because they are so physically far away that I never actually have to see the looks on their faces when they are disappointed in me. Which I’m sure has happened at some point, even if I have yet to be disppointed by them.

And I must say, in the end, the only people I want there are my children, the people I love more than life itself. Because they will make sure I will die listening to The Kinks, who were my first love. That’s how I want it to end. Gwen, Aislinn, Emma, and the Davies brothers singing “Picture Book”.

Ebert: Kirsten, I went to look through your blog. You are so engaged in your interests. So open about your ideas.

I think you have it figured out about right. You’re going to be a hell of a woman in your 40s.

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