I don’t know how to react to the passing of Roger Ebert. While I’d like to say something interesting about the late great critic, I feel that everything that I have to say about the man has already been said elsewhere on the web in far more interesting, poetic and heartfelt ways by better writers. Still, seeing how much of an impact the man has had on my life as a moviegoer and reviewer, I feel it’s my duty as a movie lover to write a little something to express the sense of loss I feel today.
For many years, Ebert was the only critic whose opinions mattered to me. Before Rotten Tomatoes and its tomatometer became the force it is today, he was the only one whose reviews I read. Steven Spielberg’s films may have been my gateway into the world of film but it was Ebert’s reviews that guided me to its furthest corners. His writing made me appreciate and view film as an art form and something more than just entertainment. His reviews challenged me to seek out smaller movies that I would have never watched otherwise. For better or worse, I’m the writer I am today because of him. His clean, warm and unpretentious style has been my model ever since I began reviewing movies in 2009.
Long before I began reviewing, there was a time when Ebert’s take on a film was the end-all, be-all to me. If he didn’t like a movie, I wouldn’t see it. If he praised something, I’d rush out to see if, even if I didn’t know anything about it prior to that. Such was his power on me. I remember eagerly anticipating Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor in the summer of 2001. It was my most anticipated movie of the year. As the news poured in from various outlets that Bay had delivered a polished Turkey, I kept myself in denial, knowing that Ebert would give it a positive review. Then his piece landed. One-and-a-half stars, and this choice quote:
“Pearl Harbor is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on December 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle.”
Ouch! And what did I do? For the first time ever, I decided to ignore his review and see the movie anyway, truly believing him to be wrong. And even though I ended up enjoying the movie, even seeing it twice (imagine that!), looking back at the film today with a more mature eye, I realized he was right. The movie sucked, and his review nailed it.
Ignoring his review and watching Pearl Harbor for myself did teach me one thing, however. It made me think for myself and not let another person’s opinion of a film dictate my feelings towards it. It made me a better consumer of film and I’m glad Ebert was the one I pushed back against. Although I have disagreed with his takes on movies plenty of times over the years, sometimes to a flabbergasting extent (how could he name Knowing one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time is beyond me), my respect for the man, his work ethic (he wrote close to 300 reviews a year last year alone), and his prose remain paramount.
I never had the opportunity to meet Roger Ebert nor did I know him in any way personally, but when I read his reviews, I felt as if I did. As I scrolled through his website and Twitter feed today after hearing the news, it suddenly hit me: I’m going to really miss him.