I’m the de facto obituary guy here at First Draft. I usually post when someone I admire passes away and sometimes I’m genuinely upset. Writing about Roger Ebert’s death today at the age of 70 fits into the latter category.
I first heard of Roger when his PBS film review show with the late Gene Siskel launched in the 1970’s. I don’t think I missed many episodes through its different permutations and names over the years. I enjoyed watching the sweater boys duke it out, and I usually agreed with Roger, If I had a dollar for every time I watched an obscure film recommended by Roger I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d be more solvent.
Roger was also a superb writer. Take a peak at his Sun-Times web site and ready away. I’m particularly fond of his great movies series. He made film criticism come alive, and he was never pedantic or preachy. My favorite thing about his style as a reviewer is that he never reviewed the fillm he wished they had made instead writing about the one that they did make. That’s one thing about critics that drives me crazy, and lots of them do it, including, I daresay, his partner and frenemy Gene Siskel.
Roger had been horribly ill for many years but he soldiered on, writing about movies, and even starting his own blog. I traded the odd email and twitter direct message with Roger over the years and the man was even kind to me. Talk about tolerant. He was aware of First Draft and even read it from time-to-time. Why I never humblebragged about that, I’ll never know but I didn’t. So it goes.
Just 2 days ago, he announced what he called a “leave of presence” from daily criticism. I’m unsure as to whether he knew that he would die this soon but I considered starting a RIP post that day, but didn’t because it struck me as ghoulish when instead it proved to be sadly prescient. Roger Ebert was a great film critic and an even better man. He’ll be greatly missed by film buffs everywhere; especially this one. Here’s a passage from the aforementioned 4-2-2013 post:
Thank you. Forty-six years ago on April 3, 1967, I became the film
critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of you have read my reviews and
columns and even written to me since that time. Others were introduced
to my film criticism through the television show, my books, the website,
the film festival, or the Ebert Club and newsletter. However you came
to know me, I’m glad you did and thank you for being the best readers
any film critic could ask for.
I write over 200 reviews a year for the Sun-Times that are carried by
Universal Press Syndicate in some 200 newspapers. Last year, I wrote the
most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a
week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why
I’m taking what I like to call “a leave of presence.”
What in the
world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent
is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a
talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What’s
more, I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about
doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.
Thank you, Roger. If there *is* an after-life, I hope you and Siskel are back at it, talking movies and trading genial insults. Thumbs up to that, but thumbs down to your passing.
The balcony is closed.