There were few film critics as good as Roger Ebert. He was an influence on millions, myself included, and was probably the best known critic in not just America, but the world. Ask any amateur film critic who their idols are, and his name would more than likely come up.
His movie show in the 80s and 90s with Gene Siskel was seminal. It was the first movie show to bring all manner of movies to the public. He was, probably, the best and most important film critic since Pauline Kael. His passing is a blow to the film world that will have ramifications far-reaching.
Above all, he was more of a film lover than a film critic. When he wrote about the greats, he wrote with admiration, and this is what made his writing so eminently readable -you got carried along with his enthusiasm. This doesn’t just extend to his positive reviews, even in his negative ones, his vitriol carried a certain sense of keenness, a love of movies as a whole. His worst reviews were of the worst films, not the films that were bad, but the ones that did absolutely nothing for the audience. You cannot say something about nothing, but when there was something, Roger could say everything you could ever want to read or hear.
But Roger Ebert was far more than someone who wrote fervently about films. He was a man. To read him was to know him. With his blog, his books, his Twitter feed, his Facebook page, his column with the Chicago Sun-Times, anyone willing to devote time and effort to his writing would come away with the distinct impression that they had known the man. I certainly felt as though I did. Whether it was on the topic of his illnesses, his wife Chaz, food, politics, and of course, films, he wrote with a disarming honesty and humility that set him apart from his peers.
Just take his review of 2009’s Driving Aphrodite (or My Life In Ruins), where in the final paragraph he takes an anecdote about travelling with his wife and uses it perfectly to sum up the tacky nature of the film. He was always willing to use such examples to further his point on a film, and while the technique in lesser hands could be seen as vain and annoying, with Roger it was never so. It is simply part of the way he wrote to eliminate pretence and simply make everything as simple and personal to the reader as possible. Reading him feels like you’re part of a private audience, and isn’t that the mark of the best of writers?
And this is what made his passing such a tragedy. He wrote as if writing to someone, not just writing to make his own point. He was always willing to share, as with the New York caption competition, which became something of a fixation for him. He was always willing to invite the suggestions of others, to make suggestions to others. He treated each and every one of his readers as if they were a person, someone alive to what he was writing about.
He was, above all, impassioned, and with his passing a certain passion for the cinema has gone with him. No longer will anyone be able to go ‘I wonder what Roger thought of that’. The fact that people took his opinions to the cinema perhaps shows just how tragic his passing truly is. He was a true great, and the world is a worse place for not having him in it.
Rest In Peace.