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R.I.P. Roger Ebert

4 Apr

Roger-red-seats

I never talked to Roger Ebert, but he talked to me.

I am not all that familiar with the Roger Ebert most Americans know: the guy who hosted At the Movies and judged the merit of films with the direction of his thumbs. By the time I started paying attention to him, his cancer treatment had made it all but impossible for him to host the show. It was through his writing that I became aware of his brilliance.

When I first began to get serious about film around my junior year of high school, I got a Hollywood Video membership card and bookmarked Roger Ebert’s website. Most of my familiarity with film criticism up until then had stemmed from the 2000 VideoHound guide I kept under my bed and consulted religiously for every film that even marginally caught my interest. Once I started reading Ebert, that book started gathering dust.

He was the perfect person to guide a novice through the pleasures of cinema because he never once lost his reverence for the medium. He just loved movies. He knew they were special. He knew how to watch them. He knew how to talk about them. He treated cinema as if it were holy. When he loved a film, he endorsed it with such vigor that it was impossible not to want to see it. When he hated a film, he dismantled it so thoroughly that the dismantling was an act of entertainment in itself. Even if I disagreed with him (which was often), it was difficult to refute his points. I read him so much that he became like a voice inside my head; when I watched movies, I watched them with the ghost of Roger Ebert sitting beside me.

He became like a mentor to me (and, I soon found, others like me), guiding and shaping not only my critical thought process and writing, but my worldviews as well. He was warm, compassionate, intelligent, and witty–all the things I wanted to be. And he had the coolest job in the world.

“A man goes to the movies. A critic must be honest enough to admit he is that man.” Ebert quoted this line from Robert Warshow so often it may as well be attributed to him. He treated it as a mission statement. It was impossible to separate Roger Ebert the man from Roger Ebert the critic because they were one and the same. When he started his wonderful blog a few years ago, it just seemed like a natural extension of his reviews. And that’s why his loss stings so deeply to so many. A voice that, through the years, has become ingrained so deeply in our culture is now silenced.

Werner Herzog said it better than anyone in this blurb for Ebert’s Awake in the Dark: “Roger Ebert has become a member of our households, our families. He is the one who tells us all about the movies. And, as his passion for the cinema is so deep, and his knowledge so profound, he is the one we can always trust.”

Goodbye Roger Ebert: a member of my household, my family.

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