Roger Ebert died yesterday at the age of 70, after a decade-long battle with thyroid cancer.
He was unquestionably the most well-known film critic in the world, but his legacy and his influence go much deeper. I’ve referenced Ebert a few times in other posts I’ve written on this blog (at least I’m pretty sure I have), and I know I’m far from being the only person who was influenced by him.
I feel like it’s somewhat self-aggrandizing of me to say that Ebert was an influence on me. I’m just some Podunk blogger who likes zombies, Batman, and Bruce Willis movies, yet here I am saying that the most influential and widely respected film critic to probably ever exist was an influence on me.
But it’s true, and I feel like Ebert was the sort of person who would have appreciated that.
In a truly extraordinary essay, Ebert wrote about how he did not fear death. I won’t summarize the essay, because you really should read it yourself. (here’s the link: http://www.salon.com/2011/09/15/roger_ebert/) There is one paragraph in particular that really stood out to me, and I hope I won’t get in trouble for copyright infringement or anything for reprinting it here:
“’Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
That’s just…amazing. That is the effect Ebert had on people. He contributed joy to the world. He helped make people happy. That is the effect he had on me, and so I’m pretty sure he would have been pleased with me citing him as an influence, as he would have with the many, many other people whose lives he touched. And that’s really what I’m trying to do with this blog, to make people happy, and maybe make them think a little bit, too. If I have succeeded with that with even one person, then I am happy.
But it wasn’t just his outlook that I liked about Ebert. It was his style. He wrote about movies in a way that made them accessible and appealing to all sorts of people. He embraced everybody’s opinions, and embraced all kinds of movies. His reviews were always written in a welcoming, conversational style, one that I like to think I have attempted to emulate here.
He made movies fun, while also acknowledging when they moved him on a personal level. He wasn’t afraid to talk about how a movie made him feel, which I think is really something of a lost art. He didn’t let popular opinion really faze him either, if he liked a movie no one else did or disliked a movie everyone else seemed to like he would stick to his guns and not back down from his opinions, while still being aware that not everyone would feel the same way he did.
And on top of all that, the man was simply a great writer. He always found a way to hook you with every review, which isn’t easy to do once, let alone thousands of times. His reviews were funny, thoughtful, intelligent, and often moving, sometimes all at once.
He didn’t even let the loss of his voice slow him down. If anything, it had the opposite effect, since he became very active with his blog and on Twitter and still cranked out those wonderful, oh-so-readable reviews. He punched cancer in the face for ten years without letting it get him down. His work ethic and his integrity were truly remarkable.
He was also a man who just loved movies. He devoted his life to the art of film, and in so doing he made it fun and accessible for generations of fellow film-lovers. I didn’t always agree with his reviews, but I always, always enjoyed reading them. He was a man of great integrity, strength, intelligence, and wit, and he is already sorely missed.