Goodbye, Roger Ebert

I am unable to trace back the first instance I became aware of the greatest film critic of all time. His presence was so integrated into the fabric of Friday Blockbuster aisle browsing that you’d notice his trademark “two thumbs up” on the cover of the movies you rented and the absence of it on the ones you didn’t.

First, I remember seeing “Siskel and Ebert.” Then “Ebert and Roeper.” Then, just “Ebert.”

Later on when Netflix first introduced itself to our household and we watched the death of the video store, his four star rating scale appeared on the sidebar of any movie he had reviewed that was in the database. One click on the sentence pullout from his review, and I was taken to his website to read the rest.

His website was the gold mine I’d accidentally tripped upon in middle school. After school I would come home, check my Facebook, email and About once a week, new reviews would be posted. Once they were up, I’d spend all week reading as many as I could.

Over the years, I grew to find all of the answers in Ebert. Every question I had about a movie, he answered. He taught me the art and craft of analyzing a film and writing about it – he taught me how to write.

Amongst my fellow movie-buff-geek crowds growing up, the good, the bad and the ugly films were always in discussion. If a friend praised a film that Ebert despised, I’d bring up his review and let them know that hey – I like Edward Scissorhands, too, but as Ebert says, Burton still hasn’t nailed the technique of storytelling. My friend would then get angry and say, “you can’t make up your own mind about the film … you only listen to what others say.”

I didn’t listen to others – I listened to Ebert. And it wasn’t even listening; it was understanding, comprehending, opening, learning from him that I did when I read reviews. It wasn’t and still isn’t stealing someone else’s feelings about a film. It’s seeing something through another lens – a much more skilled and wise lens, at that. And there is nothing wrong in that.

I will miss Ebert’s writing and passion now that he is gone. The world has lost a man who has spent over half a century knowing an art form that is nearly as old as he is. I feared this day would come, the day that I’d have to see a film in theaters and not be able to come home and learn even more about it and discover why it made my heart beat.

But I’ll always have his reviews, his meditations on the “great movies,” and his unparalleled humanity and fervor for cinema. That passion lives on and will continue to be as new as the movies that we all keep watching.

As Ebert once said, “If you pay attention to the movies they will tell you what people desire and fear. Movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may be.”

Movies offer so much for us and say so much about us. Ebert knew what they had to offer and say about us, and that company of awareness is gone. While losing Ebert is losing a friend to go to the movies with, at the same time, Ebert never lied. His last words in his Sun-Times journal were: I’ll see you at the movies.

I look forward to it, Roger.