Film: Remembering Roger Ebert

By Will Ashton |

rogerebert-736078To some people, Roger Ebert’s name is synonymous with film criticism. And for good reason.

For over 45 years, Ebert has made a name for himself by redefining film criticism as we know it today. Whether it was on print or on television, Ebert’s sharp, witty, humorous, and often poignant views on cinema for the past four decades have broaden not just critics’ perceptions of film, but America’s as well.

Through At the Movies, Ebert allowed American audiences to sit in and discuss the movies with him. For Roger, movies were for the masses, and therefore, the masses should be included in the conversation. Once a week, Ebert would join either the late Gene Siskel, Richard Roeper, or another critic or persona in passing to discuss the weekly releases. His opinions weren’t always kind-in fact, sometimes, he could be downright cruel, in completely hilarious fashion-but everything he said came from the heart. He never sub-stepped his opinion. He was always true to his opinion, and he stuck by it, even if it was against the general public’s, or his fellow critics’, perceptions.

But everything he said about film came from his love of the art. If he hated a movie, it wasn’t just because it was a waste of time, but because it was a waste of potential. Perhaps more than anyone, he knew the power of film and what it meant for audiences to come together and watch the magic of the movies come alive in a cinema. If Ebert really and truly loved a movie, he could spend a lifetime professing his love.

He is one of the very, very few critics ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, and that’s for a reason. He’s reviews transcend simply his opinion of the last 2 or more hours in the cinema. Maybe more than anyone, Roger knew that movies were a window into the world, the minds, and the hearts of the people. He knew that movies could inspire, transform, and open people to new worlds, thoughts, and possibilities. Each review he wrote was more than simply his opinion of the film. His reviews challenged his readers to think about movies, dissect what filmmakers had to say through the language of film, and invite people to explore how far a movie’s message could go. But Roger also knew that movies were not always supposed to be thought-provoking, intellectual pieces of art. He understood that movies could just be two hours of escapism, and not only did he know this, but he also embraced this with open arms. If the movie was good, that is.

That’s truly what separates Ebert from just your typical critic. Above all else, Roger Ebert truly loved watching movies. He loved writing about them, talking about them, watching them, and thinking about them. He loved his job, and that is something that I take to heart.

To say that I am an amateur film critic would be kind, but I’m working my way up the rope. Hopefully. If I can think of one person who has inspired the reviews I have written more than Roger Ebert, they are at a lost in my mind. For Ebert’s love of the art not only inspired me, but he was an inspiration to millions of people, not just critics. He opened the door to film criticism to the masses. He brought in into America’ home once a week, and then let people have a better idea on how to spend their hard-earned cash at the movies. Were Ebert’s opinions always right? No. But he beat to his own drum, and if he liked it, he would say it loud and proud.

When I was researching information on Megan Griffiths, the director of Eden, for a story I had written in The Post, I stumbled upon a recommendation from Ebert himself on his Facebook account for her first film, The Off Hours. When I asked her about this, she proclaimed that this was a “total milestone” in her career, and I understood this completely.

In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which later took his jaw in 2006 and his ability to speak along with it. But even without his voice, Ebert found a way to continue writing about film and the world around it. Through the Internet, primarily his blog and Twitter accounts, he opened himself up to the world of the Internet, and as a result, found an audience that he probably would have never gained before. Even at 60 years old, he kept himself active and alive. It was only a couple days ago that Ebert announced that he would begin stepping away from seeing and reviewing his typical 200+  films a year. Ebert’s ongoing optimism and endless pursuit to stay active was not only amazing, but it was inspiring.

For these reasons, and many more, Roger Ebert was a personal hero of mine. He not only inspired who I wanted to become, but he proved that, if you love what you do enough, you’ll find a way to do it. Some people critique movies. Roger Ebert reviewed them. He loved nothing more than to be in the dark theater with a group of people, watching as a projector plastered a film on the screen and watching the magic of the movies come alive. Now, as the lights turn off for good, we can only now look back on his career and marvel as he would in a small, quiet theater in Chicago.

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