“Life is short. Try to avoid, whenever possible, wasting two hours of it on a movie you will not enjoy.” – Roger Ebert, How to Watch a Movie
I wanted to take a moment from this month’s scheduled features to pause and reflect on one of the reasons I decided to write a blog in the first place. Although we never met or corresponded, I can safely say that Roger Ebert, who passed away yesterday, was a significant influence. More than just a film reviewer, he was an exceptional writer with a unique voice. While I didn’t always agree with his reviews (I still feel he missed the boat with his negative take on Edward Scissorhands), I never ceased to admire his candor and conviction to stand by his critical guns. I was consistently impressed by his essays about cinema, which were articulate, insightful, literate, and above all, fun to read.
As I suspect was the case with most, I was first introduced to Ebert, not through his writings, but his appearance on television, starting with PBS’ Sneak Previews, which eventually morphed into Siskel & Ebert & the Movies. Ebert’s impassioned, sometimes heated, debates with his critical partner Gene Siskel led me to seek out his reviews in book form, starting with his Video Companion series in the 90s. Compared to his contemporaries, his were the opinions that mattered. I paid special attention when he mentioned a film that was especially significant. Every essay was a self-contained education; a film-appreciation class in miniature. He didn’t differentiate by genre, and wasn’t afraid to champion an unknown film or serve as an advocate for upstart directors.
Whenever I’m having an off-day, and feel too tired or uninspired to write, I stop to think about Ebert’s unwavering mission to communicate his odyssey through cinema. Even when illness slowed him down, he kept writing until the very end. He’s the film writer that I aspire to be, and will continue to look upon for inspiration. Perhaps his greatest legacy is that his passion for film inspired so many others, amateurs and professional journalists alike, to follow in his footsteps. Roger Ebert is gone, but his writing and inspiration endures.