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Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Ebert Meant to Me

Roger Ebert, a true giant of film criticism, has died.  I literally gasped when I heard, and then the tears came.  It's because I feel like I knew him, having spent countless hours hearing him talk and reading his reviews.  Other writers can give you the play-by-play on all the ways he influenced our film culture, so I'll stick with what he meant to me.

As a kid, I always loved movies.  What Siskel & Ebert did for me was turn me, in my formative young teen years, into a self-identified cinephile.  I watched them religiously every Saturday night at 6:30 pm. I keept a spiral notebook filled with each week's reviews, and which way each of their thumbs faced.  I owned several of his film guides, which he released each year, and used them well when checking out the local video store.

What made Siskel & Ebert so special?  They showed me that movies don't have to simply be entertainment.  They are works of art worthy of being immersed in, studied frame by frame, puzzled and argued over.  What I specifically loved about Roger was his sense of wonder that never dissipated.  You could tell he didn't go into movies with his knives out, he went in trying to love what he saw.  Some criticized him for being too soft, but he was just that open-hearted.  He knew how hard it was to make a film, and he gave every filmmaker the respect they deserved.  He also allowed films to connect to him personally, and not just in a cerebral way.

In my own criticism, I aim to enter each movie in the same spirit.  While I can look back and criticize as much as many critics, I also try to allow myself the immersive experience of enjoying film.  The magic of cinema to make me laugh, cry, or get angry will never get old to me.

With both Siskel & Ebert gone, I honestly feel like it's the end of an era.  Before the age of the internet, I didn't have such unfettered access to so many film writers, and they were my erudite guides into loving film.  Goodbye, Ebert.  There'll never be another like you.

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