Thursday, April 04, 2013

Thumbs Up for Roger Ebert

"Of what use is freedom of speech to those who fear to offend?"

Roger Ebert (1942–2013)

If he wasn't the most widely read and quoted movie critic of all time, he was damn close.

Roger Ebert, who died today at the age of 70, was in poor health for the last decade of his life. But he didn't let that stop him from pursuing his passion — movie reviews.

And Ebert — both with and without his sidekick, Gene Siskel — reached what must be the pinnacle for a reviewer.

A "thumbs up" from Ebert could boost a movie into the stratosphere — and a "thumbs down" could break it just as easily.

But nothing lasts forever, and time ran out on Ebert, who recently revealed that his cancer (which had been believed to be in remission) had returned. A couple of days ago, in his final blog entry, Ebert told readers he was taking a "leave of presence," but he insisted that "I am not going away."

He gleefully told his readers, "I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review."

And he wrote with apparent excitement about the relaunch of his website, Ebert Digital.

"Stepping away from the day–to–day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun–Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year," he wrote.

Judging from that, I would assume that he did not expect to die at this time — but maybe he did, and he just didn't want his readers to know. Perhaps he wanted his readers to think that he expected to continue to live his dream of being selective in his movie reviews and of running his revamped web site.

I regret never getting to meet him in person, but I, like so many others, felt as if I knew him from reading his columns and watching him and Siskel on TV. There were many movies I saw that I probably would not have seen had it not been for his recommendation.

I can choose which movie I want to see without his assistance, of course. But I always felt more confident of my choices when he confirmed them.

And I never quite felt justified when I deemed a movie to be a loser unless he felt the same way.

I had a great deal of respect for his intellect. I trusted his judgment. I enjoyed reading what he wrote.

And I shall miss him as only another writer can.