I read Roger Ebert on a daily basis. After watching any movie for the first time I Google “[movie title] ebert” to find out what he thought. I often agree with his reviews, but sometimes I don't. When I am on the fence about a film his insights help me see what perhaps I am missing. Since he has left behind 40+ years of writing about cinema, I will continue this ritual. Although it is through film that I became accustomed to what will be his untouchable legacy, he was more than a movie critic. Reading Ebert helped shape my own writing voice (though I don’t dare put myself in his league). From him I learned clarity and simplicity, and above all else, thoughtfulness when expressing opinions or when pontificating on world events.
By contrast, a lot of today’s critics resort to “pop” writing, or go out of their way to defend films that deserve no defense, upholding the concept “it’s so bad it’s good.” Ebert didn’t write with such philosophy – bad was bad, good was good, and the rest was mediocre. He wasn’t out to impress or shock, to stand out amongst other critics via bold opinions – though, when he hated a movie he HATED a movie. It could be argued he didn't have to try to stand out, because his name was synonymous with film criticism. Nevertheless, he didn't try to impress with language beyond that which was necessary to get his point across. He was an impartial voice that happened to have a big audience; he was a poet of observation.
Only on certain occasions had I ever sought out other critics. This was usually if Ebert had forgone reviewing certain titles, or when my opinion of a film was so drastically different from his that I required a second opinion. His review of Prometheus is a good example. So perplexed by his four-star review of the film I had to question him personally on Facebook. Not expecting a response I posted on his wall: “Four stars for Prometheus? What am I missing about this movie?” He almost immediately responded with: “What can I say? I love sci-fi.” That was all he needed to say, I suppose. I still don’t get why anyone would like that movie, or why a critic of such standing and intelligence would ignore all the flaws at the hands of such reasoning. Then I thought about it. He loved sci-fi. He loved it, I suspect, in the same way he loved it as a young boy. It’s a reminder that no matter how serious we are about the things we love, we must still allow ourselves the courtesy to escape within them despite the cynicism that strives to poison the eyes and ears that had us fall in love in the first place. This goes for anything.
I often wonder what Ebert would think of my films should I ever get around to making a feature. I will continue to wonder. I’m sure in such an instance other critics could potentially say nice things. But, “thumbs up” is still the best review a filmmaker can get. Rest in peace, Ebert.