Rodger Ebert succumbed to his cancer this week and it only fitting that I post about him and his work and his influence on me. I remember watching him when I was a kid and truly enjoyed his reviews and his arguing with his partner Gene Siskel. Even when His and Siskel did not see eye to eye, it was a disagreement that was done out of respect because a good healthy dialog expressing points of view were valued. What I enjoyed most in his work was that he spoke to the audience because he was truly in love with movies. When I was a kid I used to measure my views with his almost like walking in his footsteps to help develop my film palate. When I was older I found myself not agreeing with his views as often because I had developed my own tastes but I always appreciated his point of view. His reviews were written in a very conversational style it was very open, honest and beautifully written. His passion for film was infectious, I remember reading his reviews and it seemed like he was talking directly to me. In High school I was in the drama club all four yeas I was a performer. It was my dream to one day have my performance reviewed by him.
I met him once in Boulder, Colorado after I had gotten out of the Army. I was floating around not really knowing what to do with my life and he was hosting a screening of Silence of the Lambs. It was magical to be in the same room with him, I was completely start struck. After the screening he was talking with people, he was answering questions and was completely approachable, he answered every question without seeming put out or rushed. I stood close by for his entire time there, I was really directionless and had no place to go, he had to answer one question three different times and each time he did he was without frustration or being short tempered. He had gotten through all of the questions and turned to me, looked me in the eye and the best I could muster was a stupid grin and a short nod of acknowledgement.
If I could jump back to that moment, I would say thank you. Thank you for the years of inclusion I felt through your work. For giving the title of critic a good and solid bar to be measured by for providing an example for new and upcoming writers who love movies just as much as you do. Thank you for not looking down your nose at movies. Thank you for your honesty and your support of the explosion of new media. I know that at the time he hadn’t done some of these things yet but, hey I am going back in time from today. Perhaps this is a lesson to not let the opportunities pass, live your life with an understanding that nothing last forever and when you have an opportunity take it, don’t just grin and nod your head.
He had a story at the front of his book “Your Movie Sucks” it was about the first time he viewed the movie The Brown Bunny how he talked with Vincent Gallo about the problems with the movie and Mr. Gallo went back and re-cut the film, This is how I see his reviews as not sharp barbs or insults but a real desire to get people to improve their product. He knew the power of the medium, and he at times pleaded with some filmmakers to make a better product for social reasons.
Another example of his wonderful support was his help for a blog called the Mandy / Ebert Project; he gave her some encouragement by directing people to her blog. The direction of the blog was that Mandy is going to go through his book and review each movie. It was acts like this that really highlight how wonderful he was. You can read her stuff here The Mandy/Ebert Project she is truly a talented writer. I am trying to make my voice heard in this huge universe of media, if I ever make it as someone with influence I am going to live by his example and support people who are struggling to get started. Whoever asks for help I am going to try and help as best I can. How you treat your fans is so telling, I think that is the difference between true greatness and just fame.
Writing feels hollow now, I feel like a complete and total fraud for ever trying to write reviews but I guess it’s going to take more writing to fill the gap left by him. I don’t presume to be a replacement for Mr. Ebert no one ever can. All I can do is promise to keep the conversation open in the same manner he did, with tireless dedication and a passion for the movies.
It’s his way of communicating that I am trying to model. I write my reviews in a limited explanation of the movie to make sure to not give anything away. If you see it in the trailer I write about it so they are giving away the spoilers not me. I try and keep the technical jargon to a minimum if you want to talk about the Depth of field of a shot or the 1800 rule, well it seems like more of a guideline today, The benefits of mes en scene or shot composition, or how the 3D effects after productions are completely different from the shots captured with a 3D camera we can do that. How a long take is different than tracking shot and it can be the most underappreciated and the most challenging shot to do.
Most people want to talk about how the stories made them feel what effect it had on them and I am willing to have whatever conversation you want but I am going to gear my reviews to just the person who enjoys movies and the conversation that happens after them. Good movie or bad movie it doesn’t matter, what you take away from it is way more important than what aspect ratio they filmed it in.
In parting I would just like to say Mr. Ebert if you can read this, know I am going to try my best to keep up the good fight for communicating and supporting this thing we both love, movies. Rest well sir, rest well.