With the passing of movie critic Roger Ebert this week, I have been trying to find a centerstone from which I can write about his death. Here’s what I wrote about the man on February 19, 2010 in my article — What Roger Ebert Speaks to Our Students:
Now that Roger fights on to live to write and to watch and to read and to love over and over again — any sense of our self-pity or our internal mourning is forever put to rest in the example of his unbelievable fight for an imperiled life that continues to thrive against the belly of the beast best efforts of every malignant cell and troubled tissue to take him from us. Every day we die a little, and each night, we dream a lot of the days yet to live.
I have great respect for how Roger Ebert chose to live without dying. He faced down a multitude of problems and pain and still persevered.
As a child of Nebraska, I was weaned on watching Chicagoans Siskel & Ebert on PBS, and later on their own syndicated show. Their movie reviews were smart and fun to watch. I especially enjoyed the banter between the two friends who didn’t really seem to like each other very much. Gene would poke Roger about “Siskel” being the first name in the title of their show and Roger would poke him back with the fact that he had a Pulitzer Prize and Gene did not.
Roger always won those petty oneupmanship games and it was always pretty funny to watch Gene simmer through the Pulitzer poke in the eye he knew was coming his way. After Gene died, Roger never really recovered the amount of fame or respect he had won when they were at odds in the marketplace. Gene was interesting and acerbic and taught us how to be funny. Roger was more the pillowy mainstay with a soft, but malleable, countenance.
Siskel and Ebert brought movie reviews to the people. Now regular people could have a public opinion on what they liked and did not like. Siskel and Ebert are, perhaps, even the grandfathers of the Blogging movement where anyone and everyone has a voice to be heard for screaming back at the power brokers.
I never really liked Ebert’s movie reviews. He always seemed to be pandering to the movie companies and the stars and he hated nothing. Gene Siskel hated Roger, and us, and the movies, and his criticism flowed like the pus from a lanced boil! When I compared what I thought about a movie to what Gene and Roger said — Siskel and I were always dead right together on the same philosophical page. I often wondered, as did Gene, if we had seen the same movie as Roger.
When I was in high school, I pitched my own one-man version of “Siskel and Ebert” to KOLN-KGIN — 10-11 STRONG! — a local television station that had carrying power to blanket the entire state of Nebraska. The Saturday children’s show — Kidding Around — was hosted by Leta Powell Drake and I was the “teenaged movie critic” who reviewed a movie each week.
My segment was called “A Bolesful” and I would rate movies with a “Full Bowl of Fruit” or “Half a Bowl” or an “Empty Bowl.” It was a great learning experience and a valuable lesson on working hard to get ahead — and I owe my whole want to review movies on television directly back to Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert — and I thank them both for that everlasting inspiration.