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-KGIN10-11 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.

24 Comments

  1. I wish they had made a major feature film, given all they learned from critiquing those of others. What a missed opportunity. It surely would have been a better film than any they had seen and critiqued.

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    1. There really isn’t a movie review program on TV any longer — likely because of the rise of the internet. Everyone’s a critic now. We can review movies ourselves seconds after viewing them. We don’t need to media to tell us what’s good and not any longer — and that’s a good thing.

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    1. I agree! There are still a lot of newspaper and radio reviews available on a daily basis, but the venerable once-a-week TV movies review show aged itself out of a job. Too stale and non-dynamic.

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  2. I think they would find it hard to keep up – both with the number of films and with the social media reviews ……………… those were the days huh ?

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  3. I used to love Ebert’s harsh reviews the best. About one movie he once wrote that he’d rather eat a golf ball than see it again. He was a fantastic writer and the world is worse for his loss.

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        1. Ha! He sounds just like Gene in the golfball sentence! Now I wish I’d continue to read him after Gene’s death. Since I didn’t connect to him on their TV show, I just went my own way until Roger got sick and I became interested in his difficult medical condition.

          It’s wonderful to have such a deep repository of Roger’s work online. He was certainly more prolific and financially successful than Gene in the genre of reviewing. Roger was a publication machine. Thanks for those great links!

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          1. David,

            I found a nice listing of really funny lines from scathing Ebert reviews.

            http://blogs.indiewire.com/criticwire/the-13-funniest-lines-from-some-of-roger-eberts-most-scathing-reviews-20140704

            This was particularly a harsh excerpt :

            “I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

            (Regarding the film North)

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  4. I never followed these two at the height of their career, so I don’t have much knowledge about their history.
    I was intrigued with some of the last interviews he had with major networks.
    The ABC interview with Diane Sawyer was very touching.

    I heard him say: “Cancer has made my face this way; smiling. And that’s what I am inside, smiling”

    http://abcnews.go.com/watch/world-news-with-diane-sawyer/SH5585921/VDKA0_3ytwp8nn/world-news-404-pulitzer-prize-winning-film-critic-roger-ebert-dead-at-70
    He had such a positive attitude.

    (I hope this is a good link)

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    1. It really is amazing how Roger was so totally, and cataclysmically, changed by his cancer. He become something so much more as a cultural icon because of the way he dealt with his cancer than he ever did reviewing movies.

      Your link worked great, thanks for the share!

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