The evolution of Roger Ebert and me
I recently saw the 2014 documentary Life Itself about the life of Roger Ebert, which made me wax nostalgic about family, friends, and movies. I think I’ve been aware of Roger Ebert for over twenty years, and when I say that, I mean it in different ways. My awareness grew into respect.
My awareness began as a young person, seeing Ebert’s name plastered all over movie posters. It used to be a common thing to see his name on movies with a good buzz or movies that were trying to promote themselves. Today, I think the only real media critic I know of is Leonard Maltin, as “media” of the past has evolved into the “social media” of today, making the common-man critic just as valued as newspaper critics. Well, almost. For that, I personally am thankful, given this blog.
It makes me sad that real, formal criticism like I used to read about in books and magazines is becoming lost. I can remember reading something like that almost with the same fascination of Sherlock Holmes stories, trying to understand the mystery and contemplate the nuances of the crime. Roger Ebert always struck me as having the best of both of those worlds I love, having an education and common sense to match. His intelligence always struck me as outstanding.
Siskel & Ebert and the Movies used to play on Sunday mornings or later in the day or not at all. It was 0ften hard for me to find the show, and I would completely forget about it for a time, as it slipped away into the mass of television programming. At that time, there was no YouTube and no internet. And I certainly didn’t subscribe to the Chicago Sun-Times, being in Michigan. To me, Roger Ebert was a smart, preppy film critic from television, but had some of the same thoughts I did about the movies. Further, he seemed courageous and intelligent on television, despite putting himself out there, and you’ve got to respect that.
I’m not sure when I stopped looking for Siskel & Ebert. Maybe it was around the time I went to college. I was not able to watch any of his last shows and I don’t think I caught the show after he was gone, wherever it was. By then, the internet had popped up, I believe, and crushed that kind of programming out of existence.
People have criticized Roger Ebert for not being consistent over the years. For example, he gave The Godfather part II three stars out of four, and The Godfather part III three and a half. He later made a good point about the silliness of star “ratings”. On this blog, am I comparing every movie I’ve ever seen to every other movie I’ve ever seen? Comparing The Godfather to Transformers the Movie, for example? I guess the answer is yes, but I guess I’d be worse if I had them both ranked or something on a big list of the breakdown of movies. To be honest, I prefer words and descriptions, which I think Roger Ebert would prefer too.
Overall, I liked this documentary. It is a little slow and sad, being about a man in the last days of his life and how he got there. It’s also fascinating and intelligently done. I think I’ll always remember scanning the television one lazy Sunday, when I stumbled on Roger Ebert being energetic about the movie, and arguing with Siskel. Maybe he’s influenced me in some ways, but I hope he’s influenced others, because he’s certainly the most famous and the most well-respected critic I’ve ever known.