This afternoon brings some heartbreaking, sad news, for anyone even remotely a fan of the movies or cinema in general. Legendary, groundbreaking and influential film critic, writer and author Roger Ebert has passed away at the age of 70.
There are pages upon pages to be written about Ebert, his film criticism and career, and there are probably way more qualified people to do that (including the man himself, who recently published an autobiography “Life Itself“). But for many of a certain age, it was “Siskel and Ebert and The Movies” that defined their lives and introduced the movies as something so much more than just two hours of entertainment.
Among many of us at The Playlist, Ebert (along with Gene Siskel, who passed away in 1999, ending a partnership of two lifelong friends, who fought just as two people who love each other would) was the portal and guide into movies and the makers. The weekly show was a ritual but also, was wholly accessible in a way that film criticism up until that time never really was. Ebert and Siskel broke criticism from its more academic trappings and made it fun and irreverant, but they also deeply cared about the movies they loved and hated, because it was the form itself they were so enraptured with.
A champion of good movies — not matter if they were indies, foreign or Hollywood productions that weren’t getting their due — Ebert wrote from a well of deep passion, but also knowledge, and his writing was thoughtful, personal, insightful and a pleasure to read, a rare feat that few now can accomplish (but that we forever strive for). But moreover, Ebert was forever hopeful and optimistic about the movies. While fellow critics have continually shouted out that the form was “dead,” Ebert could always be counted on to forever be looking forward, eager to see what each new reel would bring to the screen. It’s a quality that marks his best work.
With the rise of the internet, Ebert embraced the online world, with his archives of reviews going digital, and he started a blog that gave him even more room to talk about the movies, and in turn, allowed him to converse directly with his fans and followers, wherever they may be. He started Ebertfest, another avenue he used to share movies he held dear, allowing them to find an audience all over again. And even as his health turned for the worse over the last decade, he adapted, and found a way to keep writing with whatever free moment he had, even if it was from a hospital bed.
Earlier this week, Ebert wrote that he was taking a “leave of presence” to deal with ongoing issues regarding his health, including a recurrence of cancer. And even as death knocked, Ebert remained fearless, even turning the topic into a reflective essay. We never thought we’d have to say goodbye to him so soon. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Ebert will not only be remembered for his writing which will continue to inspire, but for his generosity in spirit, praise and time (particularly with students) and an enthusiasm that never abated. Simply put, he’s an American treasure who even until the very end, had the perfect words at the ready.