Roger Ebert was one of the most prolific critics in history, and his output only increased after cancer removed his ability to speak. But one (small) piece of his legacy has gone unexamined: The edits he made to Wikipedia. Artist and documentarian Quenton Miller has rectified that oversight with “Collected Wikipedia Edits,” a hardcover book compiling Ebert’s changes to the online encyclopedia.
As “Rebert,” Ebert edited his own entry twice, Russ Meyer’s three times, and made changes to 15 more, most often introducing links to articles he’d written, and once adding a lengthy paragraph on the geographical origins of the various Gotham Cities in different Batman movies, in which his native Chicago plays a prominent role.
Miller only made one copy of the book, and he’s keeping it himself, but he did publish several pictures of it on his website, turning it into a kind of ephemeral art object? Why? He explains to the Atlantic’s Shirley Li:
To Miller, the curious presence of Ebert on Wikipedia and the subsequent changes to Ebert’s revisions are more fascinating than the edits themselves. Ebert may have been famous for his writing, but on Wikipedia, he was just another contributor whose words could eventually be buried under others’.
And that was the point, Miller says, of making a collection of them.
“There’s a really interesting tension between Wikipedia being an encyclopedia and the different ways people write in it,” he says. “It’s kind of surprising, because he’s this amazing writer, and some of the edits are quite well written or witty in places. In the end, they turned into encyclopedia entries.”
More than that, I’d say it illustrates Ebert’s technical savvy — unusual now, moreso then — and his undeniable flair for self-promotion. (It’s not as if he was trying to cover his tracks.) Perhaps there’s room for an extra on the “Life Itself” DVD?