Our goodbye: Andrew on Roger Ebert - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Our goodbye: Andrew on Roger Ebert

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Looking back over a lifetime, we describe what happened as if it had a plan.  To fully understand how accidental and random life is - how vast the odds are against any single event taking place - would be humbling.
Roger Ebert (June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013)

Siskel and EbertAndrewCommentaryBannerShortI finished Roger Ebert's memoir, Life Itself, just two days ago.  One day before he said that he needed to take a hiatus from all his work, and now he is dead.  In one section he gives away one of his secrets to writing movie reviews.  He finished Ingmar Bergman's Persona and had no idea how to start his article.  So he took the simple approach, described what he saw, and how it made him feel.

What I saw in Ebert came after what I felt, or had the ability to put into more precise words.  I discovered him after a year of hell when I was very young and living in South Carolina.  "Nothing could be finer" didn't apply to me in an underfunded school with overflowing toilets and teachers who fought to care against students who would be fine if the effort was never made.  It's easy to find yourself in a crack of torture and, eventually, there I was - awkward, chubby, bad hair, huge glasses, wearing socks with sandals and shirts that were designed by a poorly encouraged hippie.  Ebert never had a taste for the DayGlo but, if he did, I looked like a tiny version of him during his self-described fat years if you flattened his frame vertically.

It was not a good time.

One of the worst things you can do in this sort of environment is admit you feel anything, and I had the bright idea to try and make friends by talking about Free Willy and how it made me cry.  It really did because we moved around a lot, my strongest connections were with my pets, and I always felt alone.  When I wasn't bleeding or crying they never let me forget that and, one day when I was a bit older, I found Ebert's review of the movie.  He was in his portlier years, still had pretty bad hair, and it looked like we purchased frames from the same optometrist.  But he expressed his love openly, powerfully, and was respected for it.

I won't say he, or Free Willy for that matter, saved my life.  What he did was give a perpetually scared kid hiding scars from his family and friends the idea that intelligence and emotion, combined together in pursuit of something you feel passionate about, can elevate you above anything.  It's a wonderful coincidence that I found the same passion in movies, and I began an 18 year journey along with his spirited writing discovering new pleasures and sensations in film.

He means so much to me that this very hard to write right now.  As he lost his ability to speak and grew more outspoken about various topics I felt inclined to do the same, finding my own voice with my fingers as he lost his to the air.  I was encouraged to seek out not just the obvious greats of film but the rugged underdogs.  When I discovered Cold Weather a couple of years ago I felt delighted at watching a new voice emerging with such joy, and loved that Ebert felt the same.  But it's when I found something I strongly disagreed with him on, like Zoolander, that I could feel my own opinions becoming stronger.  Hero worship is a dangerous thing, and rarely leads to good writing.  Besides, Ebert always said that the critic who asks what you think as the film closes is stuck in amateur hour.

When Ebert wrote of Pauline Kael, a contemporary he greatly admired and a titan of criticism in her own right, he always talked about her lust for cinema.  Sure, she seemed excited about it, but it was Ebert who really seemed hungry for more.  He is the one who gave us the immortal Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with its heaving bosoms, delusional montages, and bold exclamations ("It's my happening baby and it freaks me out!")  The bad reviews showed his wit most bluntly but he was capable of greatness in films he just thought middling ("...if there is anything nature abhors more than a vacuum, it is a loving couple kept asunder, when they should be sundering.") and sometimes wrote reviews that stood as poignant short stories in their own right.

Now he's gone.  He felt as though nothing happened when he would die, and now he has his answer, but not before leaving us with his beautiful last words, "So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."

How can't I?  He now has his answer, nothing or everything, but I am still here with my memories, his words, and thousands of hours left to go in the dark with a flickering screen that promises everything.  I wish he could stay, but the balcony has to close sometime.  I'm ecstatic I got to share in the view.

Posted by Andrew

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