Roger Ebert is dead. After a career spanning nearly four decades, he finally succumbed to cancer at the age of 70.
I didn’t always agree with his take on whatever film he was reviewing, but I enjoyed reading his columns in the York Daily Record and on his online archive. Sometimes he reminded me of a cranky uncle who painstakingly found fault in everything. Other times, he was a persuasive advocate, showering praise on all kinds of movies, with his own insight and entertaining prose. He made me think twice about some movies I would normally have had no intention of seeing.
Roger was always candid about his opinions. He was unafraid to speak his mind and he didn’t mince words. Here’s an amusing story about his war of words with a well-known actor:
Rob Schneider was apparently infuriated about the treatment of his movie “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” at the hands of Patrick Goldstein, another movie critic. Schneider wrote an angry, open letter to some entertainment magazines, implying that Goldstein was unqualified to judge movies because he had never won any kind of award for journalism. Roger responded by reviewing the movie in question. After casually taking the movie to the cleaners as only Roger Ebert could, our man brought up the business with Goldstein: “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
Boom. Classic Roger Ebert. You should see his scathingly hilarious skewering of “Freddy Got Fingered” or “Mr. Magoo” on rogerebert.com, a treasure trove of his most acidic and awestruck reviews.
Despite all the blunt rhetoric, Roger was open-minded and willing to give newcomers a chance. He encouraged Spike Lee and Martin Scorese when they just started out.
But, first and foremost, Roger was a man who was in love with cinema. “If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your social security number and where your car is parked. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen,” he said.
I give Roger’s life and career two thumbs up. I’ll be thinking of him when I go to the movies this weekend.