In what can’t really be called a surprise, especially after the events of the past few days, but is still immensely sad news, film critic Roger Ebert died today, at the age of 70.
Nobody under the age of 50 or so reviewing movies in America today can claim to be completely free of influence from Ebert’s witty, insightful prose – even when I disagreed with his analysis completely, there wasn’t another working critic half as much fun to read – and I will humbly admit that I’m probably more indebted to him than to anyone else I can think of; for demonstrating what a movie review can be, and how rich and personally satisfying it can be to think about and discuss cinema from a place of enthusiasm and delight, rather than from the dry place of academic film writing. I don’t know if I can go so far as to say “Without Ebert, I wouldn’t be writing movie reviews today”… but I also certainly can’t say the opposite.
There will be many Ebert stories shared over the next few days, I am sure; here’s mine. During the 2011 Chicago Film Festival, I was headed to the men’s rest room at the 70 E Lake Street screening room, where the critics’ screenings happened, and I almost knocked him over by opening the door too fast. Terribly embarrassed, I backed up, mumbled, “I’m very sorry, excuse me”, and he nodded as he went by. The next week, the exact same thing happened again.
A year later, Ebert, or somebody claiming to be him with his screen name, placed an incredibly generous comment on my Statement of Principles, asking among other things to introduce myself if I ever saw him at a press screening. I didn’t have the guts to mention that we’d already met. Okay, so it’s not the best Ebert story, but it is mine.
American cinephilia has lost one of its greatest voices today, and he will be very much missed.