The Man with the Golden Thumb: Remembering Roger Ebert
The famed Chicago Sun-Times film critique Roger Ebert died last week on April 4 after a protracted battle with cancer. Over the years, Ebert connected with average moviegoers, helping them find the film critics within themselves.
Ebert wrote thousands of reviews and spent hundreds of hours in front a television camera discussing what he loved the most: the movies. With time, he became one of the most famous film critics in the world. He popularized the craft at a time when people didn’t really care if the media considered a movie good or bad; when films were merely cheap and fun entertainment. His efforts won him the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975; he was the first in his profession to do so.
No one wrote a review quite like Roger Ebert. He didn’t use overly flowery language; He kept his sentence structure simple and he wrote with the familiarity of a close friend. Ebert turned his reviews into articles about his experience as a moviegoer, recalling episodes from his life, lessons from his mother and his growth as a person. He wrote for the Average Joe, but never treated the viewer like one.
Ebert appreciated the evolution in a person’s opinion and interpretation of a film. He once said that his worst mistake in a movie rating was giving “The Godfather Part III” a better review than “The Godfather Part II.” He initially hated the first “Lord of the Rings” installment and even predicted that “The Golden Compass” would spark the next ultra high grossing film franchise. He never seemed pretentious in his opinions, and penned his reviews with the confidence that always gave the reader something to take away, particularly when they disagreed with Ebert.
Ebert loved any and all writing involving film. He established a book series called “The Great Movies,” in which he would revisit every movie that he considered to be nearly perfect. Around 100 movies were evaluated in each of the three published volumes. When he wrote about his all-time favorite movie, “La Dolce Vita,” Ebert said that he loved it so much because it gave him a new vantage point in every decade that he watched it. This was, for him, what the movies were all about.
Another contribution to pop culture was his television show, “Siskel & Ebert At the Movies.” With his friend Gene Siskel, the pair came up with the famous thumbs up or down method of rating films. Their drastically differing opinions helped bring in ratings, as well as show their audience the many different faces of taste.
Roger Ebert first contracted cancer in 2002, and fought it until the last day of life. Through his health struggles, he always said that movies were his escape, and his writing was what kept him sane and made him happiest. He valued comedy just as much as drama, and said he could learn a lot from a person just by knowing their favorite movie. But don’t despair; quoting the words of his friendly sign off, there is no doubt that we will always see him at the movies.